The Python Attack
The Spring season in rural Africa is generally the less busiest of all seasons of the year. It’s the season of rebirth in general as trees sprout new leaves scenting the whole surroundings with the aroma of the newness of life. Grass too will be sprouting into beautiful tracts of green oozing nature’s own perfume into the air. Nectar collecting birds will be the main musicians during the day aided by the whistles of the Cicada insect whilst going on and about sucking the delicacies of mother nature in its freshness. Flowers will be blossoming with petals opening up nicely in gestures that mimic the opening of new life and new opportunities. The rising of the sun creates a buzz of activity in the bird and insect world as their actions and activity reveal impatient waits for sunrise. When the dark of night overtakes the light of day, the baton stick of providing music to the wind is naturally passed on to the crickets with the bull frog calls being the backing vocals. The animals of the land love the new scenery too as they try to outcompete each other in chewing up the fresh shoots of grass and leaves whilst nature’s relentless production of more fresh produce ensures the beauty of Spring is not outdone by the jealous of grazers and browsers. For the peasant farmer, Spring is the time to reenergize and restore dead cells lost during the backbreaking farming and harvesting season from Summer to Autumn. Winter too is arduous with hassles of Winter ploughing to preserve moisture to the fields. Spring thus becomes the perfect season for resting and reenergizing in preparation of the hectic Summer season which quickly follows. This resting period also becomes the perfect opportunity for recreational activities and traditional ceremonies as everyone will have retreated from the toils of the fields. Hunting, fishing, beer drinking binges as well as attending several traditional ceremonies take centre stage
On one such afternoon my friends Tango, Marko and i decided to go fishing at a dam nearby our homestead, just a kilometre away. During the Summer season the dam will be very deep and dangerous for teenagers like us to swim or to carry out fishing activities therein. Tall reeds and creeping plants like the Skunk cabbage as well as runner grass which gives habitat to water pythons, ducks and all sorts of rodents cover the dam’s surroundings. The Spring season however often gets the better of it with silt accumulating in the dam due to the slow water motion that deposits soil particles transported from upstream. The reeds and creeping plants often dry during Winter due to frost bite and only recover deep into the Summer season when they would have been well watered by the flooding dam and temperatures risen to ideal levels. A variety of birds also breed in holes and cracks in the dam wall which also is a breeding ground for various species of amphibians. The dam is a natural dam formed on a depression along the waterway. The dam walls are natural too made of hard clay soils which at times give in into the depression adding on to the siltation problem too. The source of the river is in the hills lying north of our homestead and the hills are said to be sacred and haunted by paranormal beings thus we never visited there. The depression that forms the dam was a result of soil erosion along the water way, as just before the dam there is a huge rock that forms a waterfall into the dam. Our fathers diverted the natural course of the river deliberately to go above that rocky area so that a dam can be formed by the waterfall and be used to harnesses water for irrigating gardens and for livestock. The dam covered an area half the size of a football pitch with the deepest parts being those directly below the waterfall and the dam getting shallower as one moved downstream away from the falls.
So there we were with my pals, our fishing rods in hand and extra hooks too. The worms we often got them from digging in the riverbed. The decaying foliage of the reeds often created a perfect breeding ground for the earth worms. The dam had several types of fish from breams to the cat fish and eels. The rocky surface that formed part of the waterway had caves that gave shelter to the eels whilst the cat fish oscillated between the fresh water of the dam and the mud of the swampy river bank. The breams and the kapenta fish lived in the fresh waters of the dam whilst getting shelter from the cracks of the dam wall and the rocky riverbed surface. During Summer when water was aplenty fish could be seen moving downstream along with the waters and at times floods would throw them out of the water into the river beds and villagers would collect them from there. But Spring time was for us the less sophisticated hunters with the water levels friendly to our swimming capabilities too. Even our overprotective parents allowed us to go out fishing because the risk of fatal encounters with factors of nature were minimal. Since early childhood we had been fishermen, initially going under the watchful eye of an elder till we were now teenagers and considered old and wise enough to take care of ourselves
The walk to the dam was short and in no time we were on the riverbanks scavenging for earth worms. When our worm cans were full we went straight into the business of the day, starting with fresh water fishing with a plan to look for the cat fish if we didn’t get enough from the fresh waters. We were not the only fishers there as the Kingfisher birds were also helping out themselves to the river manna. Their colourful feathers and Olympics diving moves giving us entertainment in-between our catches. We had a small basket were we would put our fish. The fishing went on well although none of us really caught a big fish, yet we still were satisfied with our harvest. The big fish normally would emerge when it was getting darker and we couldn’t stand the sight of darkness in the rivers. Our elders made sure we didn’t stay outdoors when it’s dark by feeding us lots of horror stories from ghosts to mermaids frolicking in the rivers at night. There was a laughing moment when Marko caught a large bull frog. Thinking he had caught the largest fish of us all he started bragging about it before he had pulled it out of the water, its pull on his rod convincing him it was a huge catch. And when it eventually came out i and Tango’s envious looks quickly turned into tears of laughter as we rolled on the ground laughing at his catch. We even laughed further at his struggles to remove the huge frog from his hook as he was frightened to touch it. He vented his frustration by kicking the frog back into the dam after he had removed it and watched in disgust the frog swim away to the other side of the dam, happy to have escaped death.
After satisfying ourselves with our haul we decided to take a break whilst swimming. Our happiness as a group had been restored and we had gotten over the frog issue. Having grown up in the rural areas all our lives and learning every survival trick in the jungle book, swimming was one of our elementary steps graduating into boys from toddlers. Now in our late teens we could all swim the whole length of the dam with ease, some fifty metres of swimming in a pool of varying depth. The absence of a stop watch wouldn’t deter us from the fun of timing each other’s swim over the fifty metre length of the dam. The timing was done by counting whilst one swims and when they are done the next goes in right to the last. Disputes often emerged on the speed of counting as someone could deliberately chose to be slow in counting whilst someone may also decide to be fast in counting all depending on a desired outcome. Nonetheless we tried to be fare and although there was no standard measurement like the stopwatch’s, we did our best to ensure everyone was fairly rated. Although Marko was the youngest, he was the fastest swimmer of us all and we often argued it was because of his small frame that was easy to move in the waters. His quick arm movements though explaining his terrific speed in water. After tiring ourselves with swimming we shifted our attention to hunting for cat fish in the muddy area around the river banks
We usually used a sack which was cut open, we would immerse it in the mud and drag a little then raising it to the surface to check if we had caught something. That day we hadn’t brought it along and thus the mission was a bit difficult. One had to dip his hands deep into the mud and move slowly trying to feel the cat fishes by hand and try to pull it out of the mud. It was great fun attempting to pull out the slippery fish out of the mud as they often slipped back before you could take it to the dry surface. The last time we did it i was bitten by a crab so this time i was a bit cautious and reluctant to deep my hands into the murky waters. Tango was desperate for a catch and he was going out full force, succeeding twice in taking his catch to the dry surface. Marko managed to scoop to the surface one that had slipped off the hands of Tango. The battle continued for a while but this time with no further success, probably because the chief hunter was now satisfied with his haul and was now doing it for fun rather than serious hunting business. Whilst Tango and Marko were busy with the slippery fish i noticed something like a huge log slipping into the water from one of the cracks of the dam wall. The movement was too quick to give me time to figure out what it was exactly but that little glimpse was enough to shriek me out of the water onto the dry surface of the river bank. I quickly alerted my friends that something had entered the waters but they could have none of it, laughing at me thinking the jealous of failing to catch a single cat fish was driving me crazy
Marko though seeing the seriousness on my face became suspicious too and withdrew from the waters. Tango too moved away from the murky waters to the middle of the dam where the water was a bit clear lest there was indeed something in the water. He remained there in the middle of the dam swimming in circular motions around the same place. Marko and i were busy with killing the cat fish which were still breathing and jumping out and about despite having been out of the water for quite some time when we heard Tango screaming. We almost wanted to jump into the dam but stopped simultaneously upon setting our eyes on the most frightening scene we had ever witnessed. Tango’s head was visually covered by the coils of a huge serpent and his arms too coiled and stretched away from his body. He was visibly shaken as evidenced by his piercing screams as he struggled to let loose at the same time kicking and battling to remain afloat. We looked at each other and in a moment of instantaneous simultaneous thought we all flew into the dam at Olympic swimming competition speeds. In no time it was three against one, with the serpent initially appearing to be on the winning side. How we overcame our fears of snakes is inexplicable as we found ourselves fighting with the monster in his favoured territory. Our first battle was to free Tango from the snake’s monstrous grip, but its force proved to be too much for us and its agility too. Tango was holding its head so that it does not bite him whilst the serpent lashed us with its tail. Having realized that in the water we would not win the battle we decided to pull Tango and his foe out of the water.
The screams of Tango at each increase in grip by the snake made us even more determined as we dragged him out of the water with the snake still coiled around him and he retaliating by squeezing its head. Once out of the waters the battle started to shift in our favour as we managed to free Tango’s head but the serpent wouldn’t just give up easily, his body dangling loosely for a few seconds before violently coiling around Marko’s arms. The power of the serpent was amazing as Marko and Tango battled to free themselves from its grip. Marko’s quick arm movement deceiving the snake when it loosened a little whilst gathering strength to squeeze tighter. The snake sensing tables had overturned and death was imminent began to struggle to free itself producing vicious waves of coils as it struggled to find something to strangle on. And we seeing we were in a position of advantaged were now a bit calmed down and our thinking now rational, Marko and i held the snake from the tail with Tango still clinging onto its head. Twisting and turning he freed himself from its coils to freedom with a huge sigh of relief. But he wouldn’t let it go just like that, neither would we. We all marvelled at it sheer force, our sweating bodies giving testament to an uneasy battle. The serpent writhed and wriggled in our hands but we wouldn’t let go, we wanted to sap all of its energy
Without a tape measure and a weighing scale our senses convinced us it was three metres long weighing around fifteen kilograms. Killing the reptile was out of the question once our sanity had been restored, but had we a knife for the duration of the battle his intestines would surely have hit the ground. But once we had subdued him and taken him captive, we had much time to deliberate on what to do with him. The python in Africa is among the protected endangered species and killing them is a crime. From our traditional beliefs pythons are said to be sacred with the water python believed to be a river goddess. When Tango mentioned how the python is a goddess we all fretted at the thought that the serpent could morph into a huge monster whilst in our hands. Marko exclaimed we needed to just throw the snake into the dam and go home whilst Tango and i remained resolute on the thought of carrying him to our elders first, and if it means returning him to the river we would choose a part of the river not frequented by humans and animals lest he may strike again. We stood there for a few more minutes watching our captive struggling till he powerless to be carried by two people whilst the other one carries our haul of fish. Marko carried the fish whilst Tango and i held the monster one at each end like a skip rope
When we arrived home we were greeted with screams of shock and amazement by our parents and siblings. Initially they thought we had killed the python until it started wriggling again trying to escape custody, their noise probably triggering the fresh escape bid. In a short time scores of villagers had gathered listening to our story and why we had brought it home. Elders retorted how lucky we were that it wasn’t a venomous snake, else we would be talking about funeral arrangements. It was one of the biggest ever seen pythons in the area and people marvelled at our strength for overcoming such a huge constrictor especially in the waters, its favoured territory. People began to come up with several theories on the python whilst some took time to inspect it and satisfy their eyes before it could be taken away back to its natural habitat. Some proposed called the Wildlife conservation department to take it to a conservation area but Marko’s grandfather protested against the idea. His ideology was that the python was the river goddess and guardian or the local river. Taking him away from his home would anger him and result in the river and dam drying up and severe droughts hitting the area.
My grandmother was not much amused by the snake, all that mattered to her was the fish that we had brought home and she was already starting a fire to roast some for herself well before my friends and i could divide the catch equally amongst ourselves. The python was now changing hands with each man wanting to hold him and have a feel of his scaly skin and feel him wriggling in their hands. Eventually a group of men was selected to take him back to the river but at a secluded part of the river were chances of interfering with humans and livestock was minimal. The selected place was a rocky part that also had a small dam due to waterfalls caused by the rocks and was both covered and surrounded by a dense thicket of black willow and brush cherry trees. There the snake was released, happily gliding into the water and rolling a little probably to cool himself before disappearing into the dark caves to establish a new home for himself. We returned home with warm hearts, another demonstration of bravery and conquering one of the wild Savannah’s feared constrictors.