The Snake with Seven Heads

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An African folktale, the snake with seven heads is a woman’s husband, transformed by a witch for some perceived treachery. In most stories, the wife somehow disrespects the witch by breaking a promise, although sometimes it is the husband who disrespects the witch. The witch retaliates by cursing the husband, causing him to change before his wife’s eyes into a snake with seven heads. Each of the seven heads talks to the others to communicate. The snake does not want to hurt anyone because it still has the mind of the husband, but the village eventually finds out about the snake. Despite the wife’s protest, they kill the snake, and she despairs. However, the villagers only kill the snake, and the husband transforms back into himself (Mandela 100-109).

Since the curse is set by a witch and her short temper, the story at least partially tries to warn against offending those with more power than oneself, such as one’s elders. By teaching this, the legend helps to keep society in control. In addition, when the children are scared of the snake, the narrative explores the fear of being abandoned by protectors.


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