Sad news from Miono, Juma Nasoro Malema – aka the snake/njoka man of Miono, and possibly the hardest person I’ve met – has died. His reputation as a man who could calm and catch snakes, and treat those with snake bites extended beyond Miono to most of Tanzania. People in Miono tell me he was friends with President Magafuli and ex-President Kikwete and I can see why. He had a quiet commanding presence that demanded respect and admiration.
Meeting Juma was a highlight of my two trips to Miono since the start of this project. He lived with his family and snakes just outside the main town, comfortably sleeping alongside wooden boxes he had made that contained (among others) a black mamba, a green mamba, and a python. He enjoyed seeing the crew wet ourselves as he took the snakes out to show us. When we told him it was AC Gary’s birthday he took extra steps to spoil him by making him wear the python, much to the delight of everyone… until we all had to get in the picture. The video of Director Leanne encountering the python (‘leave leave’ ‘are you sure you want to do that?’) is the best thing ever.
Being the snake man, Juma was of course not afraid of snakes but understood them having years of knowledge accrued from his ancestors. He cured a masai farmer who had been bitten in the head by a snake, and then caught and kept the snake. He had never been bitten because he understood snakes and wore charms to protect himself. There were herbs you could ingest to help protect you – considering we were filming in the fields we did consider trying some but all the crew had bad bellies at the time so thought better of it. He was also a flirt and took quite a shine to crew member Anitha. Given his experience and charm it was no surprise that he would be called out to travel across Tanzania and different parts of the world to share his knowledge.
Friends in Miono are yet to confirm what he died of: they suspect a long illness, which came as a surprise as he looked fit and healthy in March. But one thing’s for sure it wasn’t a snake.