The Snake Repellent – Adapted from an ancient Amerindian Myth – by Peter Halder

The Snake Repellent
(Adapted from an ancient Amerindian Myth)
by Peter Halder

Fero Gadjee and his family lived at Seba, a settlement on the Upper Demerara River in Guyana. The family lived in a typical troolie palm thatched hut a short distance from the bank of the river. His father, Jaro worked at the Seba stone quarry.

When Fero turned 18 years, he decided to go and live on his own. A relative who lived at nearby Zion Hill told him about a plot of land on the western bank of the river about three miles to the south. The land needed clearing.   

That should pose no problem since there were no trees, just brush and weeds. About a mile inland were trees which could be felled by axe and the trunk used as beams for a hut and branches from the nearby grove of troolie palms, could be cut and dried and used to thatch the structure. Fero was elated,

“I must warn you however that the area is infested with snakes, the most deadly being the bushmaster and the labaria. That is why no one lives there. Two families tried but ran away when two children were bitten by bushmasters and died. In fact all the other snakes are so afraid of the bushmaster and labaria that they went to another distant part of the forest to live,” his cousin Sorbo said.

That night, Fero told his parents about the plot of land and his intent to make his home there.
“If I were you I would think twice about the idea since that land is home of the bushmaster and labaria snakes. That is why no one lives there. Unless of course you can find a way to prevent them from killing you,” spoke his father.

Fero went to bed that night thinking of a way to deal with the snakes. He came up with no solution. A thought then dawned on him. Why not go and speak with his 90-year-old grandmother Elita Allicock. If anyone would know what to do, she would.

Grandma Elita lived not far where Fero and his family dwelt. He set out on the long walk along a trodden path and soon reached her hut. She lived alone and was delighted to see him.

After hugging her and exchanging greetings, he proceeded o explain his situation.

Grandma Elita heard him out and smiled.
“Grandson, I cannot help you but I know of a way to find out. Across the river from where you live you will see a eucalyptus tree, the only one in the area. In it lives a good Bush Spirit. Her name is Glory. Knock on the white trunk of the tree and a voice will reply. When it does, call her Good Lady Glory, tell her your name, then tell her your problem, stress that you are asking for a good purpose and explain. She will tell you what to do about the snakes.”

Fero hugged and kissed his grandmother and left saying the Lord’s prayer as he walked back home.

Early next morning, he paddled his father’s canoe across the river and pulled it up on the sandy bank. He searched for and found the eucalyptus tree. He walked up to it, smoothed out his shirt and pants, fixed his hair and knocked on the huge white trunk of the tall tree.

A friendly charming female voice replied to his knock and asked, “Who is it that dares disturb me at this time of the day? You better have a good reason!”

“ Good Lady Glory I am so sorry for disturbing you this early in the morning. I did so on the advice of my grandmother Elita who I am sure you know. I told her of a problem I have and she suggested that I approach you about it since as a Great Spirit of the Forest you know everything there is to know about the trees, bushes, animals and birds in it. I plan to clear, live on, get married and farm a piece of land at Zion Hill. The problem is that the area is full of deadly bushmaster and labaria snakes. I don’t want to kill them or for them to kill me. I just want for them to leave me alone and I will leave them alone. Please Great Spirit of the Forest Glory, please tell me what I should do to fulfill my ambition,” said Fero sincerely and in a friendly tone of voice.

“Stay right there and give me five minutes to think of a solution since you sound like a nice and decent young man. I will call out to you when I am ready. Do not reply. Just listen,” the Great Spirt of the Forest said.

Glory was true to her word. When the five minutes were up, he heard her divine voice speaking to him. “The trees and bushes, the birds, animals and insects, all the denizens of the forest can hear. That must not happen. So what I have to tell you, I shall do so in a dream. Tonight the full moon is out. Go and lie on the grassy patch outside your home just before midnight and look up at the moon. Then close your eyes. At midnight I shall appear unto you in a dream and show you what must be done. Not a word will I utter and you must not speak and must never reveal what you saw”.
Fero, with tears in his eyes, thanked the Great Spirit and headed home.

In the forest, the indigenous people had their own way of knowing time. At Seba, a red-feathered owl flew to the top of a physicnut tree and hooted at 6.00 a.m., 6.00 p.m. and at midnight hooted.
Late that night, Fero went outside, spread a straw mat on the ground and lay on it eyes fixed at the top of the tree. The red owl appeared at midnight and hooted. The young man fell into a dream and saw all that had to be done to live without fear of snakes on the plot of land he had chosen. The owl, for some unknown reason, hooted again and Fero awoke from his dream with a smile on his face. ”I must now proceed to carry out what I saw in the dream,” he said to himself without opening his lips.

The next two days, strong winds swept across Seba and Zion Hill. On the third day, when the winds disappeared, Fero paddled across the river to where the eucalyptus tree was, taking several straw bags with him. He collected the fallen leaves under and around the tree and filled his bags with them.

Returning home with them, he took out his bow and arrow and began practicising to shoot. When he felt confident he could kill a snake from a distance, he went into the forest to a poison tree. He picked several poison berries and pushed the tip of his arrows in them making sure that the poisonous juice soaked into each tip.

He was now ready to carry out the rest of the dream. He put his bow and arrows and bags of the eucalyptus leaves in his canoe, along with a shovel, fork, cutlass and knives and paddled along the river to the plot of land he had selected. That same afternoon, he shot and killed seven bushmaster and seven labaria snakes. He built a fire from dried brambles and put the bodies of the 14 dead snakes in them to burn. After a while, he added the leaves to burn with the bodies. The next morning using stones, he crushed the bones of the snakes into powder and mixed it, the roasted flesh and the burnt leaves together. A huge pile of ashes was the result.
He spent the next seven days digging shallow trenches on the northern, western and southern bouddaries of the plot of land, the river being the eastern boundary. He next scattered the ashes into the three trenches. The rains came in drizzles after and watered the ashes, Soon, short trees, about five feet in height grew in the trenches creating a fence around the land. The leaves on the trees were all red in colour. The plan in the dream was executed.

He then built a troolie palm thatched hut and placed stems with the red leaves along the four walls.

Fero, in his activities, noticed several bushmaster and labaria snakes outside the fence but none, it appeared, dared wriggle through the special fence and enter the land.

Fero next begged a ride on a tug hoat that was going down river. He got off at Three Friends and there, two months later, he married his school sweetheart Dara Lorrimer.

The couple returned to their home at Zion Hill. The first thing Fero did was to pick a quantity of red leaves from the trees of the fence and crushed them into a paste. He anointed his wife’s body with the paste and she did the same to him. They would do the same to their children when they were born.

And so fulfilling all that he saw in the dream, Fero and his wife Dara, and later their children, lived a happy life, with no bother whatsoever from the bushmaster and labaria. A dwarf eucalyptus tree grew in each section of the fence and from then on, the family never saw another snake of any kind in the area.

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