Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Snake Eaters of Morocco

Moroccan Cobra
While in Tangier, I got to do some research about the history of Morocco in the American Legation library. They have an incredible collection, including many signed editions and rare books form the 18th and 19th centuries. One is A Tour from Gibraltar to Tangier by William Lempriere, a surgeon hired to treat the son of the sultan. It was published in 1791 and is a detailed look at the country as it was then.

When talking about the Marabout, who are religious performers you can still see today, the author has this to say.

“The most singular of this class are the Sidi Nasir, or snake eaters, who exhibit in public upon market-days, and entertain the crowd by eating live snakes, and performing juggling deceptions. I was once present at this strange species of amusement, and saw a man, in the course of two hours, eat a living serpent four feet in length. He danced to the sound of wild music, vocal and instrumental, with a variety of odd gestures and contortions, several times round the circle formed by the spectators. He then began his attack upon the tail, after he had recited a short prayer, in which he was joined by the multitude. This ceremony was repeated at intervals, till he had entirely devoured the snake.”

I never got to see the Sidi Nasir and don't know if they're still around. I did meet a Marabout who was hawking his own brand of herbal Viagra in front of the main mosque! No, I didn't buy any.

Photo courtesy Phillipe Geniez.


Rusty Carl said...

My parents lived in Morocco for a few years. They tell some interesting stories. My father was held hostage for several days during a coup attempt at the king's palace.

And my mother learned how to make the most excellent fried rice there. I'd never taken fried rice as north african dish, but the servant they had made it and they fell in love with it.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That takes great control not to gag. Not to mention how awful it would be to eat a live snake. Was it a cobra or non-poisonous snake?

Sean McLachlan said...

The writer didn't say what species of snake it was. I suppose it was nonpoisonous or defanged. And I presume it was ingested tail first. :-)

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