Four Communities that Worships Pythons as their gods in Nigeria
In many religions across Africa, pythons represent something sacred and reverred.
Despite the aggressive evangelization often embarked upon by various Christian and Islamic denominations across Nigeria and beyond, there are indications that several local communities are still far from being reached with the message of the new religion as they still clinch to their old deities which they worship as their gods.
Snakes are generally regarded as dangerous species of animals which must be eliminated whenever they are sighted. But that is not the case in some parts of the country where snakes are regarded as sacred animals that must be feted and protected and even nurtured. In such communities, snakes are believed to be harmless and are seen as part of the larger society. In fact, they are accorded royal treatments in some places.
The first place that comes to mind is the very popular Python Temple in Ouidah, Benin Republic. The temple is a historical and modern symbolism of spiritual practice in Benin republic. It also acts as a basilica for voodoo worshippers in West Africa and all over the world. In this town, pythons are respected and worshipped, rather than feared.
In Nigeria, it is also still common to see such beliefs and religions. In those places, killing a python is forbidden and often attracts very serious penalties such as human-like funeral rites for the killed snake
Here are four towns in Nigeria that still worship the python.
1 . Nembe, Bayelsa state
Among the Nembe people of Bayelsa State, it is pythons that are regarded as the people’s deity. In some quarters, they are not only loved, they are worshipped, and they enjoy immunity just like the snakes in Macchina do.
Chief Nengi James, a prominent Nembe son, said: “In Nembe, the python is a totem. Our people believe that it is a transformation of the spiritual being. It is one of the objects our people believe in at war times or when there are other serious issues. A python used to come to our house when I was young. As a small boy, I used to be afraid of it, but my father would have it removed.
“When the people want to remove it, they tap at it and call it a name. The python will courl itself and then they will remove it. But it is not common today as it was in the past because of modernisation and the exploration of crude oil. Most of the things we were acquainted with are not seen easily again because of these. But if we see a python, we always pick it up and drop it in a place I will not want to describe to you.”
Reliving a shocking experience he once had with a python while he was asleep, James said: “As a young man, there was a day I was sleeping and my hand touched something that was very cold. Behold, it was a python that had come and curled itself on my pillow! I started shouting and my father came and told me to keep calm. The python thereafter made its way out through a hole.
“At present, it is not common, but we still see it. When we see it, our people know how to remove it, using traditional means. I don’t want to talk about the totem, because whether we like it or not, we don’t expose everything about our totem. But if a Nembe man sees a dead python anywhere, he will pick it up, wrap it with a white cloth and bury it.”
Like the people of Nembe, in many communities in the South Eastern part of the country, pythons live in harmony with the people. They are revered and they enjoy immunity from attacks.
2 . Idemili, Anambra state
In Anambra State, Idemili North and South to be precise, the people refrain from calling the python a snake. They simply call it Eke Idemili. None of the natives who spoke with our correspondent dared call it a snake.
“We don’t call it a snake. We call it Eke Idemili,” Obiora, a native of the area, protested.
Obiora said: “We grew up seeing Eke (python) moving around without anybody trying to kill it. It is the culture everywhere in Idemili North and South. At times, it will enter into people’s houses. When you see it, all you do is use a stick to carry it and throw it away. If it bites anybody in the area and the person shouts, ‘Eke! Eke!’ the snake will hiss and nothing will happen to the person. All the person will need to do is to use his or her hand to remove the tooth it has buried in the person’s body.
“I don’t believe in those things, but there are people who worship it. If you see Idemili’s logo, it contains water with an Eke (snake) raising its head to the surface. That is to tell you the place of Eke in our culture.”
The cordial relationship between man and Eke, as python is fondly called in Igboland, is also a common practice in many communities in Imo State. A native of Otulu in Oru West Local Government Area of Imo State, who gave his name simply as Sunday, said the weird relationship began as a result of the role played by Eke in the lives of the people during the civil war.
He said: “Our neighbours in Umuduru don’t kill Eke (python). There is even a shrine where some people worship it. Although I am from Otulu where people kill and eat Eke, I cannot kill or eat it because my mother is from Umuduru. Eke, on its part, cannot harm me. I have on several occasions seen it on the road and all I did was to use a stick to take it away from the road. I cannot drink from the same cup with somebody who eats it.”
The Senior Pastor of Be Restored Peoples Mission, Rev (Dr.) Godspower Okafor, also said: “Not killing or eating Eke does not apply to Umuduru alone; it is a practice in the entire Amiri, Awo Omamma and Omuma. In these places, you dare not kill Eke because it is a taboo.
“As a pastor, I will not kill it, because if an Omuma, Amiri or Awo Omamma man sees me doing that, automatically, I will block the door of such a person coming to the church where I pastor because they reverence it. I as a person regard it as a snake. Paul said if the meat that I eat will make my brother to backslide, I will rather be a vegetarian.
“It does come to my house and all we do is to carry it and throw it inside the bush for it to continue its journey. Eke normally does not bite. But where it bites, it is not harmful. Although, if an Eke bites somebody who eats it, there will be problem because it sees the person as its enemy.”
The cleric added: “Nobody can actually give you the full story of the genesis of the practice. Not even a Methuselah in Amiri or Awo Omama, because they all met the practice and only understood from their fathers or grandfathers that people don’t kill it because it belongs to their deity.
“For instance, in Amiri and Awo Omama, it is believed that Eke belongs to Njaba. That is the most anybody can tell you.”
3 . Imo state
Just like in Anambra state, the python is a feared deity in many parts of Imo state. Some say the python helped natives to escape several dangers during the civil war.
Mgbidi, the headquarters of Oru West local government area of Imo State is a communities where residents still regard python as one of their gods. Mgbidi is made up of eleven communities including Imeoha, Eziali, Umuekwe, Okwudor , Umuorji, Umuokpara, Umuehi , Umuabiahu, Uziaumu , Ihitte and Ugbele.
A correspondent who was in the community to attend a three day crusade decided to find out the myth behind a statement made by one of the residents who attended the programme. In a chat with one of the priests who identified himself as Ngozi Obiwuru, he boasted that no amount of civilization can change that part of their culture; worshipping of python. “Several churches have come to deliver this community but have failed to stop the worship of snakes.
I used to be a Christian before my father who I inherited this job from died. I had to relocate to the village and learn the traditions of our people. “If you mistakenly kill a snake, you will simply appease the gods or face the consequences.
There was a particular case, the man called all kinds of pastors to pray for his family, at the end of the day he came to me and performed the sacrifice. It dawned on him that it was not a joke when his three kids died mysteriously. “Several churches have been advised to stay away from that part of our religion.
We welcome the fact that they have brought a lot of development in our area, but the fact remains that no one can force us to abandon what we believe in.”
To appease the gods, Obiwuru said: “It is very simple. The individual will buy a white coffin, white cock, goat and will come to the shrine for sacrifice. The coffin will be used to bury the snake. These snakes do not bite anyone; it is a sign of blessing if it chooses to visit your family at night. It is an honour to have a god in your home, just as the Christians rejoice when they spot an angel in their homes.
“One of my close relatives tried it. He came back from the city, and told me that he has just finished seven days fasting. To try the potency of his prayers, he said would kill as many pythons as he could lay his hands on. He actually went to the bush to find one. Today, my brother is dead and buried and no one can explain what happened to him.”
Just as he claimed that python is a sacred animal, Obiwuru also warned visitors to steer clear of Obana River. “It is a taboo for an indigene or visitor to kill a fish in the river. If a visitor unknowingly takes it away, he or she will not be affected.”
4 . Machina, Yobe state
In Machina, one of the ancient emirates in Yobe State, snakes of certain species are regarded not just as reptiles but members of the royal family, and they enjoy all the privileges that come with royalty. Like in a democratic setting, the snakes are accorded such fundamental human rights as the right to life as well as freedom of movement and association with the people in the emirate. They are immune to attacks and must not be hurt for any reason whatsoever. More importantly, unlike the ordinary people in the emirate, they enjoy unhindered access to the palace.
The Nation’s findings revealed that the species of snakes so revered in Machina was born by a woman together with one of the forebears of the emirate. Since then, that species of snakes has been accepted as members of the royal family.
Attesting to the foregoing, a scholar and member of the royal family, Dr. Abba Kagu Kagu, said: “The snake was born together with one of the forefathers of the emirate who was also an emir. We actually grew up seeing the snakes around, especially within the royal house.
“The snakes have never had any problem with anybody. During the last Machina annual cultural festival in July, some of the processions came with the snakes, very big ones, to greet the emir, because they are seen to as members of the royal family.
“When the snake that was born together with the deceased emir had grown big, it was taken to another compound in a rocky and hilly area outside the house. There the snake procreated like a regular human family. But whenever there was an event in the royal house, the snakes would go to the house.
“Whenever there is a big event, say marriage or burial, they come around. Sometimes you see the smaller ones coming in. At other times, you see the bigger ones. That is still happening till today.”
Asked how he and others in the emirate feel seeing snakes around the house, Kagu said: “For us, it is no big deal. It is not something that started two or three years ago. We grew up seeing them and even our parents grew up seeing them too. It is a very normal phenomenon. It is not that they come around roaming about and disturbing people.
“The royal house is a very big area bordering the rocky and hilly area where the snakes live. After building the wall, they had to create holes in the northern part of the house so that the snakes can have access into it.
“Sometimes, when they come in, they go to where there are flowers and lie there because it is cold. And if you have to go to where they are to do one thing or the other, they would not run away. Sometimes they sneak into the rooms. At that point, older people would go in and bring them out.”