Treating Snake Poisoning & Related Myths [Archives:1998/19/Culture]

May 11 1998

The arid (desert) habitat of Al-Mahara, Yemen’s eastern-most province, is somehow suitable to snakes. Humans are often oblivious to the dangers. But, the people of Al-Mahara have developed many ways to combat snake poisoning.
It is an age-old treatment by specialized persons for snake bites, called Raaboot in Al-Mahara. Those who administer this treatment have received the secret of the profession from their fathers and forefathers before them. Legend has it that they have natural immunity against snake poison due to an ancient accord between man and snake: they do not kill it and it does not poison them!
Bahamoot Bahamoot
When a person is bitten by a poisonous snake, his family would do everything they can to fetch a Raaboot man, even if they have to travel long distances.
On arrival, the Raaboot man immediately sits by the patient’s head. He is accompanied by a group of 7 or 10 people, who for two hour chant an ancient incantation used for this purpose. It goes Bahamoot, Bahamoot in a monotone voice. Then the Raaboot man leaves after making sure that poison has left the patient’s body, either through vomiting or diarrheatic stool. Other signs of the poison’s effect abating include the patient’s body temperature dropping to normal, subsiding of liver pain, and decrease in swelling.
Raaboot is also used by the Al-Mahara people to treat yellow fever.
Scent Tracking
Local legend ascribes superhuman abilities to Raaboot men. They can smell the scent of the snake poison inside the body of a bitten person from a long distance.
While traveling with his brother and their merchandise-laden camels in an arid valley, a Raaboot man smelled the scent of snake poison more than 10km away. He ran all the way, guided by the scent, to the patient and started the Raaboot procedures. It took him all night to expel the poison from the body of the patient. This fable shows that these Raaboot men are willing to sacrifice their possessions for the sake of helping a fellow human being.
Types of Mahara Snakes
Desert snakes are more dangerous than rural or urban snakes. Those found in Mahara include the following:
1- Black adder or Hobayt in Al-Mahara.
2- Asfoor bites the head of a human being by jumping in the air while producing a frightening whistle. 3- Kabsh or dallom is short and thick with a spotted abdomen and a foul smell. It produces a lot of poison, but becomes paralyzed for almost 24 hours after biting.
4- Moqarabt al-Kafan or coffin bringer is very dangerous and deadly.
5- Zayraq is black and white and swift in movement.
There are several other species of snake in Al-Mahara, some even with little horns.
Incandescent Jewel
Some locals and lone travelers swear that a certain kind of snake has an incandescent jewel, which as they claim is really a piece of flesh the radiates light at night. Some eccentrics seek out this “jewel” because they believe that possessing it will bring them huge fortunes, provided that nobody knows about it. But everything is lost when this “jewel” is lost.
By: Saad Ali Mohaisin,
Yemen Times, Al-Mahara.