The Irula Snake Catchers Of India
India is rich in cultures and traditions which some people might perceive to be outrageous or intriguing. The Irula people of Tamil Nadu are a tribe in northern India that has taken up the dangerous act of catching poisonous snakes.
The thought of catching or touching the most harmless of reptiles will make most people shudder in dread but this is not so for these people who use this as a form of livelihood.
The Irula take their name from the dark colour of their skin (Irular means ‘the dark people’).
In ancient times, the tribe hunted reptiles especially rats and snakes that were a threat to farmers in different parts of the state.
But with modernization and new ways of dealing with these parasites, their skills were no longer in patronage as before.
Over decades, the number of snakes declined and the livelihood of the Irulas was almost destroyed when the Government of India prohibited the hunting and sale of snake skins in 1972 which was the main source of income for the tribe.
Catching poisonous snakes is a very dangerous activity, the Irulas adopt a method known as earthen pot fumigation where they exhale smoke from their mouth to weed out rodents. This method is hazardous and most times leads to respiratory problems.
After years of being insignificant, the lives of this tribe has improved recently. This is because most of them work as part of the Irula Snake Catcher Cooperative, an organisation that uses their expertise to catch poisonous snakes and create anti-venoms.
Although this tribe have been able to adapt to the modern old, they are without a doubt one of the few communities that have maintained their ancient knowledge and traditions.