It is said that ancient Somali tribes have had several pacts (good or bad) with serpents (Somali: mas). Some use a designated name to call them so as not to upset them. Some tribes boasted of an innate connection with snakes. A connection that was established when their progenitor was born and was put on the ground after the delivery; a serpent was found at his side.
Several anthropologists in Somalia (early 20th century) witnessed events where a certain species of a serpent was killed by a passing traveller. The locals intervened, buried it by wrapping it in a shroud like an actual human being. Other Somali tribes held the belief that if it bites them, it does not poison them, due the inherent connection that prevents the poison from taking any effect. Equally, they have forbidden to kill it, on the contrary, they defend it – even with their lives.
In mid-1920s, it was recorded that a young Somali female was bitten; the daughter of a local tribal chieftain — from a Somali tribe with a special connection to the serpent — intervened and pronounced a memorised formula, addressed to the serpent:
English (translated): “If you are my grandfather, nothing bad will happen to them. You were grandfather for us. My flesh was unlawful for you. You did not bite us and we did not strike you. If you are from [this tribe], nothing bad will happen to them. If you are a thief, ugly things will be seen in you.”
There is a known ancient Somali folktale of the jewel-serpent (mas-joohaar). The Somali word for jewel (jawhar/jawharad) is a Persian loanword that has been phonologically nativized.
It is a serpent, that after three-hundred years of life and having eaten and absorbed three other serpents, becomes precisely a grandeur serpent – the jewel-serpent. This super serpent, known for having a shining jewel on its head (that functions as a torch), operates only at night as it flies through the land of Somali, scanning for potential prey. Once it attacks – it is said – it flies three times straight at the prey, attempting to kill it. If — however — it fails to kill it, it kills itself. It is popularly said that if you meet it, one should throw one’s shield on its head in order to cover the misleading light of the jewel; swiftly kill it, eviscerate it and recover the jewel.
Now this folktale has a striking resemblance to another folktale; an Indian one! The only slight difference is that once you get the jewel, it will lead you to a mystical garden where four princesses await your entrance. Though it is not known which civilisation borrowed which story, it is interesting given the geographical distance between the two countries. This is where the concept of trade networks come in to place given Somalia’s past status as an ancient trading emporium