Python Worship and Local Legends in Africa

Welcome Mythsters! Unfortunately, Jaz recently dislocated her shoulder and Anike is down with the flu, so you’re stuck with me (Koji) for the blog this week. Please send some well-wishes their way so they can be healthy and strong for our next podcast.

When we get to areas that have real, large serpents, such as the Congo River Basin, it’s impossible to talk about dragon legends without going into some aspects of serpent worship. Specifically, I want to talk a bit about python worship in Africa, since the potential size of pythons give them the most dragonesque appearance of snakes.

I covered some python worship and cryptids in last months patreon post, but there is definitely a lot more serpent mythology to cover in Africa. First, I want to look at the San in North-Western Botswana.

Python Worship by the San in North-Western Botswana

Python worship is spread across the entire continent of Africa. Each area practices in different ways. In some areas, people would be put to death for killing a python. In other areas, pythons are given their own hut and priest or priestess who feeds them tethered animals or sacred milk. While each area has some interesting variations on python worship, one of the most interesting is North-western Botswana. This isn’t because of what the San people do now, but because of how long their rituals have been going on. 

The python is one of the San’s most important animals. According to their creation myth, mankind descended from the python and the ancient, arid streambeds around the hills are said to have been created by the python as it circled the hills in its ceaseless search for water.

Researchers have found a large rock, about six meters long by two meters tall, with man-made indentations that make the rock look like a serpent. They began excavations at the mouth of the serpent and have found many arrowheads, taken from hundreds of kilometers away, that were “sacrificed” to the serpent. The red ones were burned, all others just buried. Dating has placed this ritual at around 70,000 years old. Inside the cave was a small chamber, where it is believed shaman would hide to talk to worshipers. This may be one of the oldest ritualistic sites in the world, which is just amazing.


Art by Anike Kirsten, Inspired by The Last of Her Kind, by Mame Bougouma Diene

The next being I want to talk about is the Mamlambo, which is sort of a cryptid and sort of a mythical creature. Furthermore, one name shares a lot of different tales, depending on where you are. The name might sound familiar because way back when the Mythsterhood started, Anike reviewed The Last of Her Kind, by Mame Bougouma Diene, which featured a mamlambo. You can find Anike’s review here.

In South African and Zulu legend, the Mamlambo is known as the brain sucker. It eats people’s faces to consume their brains, which is pretty gruesome. Supposedly it can be found in the Mzintlava River and the Umzimlava River. It is said to be 6-7 feet in length, with a long tail, four legs, the body of a crocodile, a serpent’s neck, and a horse’s head. Some accounts say the creature is bioluminescent or that it has two gleaming green eyes that can mesmerize people. But honestly, if I saw that creature, I don’t think I would need any magic to be mesmerized.

But continuing to look up the Mamlambo, I got some very conflicting stories that don’t involve a fierce, brain-sucking cryptid. Instead, Mamlambo takes the form of a large python. Supposedly they bring fortune to anyone who takes care of it. It can grant money, an increase in livestock, and other riches. Sometimes the Mamlambo will come to a person or family on their own, but most often people have to seek it out by going to a traditional doctor who will give them specific instructions for attracting and caring for the Mamlambo.

Of course, this change of luck doesn’t come without a cost. The mamlambo requires regular sacrifices. The owner might have to go without a car or clothes, without a wife, or even sacrifice their children to the serpent. If the owner of the snake forgets one of their regular sacrifices, the snake will destroy the whole family, starting with the children and leaving the owner for last.

Unfortunately, once you have a mamlambo, it’s not easy to get rid of. It will be with you for the rest of your life, and even attach itself to your children once you have died. There are two ways to get rid of a mamlambo. One way is a ritual slaughtering that involves folding the carcass in its skin and throwing it away. The other method is to transfer the serpent to someone else, who usually has to accept it willingly. This results in people tricking others to take their mamlambo from them.

As a final note of the mamlambo, some people have described it as the goddess of the rivers. Supposedly, she can take the shape of a beautiful woman and has been known to take some men as her lover. Of course, they are then under her command, and she can be quite jealous of them.


Finally this week, I want to give just a glimpse at the Nyuvwira, also known as the Inifwira, depending on where you’re from. It is said to be found in Malawi and in the mines of South Africa. This is a super cool serpent that is supposedly huge. How huge? I’m not really sure, but way bigger than a human, and it has eight heads. This snake lives underground, where it generates electricity. It moves locations once every 200 years or so, causing death and disaster as it moves.

Even when the nyuvwira is underground, it can make planes flying overhead crash, and if a person carries the skin of a nyuvwira on a plane, the plane won’t start. (Which I suppose is better than crashing?)

Nyuvwira need to be killed in a ritual manner. People need to build a spiral hut and line it with razors. They then lure the snake in by ringing bells, and it cuts itself.

And that, my dear Mythsters, is all I have for you today. Next, we’ll be heading up to Eastern Europe.



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