Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Letter from Butiama: Up to my neck in snakes

This is one of numerous articles I wrote for the Sunday News (Tanzania) column "Letter from Butiama" between 2005 and 2011.
Those who read my column in the Sunday News (Tanzania), Letter from Butiama, will notice I frequently write about snakes. I come across snakes so often enough that I cannot avoid the subject. I feel like they are all around me. I look outside my window, and there is one crawling on the wall (photo, below). One got into my bedroom and to where I would normally step onto my sandals when I got off my bed.
On another occasion, while getting out of my room one night into a dimly lit corridor, I unknowingly stepped over another and closed the door behind me pinning it between my bedroom and the corridor. I came back, found it devastated by being caught on two sides of a door but alive and I, with the help of an extremely long pole, carried it out of the house to its salvation and freedom. I was asked by someone: 'Why didn't you kill it?' I found an answer in my ethnic roots.

First, it could have been Muhunda, I told him, the guardian spirit of the members of the Zanaki ethnic group of Butiama (each of the eight or so Zanaki localities has a separate guardian spirit). Muhunda is believed capable of transforming itself into a snake, or a leopard, or a male baboon. Muhunda is not quite the equivalent of a deity in other cultures; the Zanaki still have a conception of a god and heaven.

I count for a Zanaki, even though I can hardly speak the dialect. I also am, according to tradition, one of the guardians of the ancestral forest, also known as Muhunda, where the guardian Muhunda is said to visit from time to time. How can a warden kill the very being he is supposed to protect, particularly when that being is also believed to exist to protect the entire community.

I subscribe to the belief that there are few creatures that will not attack another creature unless threatened, except human beings who will attack other creatures, including fellow human beings, even where such a threat does not exist. Most snakes will not attack unless provoked or threatened, so I still feel safe to conclude I have no reason to kill all the snakes that I see.

I remain intrigued why the snakes are seldom seen in other parts of the house except my bedroom. I told the person who suggested I should kill the snake I thought the snakes were attracted by the music from my radio. Snakes are reported to be sensitive to vibrations and, perhaps, the more well-arranged the vibrations (translate that into good music) the more likely the snakes will get close to investigate.

If the snakes shared my taste for good music, I reasoned, there was one other good reason why I should spare them. His response was I listened to soft music. What if my premise was correct and I happened to be listening to charanga he asked, a description Tanzanians use for the various genres of lively popular versions of Latin American music? If my assertion was correct I would be up to my neck in snakes, a not so pleasant prospect.

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Anonymous said...

You must be brave and courageous with all those snakes

From Kigali, Rwanda

Chib said...

You must be brave and courageous

From Kigali, Rwanda