CHAWATAMA Marimo remembers the last time he was bitten by a snake. It was 14 years ago and he had got a call from someone about a creepy crawly that had taken residence in his home.
The snake was a highly venomous cobra and although the 44 year- old had managed to capture it , it had exhibited its trademark ferocity and bit him through the bag. Deep in the outskirts of Ruwa, the man who has made his name as Zimbabwe’s only professional snake charmer saw his life flashing before him.
“At the time I thought perhaps this is it. I thought this is the way that my life was about to end. At the same time I couldn’t understand because I thought I had the snake nicely tucked away. That was not to be because it bit me through the bag I was carrying it in,” he said. Years after that encounter, Chawa has become a phenomenon.
He is the go to man whenever people spot a snake in their home and although he might not be on any wildlife channel, social media has spread his name far and wide.
Every video he posts has thousands of views and many people are bewildered by how calmly expertly he deals with creatures that strike fear into the hearts of most people. Chawa however, hastens to add that despite his reputation, whenever he goes eyeball to eyeball with a venomous snake, he does so with a hint of fear in his heart.
“I always approach animals with respect. Whenever I see a snake, the one thing that I give it is the respect because I’m aware of the damage that it can do. I guess you can say that respect comes from fear. If you approach a snake with 100 percent surety and no fear that’s when you get into trouble. That fear is very important,” he said.
According to the snake charmer, he has managed to dance with some of Zimbabwe’s most dangerous animals because of his ability to hide his fear.
“I know how to hide it. Animals sense fear. It’s all about body posture and I’m sure that if you enter a hide and you show fear then even dogs will bite you. What’s important is not to act like prey. If you act like prey then automatically you become prey,” he said.
After 20 years handling some of Zimbabwe’s most dangerous animals, Chawa says that he is aware that being a snake charmer has had a toll on his family. Whenever he leaves home in the morning, he is convinced that they silently wonder if he will return to them in one piece in the evening.
“I’m sure that they worry about my health. Whenever I go out I think they must wonder whether I’ll be fine or not because what I do is fairly dangerous. They’re used to it now of course but I think that it must be hard for them,” he said.
The self taught snake handler said that he would not want any of his family members doing what he does. While the father of two allows his children to touch non-venomous snakes when he is around, he does not want them to grow up and do what he does for a living.
“I wouldn’t want them to handle snakes the way that I do. I have told them to never approach snakes under any circumstances when I’m not there. I have taught them to respect animals which I feel is the most important thing. I let them touch the non-venomous snakes when I’m home,” he said.
After spending 20 years as a snake charmer, Chawa says that Zimbabwean’s attitude towards snakes is changing. People no longer see him as some sort of wizard and they are also starting to let go of the belief that snakes in their homes are products of witchcraft.
As he changes the minds of Zimbabweans with every snake catch, Chawa, acknowledges that he might need to pass the button to other young snake catchers.
“The problem I have is that I don’t have land. As soon as I have land then I’ll be able to teach people how to behave around animals. I want to groom people and also teach the people such things as snake bite avoidance and snake bite treatment,” he said.