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ENCOUNTERS WITH EXTRAORDINARY SERPENTS IN MELA, SOUTH-WEST ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 1208-02]
The figure of the rainbow-serpent or the giant python is ubiquitous in Africa and beyond. More unusual is the one of the feathered serpent. In Mela, an agro-pastoral society of south-west Ethiopia, these are just two of many extraordinary snakes that people may encounter in the bush or the grassland, outside of their settlements. In this presentation, I study the interplay between collective representations of extraordinary serpents, most commonly expressed by elders in different registers of discourses (prophetic, humoristic, etc.), and the perception of unusual animals, most often reported by herding boys to their elders. In the hermeneutic work that sees the attribution of a category to a perceived animal or phenomenon, known representations are called up, but new categories are also created. Thus, the experiences of young herders enrich Mela’s representations of extraordinary serpents – and of the manifestations of the divine in general.