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Sadu, the Serpent god of the Taita

By Pascal Mwandambo | Updated Sat, August 10th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

By Pascal Mwandambo

The arrival of Omieri, a serpent at a homestead in Luo land in Nyanza region sparked heated debate among members of the community. Some residents especially those of religious faith called for the destruction of the snake through burning while adherents of traditional African beliefs drew machetes to protect the serpent. For long, this latter group fed the serpent with delicacies meant for human beings and not reptiles.

A section of members of this community still respect Omieri as a kin to god and a custodian of local cultures and values. Equivalent Elsewhere in the Coast region in the Taita community of yore, there was an equivalent of Omieri, which went by the name Sadu. Sadu was a huge snake-god which was a custodian of local culture and resources. It was believed to be guided by the spirits of Taita ancestors and apparently it was harmless.

Sadu lived in the forested hills which were the prime water sources and the catchment areas as well as the plains. The snake god was believed to have potent powers according to Mzee Kilambo Mkilo. “Sadu was revered because it could either invite curses or blessings in the society depending on how the society approached issues and dealt with one another,” says Mzee Mkilo.

 Mkilo explains that in the days of Yore all resources were meant for the general good of the whole society and not individual ownership. “Land, water, forests, minerals and other resources were owned by the community and the ancestors, at the behest of Sadu. Members had to ensure that not only were these resources were protected and jealously guarded but also that no one denied the other the right to enjoy them,” says Mkilo.

Unlike what most people believe, Taita traditional community had a strong attachment to mineral resources including precious stones and iron ore. Research indicates that Taita traditional society hand a wellestablished iron smelting culture, where the experts dealing in iron were popularly referred to as Wachana. These were famed for making implements such as hoes, pangas and arrowheads( chuda).

“The Wachana were among the people who derived special blessings from Sadu and the ancestral spirits given the fact that their work was of immense value to the society both for protection, wealth creation and the general wellbeing of society members,” says Mkilo. He says as guardian to these invaluable resources, Sadu had powers to protect the same.

Immense powers

The elder says the snake had powers to turn minerals into loose sand, dry up water sources or even prevent outsiders from accessing local catchment areas. He says: “When some members of the society began wrangling over resources, Sadu had various ways of expressing displeasure over the same.” “In the case of wrangling over water, the snake had powers to dry up water sources as a punishment to the wrangling members .

This would bring suffering to these people until they resolved their differences upon which normal water supply resumed,” he adds. In other cases Sadu would move into a water source (embelo) coil itself up and make all the water dirty so that it would be unfi t for human consumption. The elders would get the cue and immediately seek to unravel the cause of Sadu’s anger and the same led to the ancestors punishing anyone offending Sadu.

In the case of fi rewood, where one person was thought to overexploit the resources, it was alleged that Sadu could turn the dry fi rewood into raw wood that would not light up a fi re. Stories are told that border on myths about Sadu. For instance it is alleged that the snake moved at night with the aid of a huge powerful egg-shaped precious stone that shone powerful light along its way.

It is said that this powerful gemstone would attract small animals which moved near it to feed only for Sadu to gobble them up. Many have claimed that if one would get hold of this precious stone, one would strike it rich as it is believed to be of great value. But that is neither here nor there since nobody has ever laid his/her hands on this spiritual treasure. Myths and folklore aside, Sadu has continued to draw a lot of attention from researchers working in Taita forests.

Water Custodian

The strange snake which has a fanglike protrusion on its back has been nicknamed the “Back-fanged snake”. Wherever it passes it leaves a narrow trail on the ground due to the claw-like protrusion on its back. The snake which is also believed to fl y over long distances, is found in Mbololo, Mwambirwa and Ngangao forests.

In Ngangao the strange snake is believed to be the custodian not only of the water tower but also the Chamsidu tree, one of the largest trees on earth at over 20 meters in diameter. A local myth claims that a person can undergo a sex change by going around the Chamsidu tree seven times.