12 March 2012
Under my dispatch from Bangladesh: Tigers, Crocodiles, Korans and Superstitions was this comment:
We have friends who are missionaries in the Congo. So far this year, they've killed 72 Cobras in their home. The wife told me; "It's beginning to get a little unnerving."
James F. McClellan
And so I called Mr. McClellan’s friends, Brandt and Pamela Prince down in Congo. Actually, they are not in Congo but the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a huge country in Central Africa. DRC is about the size of the US east of the Mississippi.
Confusion often surrounds the name “Congo”: the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo are neighboring countries, partially separated by the gigantic Congo River.
DRC was a battleground in the deadliest war since WWII. Most people don’t seem to know that the Second Congo War happened, but it did and in a big way. The “African World War” kicked off in 1998. It’s estimated 5.4 million people died.
The Congos, both of them, have long been a destination for missionaries. Enter Brandt and Pamela from Arkansas who are in the depths of Africa today. Pamela and I talked over the phone and she said they’ve spent 19 years in Africa. Nine of those years were in Tanzania and the other decade in DRC. The DR Congo period was interrupted by the war when things became too dangerous, and their son nearly died of malaria. And so after seven years they left DRC and the war ravaged Africa.
All war is savage. The Second Congo War was also bizarre by western standards. Some fighters thought that Pygmies have magical powers and so were chasing down Pygmies and eating them.
DR Congo pygmies appeal to UN
Church leaders and residents have accused Lendu militiamen of killing civilians, cutting open their chests, removing hearts, lungs and livers, and eating them.
Father Joseph Deneckere, a Belgian priest who has lived in the DR Congo since 1970, said that traditional superstitious beliefs, entrenched hatreds and attempts to settle old scores lay behind the atrocities, the Associated Press news agency reported.
"Some of the victims had their sexual organs missing after tribal fighters cut them off to use as charms," he said.
Tribal fighters had also been seen wandering around the bush with human organs "draped from their weapons".
UN officials have opened a formal investigation into the allegations.
The Pygmies asked that the UN help to set up a cannibal court.
After the war, the Prince family returned and found a dilapidated home to move into. It was completely overgrown, and the driveway was claimed by six-foot-tall grass.
And so the first job was to extract the home from the jungle. After months of hard work they had a livable abode with no electricity. They installed a generator for occasions, but with gasoline at more than $8 gallon, they don’t run it much.
Now, three years after their return, Pam said they had found and killed 74 snakes in their home and yard. Two were boomslangs, which are venomous, and 72 are cobras. Which of course are cobras. The thing about cobras is that they are hard workers who dedicate every day to maintaining their name brand.
About half the snakes were inside the house and the others in the yard or just around the house. The biggest cobra was about six feet long. Most are babies and often are found in boxes in the home (a major way that people are killed in India). Brandt once reached into a box and a small cobra dashed up his arm and across his chest to the floor and he screamed so loud that Pam came running. Pam laughed over the phone that what most concerned Brandt was not the cobra but that he screamed like a woman. (Worse things have happened!)
Pam says that the Congolese are extremely friendly and spiritually hungry, and they have their own ideas about why the house has so many cobras. They believe that atrocities committed during the war have left the home cursed.
Pam says that it’s starting to get a little unnerving, though I’d say by any reasonable standard her family has nerves of steel. She brought a vial of anti-venom but it needs refrigeration, and the vial must be kept at the home of a neighbor who has constant current. She also said the anti-venom is getting a little cloudy, indicating it might be getting old.
By the time we talked, the family had found 74 snakes and counting, and nobody killed or even bitten. The Congolese are beginning to think that the house is cursed but that the Prince family is blessed.
As for the Princes, their work takes them elsewhere, so they will soon move over to Zambia and begin a new era.
[Before this went public, Pam emailed that they found the 75th snake; cobra #73.]