An Egyptian cobra pays an unexpected visit to a Maasai village and makes us realize that we share a fear of poisonous snakes — and that we're all more alike than we first thought.
“There’s an Egyptian cobra in one of the huts.”
Maasai: From Iconic to Real
Every souvenir shop in northern Tanzania bursts with wood carvings and paintings of the Maasai, a pastoral tribe who've made this area their home. Cut faces, long bodies, colorful cloth attire, ears with giant ring holes, beads and long necks.
The Maasai aren't just iconic, though. They're human. A visit to one of their villages near Lake Manyara provided a human connection, a grounding in this reality.
Our Maasai village visit began as many tourist village visits often do – local people dressed in festive attire show off their traditional dance moves and songs. The women adorned in heavy necklaces of tiny beads dance and shout; the men perform an impressive jumping dance without ever letting their heels touch the ground.
We're encouraged to don the same attire. We make fools of ourselves as we try to imitate moves that are second nature to the Maasai, so foreign to us. Through the laughter and silliness of this routine, a personal connection is formed; we realize again that we are all human.
I wonder what they would think about our clubs and music. Some of the women point to my camera, indicating they want to see the photos I've just taken. We laugh as we go through the images of themselves, family, friends in the viewfinder; this is a universally loved activity.
After the show, one of the women takes me by the hand and leads me into her home. She's almost giddy to show me her bedroom. It's a sleeping nook, a semi-secluded area off to the side of the hut.
Our tour leader acts as interpreter. In this more intimate setting we ask questions about Maasai living arrangements and culture: relations between men and women, gender roles, coming of age rituals, beliefs, the role of cattle, food traditions, the chief of the village who lives on the hill — just about everything.
We sit together in darkness. Our engagement feels more like a conversation and less like an anthropology study. This is good.
A Big Snake in A Small Hut
Just as we're about to leave the village, we receive the news — there's a huge snake in one of the huts at the village edge. Our driver spotted it and alerted the family. Now it's time to figure out how to deal with it.
It's an Egyptian cobra, highly poisonous. There are no medical facilities in the area, kids are everywhere. There is virtually no choice for the villagers but to kill it.
Minutes later, in an attempt to root out the snake inside, the men of the village begin tearing the house apart. The idea, aside from pissing off the snake, is to draw it out from the layered walls that form the hut's shell.
Had it been left to the men, the house would have been demolished.
Fortunately for the woman whose home it was, the village women take over the hunt with firm practicality. They scold the men for their carelessness; they begin to go after the snake themselves. After all, it will be their responsibility to rebuild.
The cobra is coiled in anger inside. The men get involved again, poking sticks inside the hut. They dart in, they dart back out. As exciting as all this is, the men are clearly scared.
Finally, after 30 minutes and great drama, the snake is cut in half, beaten, dragged from the hut, and pounded some more.
Vanquished or not, a snake in a Maasai hut is a bad omen. The family, we're told, would sacrifice a goat later that day to protect the village and drive away any lingering evil spirits.
As we leave, we think ahead to our own sleeping arrangements and whether our tents are snake-proof. Maybe we should have a goat in tow, just in case.
Photos from Maasai Village and Mto wa Mbu Town near Lake Manyara, Tanzania
If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you’d like to read the captions, you can view the Masai Village photo set.
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