From My Days in Africa

By Steve Van Nattan




A python is a very large snake with a bad reputation. It is a constrictor, which means that it has to catch its lunch without the benefit of poison. It is not a fast moving snake, so the python will lay in the grass along a game trail and hope some animal will come by which is small enough to swallow.

The python has one feature which helps catch the lunch-- two hooks near its tail. The python will strike with its tail, unlike poisonous snakes which strike with their mouth and fangs. The python flings its tail at its prey, and if the hooks catch in the animal, the python uses them as an anchor for leverage. The python will quickly wrap itself in coils around the animal and slowly squeeze its prey until it cannot breath. The prey suffocates from lack of breath.

After this, the python swallows its prey whole. This critter, unlike good boys and girls, does not cut its food into smaller bites, nor does it chew its food. The jaws of the python come unjointed so that it can open its mouth very wide. If you see a python in the zoo, you will wonder how its small mouth can open wide enough to swallow an animal. In fact, a python about 15 feet long can swallow a whole goat.

Pythons can live in pretty good health by eating only once a year. They will eat more often if given the opportunity. The pythons can grow to be as long as 20 feet, though not many that long have been reported. Pythons do not stalk people. They would if they could swallow them for tiffin, but humans are too big.

Pythons can be dangerous to people though, which brings us to our fist story:


Arussi farmer--
We were missionaries in the Arussi Galla area of Ethiopia. We lived on the southern shore of Lake Langano, a large lake on the Rift Valley floor which was a safe lake to swim in. Many pythons lived along the lake shore in the tall grass and reeds because lots of lunch (small animals) came down to the lake to drink.

The Arussi people were the tribe which lived around the lake where we lived. They were not progressive in some ways, but they were very clever and hard working in the old ways of Africa. They grew mostly corn (maize if you are from the UK) as a staple crop. The pythons also liked to get in their corn fields. If the farmers could kill them they would because the pythons could catch goats from their flocks and eat them.

One farmer tried to kill a python in his field, as he had safely done several times before. But, this python was very big and long. It whipped its tail at him, caught him with its hooks near its tail, and quickly wrapped itself around the man. The man did not have a hand free or a knife, or he could have cut the python in two and escaped. The python slowly crushed the man. Friends heard him call for help and rushed to save him. But, by the time they got there, the python had crushed the man's ribs and they punctured his lungs. He soon died.

So, if you go wandering about in Africa, you will want to carry a big knife or machete. People in the USA and Europe think carrying a knife is only for criminals. This is rather silly, for a large knife can be very handy.


The Luo are tribe of people long ago came down the Nile, probably from the Nubian area in Sudan. They are very black, and they are very industrious. But, they have some very strange customs. One of their favorite dishes is python. I have eaten rattle snake, and I can tell you that snake meat is very tasty-- a lot like fried chicken.

When the Luo find a python they kill it, clean it, and throw it up on the roof of their house in the sun. This tenderizes the python, though some of them leave the python on the roof a bit too long I think. To cook python, or any cleaned and skinned snake, slice it across the snake into steaks. Roll it in flour and fry it. The meat is a bit rich, so some mint jelly or a light sauce would be in order. Lemon wedges can be helpful. Bon appetite.


Frank (Pop) Manning--
When I was growing up in Tanzania, Pop Manning was a missionary friend of ours, and he wanted a photograph of a python to show his friends back in the USA. One day his house worker came running and told him there was a python outside the home. The African wanted Pop Manning to kill the python because Africans fear all snakes, even the harmless ones.

Pop Manning ran for his camera instead of his gun, and when he got to the spot where the python was, it was frightened and slowly moving off of the road into the tall grass. Pop Manning wanted a photo so badly that he set his camera down and ran and grabbed the python by the tail. He pulled it out of the grass back onto the road a ways, and then he told us that the python seemed to tense up, grab the ground somehow, and started dragging Pop Manning along as it returned to the grass.

Pope Manning finally had to let go. It is amazing to realize that the snake goes along on its belly with no legs, but that python still could out pull Pop Manning. He was in no danger as long as he held the python's tail, for it could not whip the tail to catch him with its hooks.

So, if you see a python, and you want to take it home with you, be sure to grab it by the tail. Pythons WILL bite, although they have no poison. Many people think a snake bite by a nonpoisonous snake is not serious. In fact, a snake's mouth is loaded with bacteria, and a snake bite should be cleaned out very well and disinfected. A shot of penicillin would be in order.

While we are on the topic, you need to know that fully one third of all the people bitten by poisonous snakes were trying to kill them. If a poisonous snake is in your yard, you need to kill it, but if you are out in the woods or the desert and see a poisonous snake, just leave it alone. You are not doing anyone a favor by killing it, and you are taking a large risk.

Here are some links to other sites on the web about pythons:








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