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How I Won My Fight with Two Snakes Ready to Attack Me
Cassava (tallest, foreground) is a root crop. To harvest it, uproot and cut off the roots. Leaves drop off when dried. Woody stem is a good arnis stick.
Coiled with heads high akimbo, tongue sticking out, these snakes were poised to strike me
I saw snakes, some sliding away, others dead. Between a python and a snake I consider the snake more treacherous. I heard that a python subdues its prey by constriction not by its venom. I also heard that the python gets strength by anchoring its tail. So, I figured to fight a python I would break its backbone and stump its tail. I would not worry about its bite as it does not inject venom.
But to fight with a snake?
In my childhood, about grade school and high school age, I was exposed to snakes. My parents were farmers who cultivated their homestead lot. When I was about to go to grade five, for a bad quirk of fortune, I was not able to enroll. I spent the whole year in the rice farm most of the time as I helped my father grow rice.
We had two carabaos strong and patient beast of burden that could pull some sleds or carts to the limits of their strength. All they wanted in return was a good pasture of grass, plenty of water to drink and good sleep in the night. Flies and mosquitoes pester them a lot so they enjoy wallowing in a pond of mud. Most of the time we tied them to roost near our bunk house at nighttime. Early in the morning we used longer ropes to tether them and let them browse on robust grass.
Host to snakes
Several kinds of grasses grow in the rice field during off season. They are hosts to a lot of creatures like insects, snails, frogs, land turtles, millipedes, crickets, ground-based birds, mouse, and snakes.
The snakes I saw in our farm were with streak of green, black with spots of white, brownish and yellowish. I had seen cobra fight our dogs that scampered away. Dogs usually do not take on the challenge from a cobra unlike a cat does. I had seen in the movies how a cat fights a cobra and always won.I encountered the snakes wound around some grass, or swallowing a frog, or just passing across my path.
One snake slid over my stomach. I took an after-lunch nap, alone, in our bunk house. Nipa singles made of palm fronds, were used as roofing and walls of this bunk house. The floor, made of bamboo splits, was raised to about the waistline. This farmhouse was habituated for short times during the day and seldom at night. So, mice and snakes could make it a warm abode, owls perched on top of the roof. I was awakened by something weighing down on my stomach. When I opened my eyes I saw a green snake sliding over my stomach with tongue sticking in and out. Except for my eyelids I did not move. I did not think of driving it away, or running away. The snake just slithered slowly past my stomach then moved away as if I were a part of the floor or some log.
I did not care to look for a stick and try to strike the snake. I just sat up then walked as if the snake did not threaten me. Was I petrified? I did not think so. It might be that I had seen several snakes before that this snake did not scare me.
Later when I was in college for a degree in agriculture, I told of this experience to a fellow student who was taking up veterinary medicine. He said a snake would not strike an immobile thing unless it was hunting it for food, like a frog or mouse. So, in retrospect, I did the right thing - not moving when the snake was sliding over my stomach.
Still in the farm, one day, before dark, two black snakes with white spots threatened me. I had just came out of our bunk house headed for home which was about a kilometer away. It had rained in the morning and some dark clouds still hang in the sky. Father had gone home ahead of me, taking with him the two carabaos. Our five dogs tugged along and I was left alone. I started to walk my way home.
Beside our bunk house was a clear area, some parts were bare of grass. This was used as a roost for our carabaos. I looked toward it to make sure the carabaos were not there. I saw two snakes instead. They were two arms length apart. Coiled with heads akimbo, tongues sticking in and out. I knew that a snake when coiled like that is ready to strike. I was two arms length away from them.
They clearly were issuing a challenge. I was not food for them as I was big, not small enough like a mouse or a frog. I was then 12 years old. I considered whether to take on the challenge or run away. I was sure they could not catch up with me if I ran as fast as I could.
I looked around and saw some five stems of cassava lying on the ground at my right. These were long and big enough for use as arnis sticks (Arnis is a Filipino martial arts even American policemen are using it, taught by a master, Roland Dantes, also a former movie actor). I knew how strong these cassava stems could be because we have planted and harvested a lot of cassavas.
The challenge of these two snakes, most likely couples, provoked me. I decided I would not run away from it. Things i considered: A snake coiled to fight would not uncoil and rash to attack me. It would stay coiled and strike with its head about over a foot above the ground swinging. If I stayed far enough it could not reach me with its fangs. Or the venom it spit could not land on me. If it uncoiled to rash towards me it could not run fast because the ground was not full of grass; a snake can run faster on grass than on open earth. I could strike it while slithering towards me.
Why did I take on the challenge of these snakes? For all I knew, snakes live among grasses but sometimes they stay in dry places. They might have decided to stay near the bunk house or take abode between some logs stacked nearby. Now it was their territory where to lay eggs that they must defend. In that case they would always pose a threat. Suppose I absentmindedly sat on these logs? I would not even see them strike me. I shuddered at the thought that they would bite anyone of our parents unmindful of their presence.
They were big now with glands full of poison; each could kill a man with one dose of venom. Their being in the open gave a better chance for me to kill them. I had to figure out how to win the fight.
The cassava stems were straight, unbranched and long, strong enough they would not break from strong strokes. The roots had been cut off and the leaves had dropped off as well. If the first one broke I could pick up another quickly. What part of the snake to strike? I had seen some snakes overrun by a jeepney. It could not move away from where it laid because its backbone was broken. That meant I had to strike the snake to break its backbone. I did not have to worry about its fangs as long as I stayed away from its reach. If I broke its backbone it could not even uncoil to thrush forward and attack me. One or two strong strokes would break its backbone.
But there were two snakes. I could stay in one place with both feet firmly anchored and strike one snake at a time without having to move my feet. I decided to strike the snake at my right first. If the cassava stem broke I would pick up another. I had to ensure that the first strike broke the backbone. After striking the snake at my right I would strike the next one at my left. That was my fight plan.
I assessed my chances of winning. The key was breaking their backbones not killing them at first strikes. I was wearing short pants, meaning my feet were exposed for probable bites. I was wearing T-shirt exposing my arms to bites. I had no bolo, a native scythe, on hand. No time to look for one. Besides a bolo was too short I would be within reach of the fangs if I used one to try to cut off the snake head. No other person was within shouting distance. No time to call for help. This time, I thought, I must not look for help. It was my fight alone.
What would have been my counter protection had one snake bitten me? None! My best chance of winning that fight was to ensure that I broke their backbones. In addition, at the back of my mind I believed that I was not very vulnerable to snake venom. Why? My father had a theory that if you had taken snake bile, snakes would even avoid you. They would smell their bile on you even from a distance. Whenever he had killed a snake, he would extract the bile and squeeze the greenish bluish bitter thing on a glass of native wine called arak, fermented sap of the flower peduncle of nipa palm. He always kept a store of arak to warm his stomach from the cold weather and rains and to dilute snake bile. He always carried a dried bile in his body like a talisman. If he got bitten he would ingest the bile as antidote, he said. I believed him. He had killed a lot of snakes, big and small that were running away, or swallowing a frog or trying to attack him.
It is easy to kill a snake with a frog in its mouth. A snake can swallow very slowly a frog ten times the normal size of its mouth but it could not regurgitate a frog once it is deep into its mouth. Ergo, it could not bite you. A frog being swallowed keeps shrieking that serves as a signal that a snake is around. My father would hunt it down for self protection and for its bile. In all the years he walked the rice fields barefoot, plowing it manually, planting rice, weeding the seedlings to flowering stage and harvesting the panicles laden with golden grains he was never bitten by a snake. I had partaken of snake bile in wine. It was my belief I had a venom antidote running in my blood.
I picked up one cassava stem. It was heavy and sturdy alright. Holding it with both hands like an arnis stick gave me the feeling I could break the backbone with one stroke. I calculated the distance between the snakes and me so that I would not have to move my feet while swinging the cassava stem. I raised the stem high enough and struck hard the coiled body of the snake. It did not uncoil on this first strike. The cassava stem did not break either. Quickly, I swung it up again and struck the snake at my left. That too did not uncoil from the first strike. Now their heads with fangs showing kept swinging, trying to strike back, hissing as they sprayed venom towards me.
i struck the first snake again and the second snake in turn. I was sure now that I had broken their spinal columns. It was true. The snakes failed to uncoil.
With the same cassava stem i struck the snakes to death.
I walked home slowly feeling that the snake bile in my blood, or so I thought, bathed me with energy.