Floods, Blood And Thunder: The Politics Of The Rainbow Snake

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Ivan Tacey

Floods, Blood And Thunder: The Politics Of The Rainbow Snake

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 - 18:45

From Amazonia to Australia, gigantic world creating and world destroying rainbow snakes are central to the cosmologies of indigenous peoples. Known variously as nagas, dragons or rainbow serpents these chthonic entitites are consistently associated with water, blood, women and uncontrollable power. According to Batek hunter-gatherers of Malaysia, any transgression of taboos, especially those associated with blood, are said to cause the wrath of this chthonic serpent who releases torrents of water that destroy entire communities. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork carried out with different Batek groups over the last 15 years, I will discuss the rainbow serpent in Batek creation myths, taboos, and cosmological landscapes. After comparing Malaysian stories of the rainbow snake with myths from Amazonia and Australia, the talk will focus on how Batek shamans interact with the rainbow snake and attempt to control its power to prevent catastrophes in their local environment and faraway places. Alongside the plethora of symbols that the rainbow snake embodies, I argue she should be understood within a framework that melds cosmology with politics.

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