A Habu's Repayment of A Kindness

(A Story from Kunigami, Okinawa Island)

Long ago, they used to produce a hand-made Tofu, bean curd, with seawater.

One day a peasant woman went to the beach to fetch some seawater in her bucket. As she made her way home, with the bucket full of water balanced on her head, she heard a strange sound close by. It came from a nearby bush and sounded just like dried leaves burning. She wondered what it was, and after looking more closely, discovered smoke and flames rising from burning Adan leaves. "Fire! It must be put out immediately before it spreads and becomes a big fire."

She dashed towards the flames carrying her brimming bucket of seawater. There she found a huge Habu, deadliest snake, curled up inside the fire. It seemed that the fire had spread too quickly for the habu, who was trapped within a wall of flames.

The peasant woman took pity and said to it, "As I'm ready to help you, you in turn, should not harm anyone from now on." She put the fire out with the bucket of seawater she had been carrying on her head. When she returned from the beach carrying another bucket of water, the habu had disappeared.

 

The next day, the woman went to work on her field, taking her baby boy with her. She placed the baby carefully on the field's edge and went to dig up some sweet potatoes. Strangely, the baby kept crying while she worked. It stopped when she returned to its side but started crying again the moment she left for her work. At a loss what to do she eventually decided, with regret, to leave her baby alone and let him cry. After a while the baby stopped crying and even began to smile and laugh happily. She wondered what was happening, so she went up to the baby only to be horrified at the sight of her baby with a huge habu snake.

She desperately looked for a stick which to drive the habu away, but nothing was at hand. When the baby laughed again, she looked more closely and discovered it was joyfully gripping the habu's neck. The snake was playing with the baby, swinging his tail right and left in fronts of the baby's eyes, making it laugh with delight. This habu was the same one that she had saved from the fire. The habu was helping her by playing with the baby, thus expressing his gratitude for being spared from the flames. The woman was too surprised to say anything, so just stood and watched the happy scene.

Then the habu said to her, "Let me tell you a charm that will keep safe from snakes' harm. When you come upon a snake, or their lair, in one breath cry out three times, "that I'm the seawater carrier who saved one of your family's member from the fire." The habu finished, "Now go and I promise that with this charm you will never be bitten." From that day the woman became invulnerable to snake bites, wherever she went.

Legend also has it, that the reason the habu has a slender neck is because the baby of the story pulled the neck of his playmate rather strongly.

Note: Stories about the habu originated in several islands, such as Okinawa Main Island, Ishigaki Island and Iriomote Island, all being the snake's natural habitat. Habu are often believed to live for a thousand years and become a dragon after rising up to the heaven. Tonaki Island is especially rich in habu stories, undoubtedly due to the many harmful incidents involving the Island's residents and the deadly habu. The above story comes from the northern part of Okinawa Main Island and is about the origins of charm used against habu attacks.

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