Apotheosis of the snake: structures of fantasy in the South African lowveld
Isak Niehaus (Brunel University)
Paper short abstract:
My presentation seeks to provide insight into these diverse meanings by deploying the concepts of ‘structure’ and ‘fantasy’, and by drawing upon the results of ongoing fieldwork in the Bushbuckridge region of the South African lowveld.
Paper long abstract:
Snakes have proven particularly rich in meaning and 'good to think with'. This is particularly true of sub-Saharan Africa, where snakes exhibit 'simultaneous multiplicity'. They inspire both awe and fear and are at once, life-promising and life-threatening. Snakes feature in creation myths, but are also omens of death. My presentation seeks to provide insight into these diverse meanings by deploying the concepts of 'structure' and 'fantasy', and by drawing upon the results of ongoing fieldwork in the Bushbuckridge region of the South African lowveld. At a structural level, I suggest that snakes mediate between realms beneath and above the earth. This anomalous location illuminates their association with the fertility of the soil, bodies of water that constitute a portal from and to the underworld, with deceased persons and with precious minerals; and also with the hidden agency of witchcraft. At the level of collective fantasy, stories of snakes have enabled people to grapple with major transitions in conditions of life in rural South Africa, such as creeping commercialization and lust for money.
Social animals and us: anthropomorphism and animal utopias