Snake Charmers

Several hundreds of thousands (allegedly 500,000) of snake charmers are estimated to live in Bangladesh. They typically belong to the Bedey ethnic group, live in riverboats and rove all over the country. The Bedey snake charmers are often to see in cities during markets and feasts. Some of them make their living by catching and selling snakes, others train their snakes some tricks to become entertainers. People believe that they possess supernatural abilities.

They put their snakes into little baskets which they hoist on top of their heads. Once they find a crowded place, they sit down and start performing.

Playing a flute-like instrument made from a gourd, the snake charmer opens his basket. After some time, as if drawn by the tune, the snake emerges from the basket. If it is a cobra, it may even extend its hood. Apparently hypnotized, the snake begins swaying with the musician's tune. It never strikes and the charmer may even kiss it on the head. Once the performance is over, the snake returns to the basket, as if on cue.

The snake charmer may use other tricks as well. He sometimes handles the snake, daring his audience to touch it. Usually, no one does. Sometimes he grabs the snake by the head, causing it to stiffen up, or stages mock combats between the snake and another animal, such as a mongoose. When the show is over, the snake charmer covers the basket, collects money from the bystanders and moves on to perform somewhere else.

Apart from selling snakes and making them perform, the charmers may also sell medicinal herbs. Recently, however, snake charming in Bangladesh is in serious decline.

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