Alessandro D'Angelo - COBRA
Mae Rim is a rural area not far from Chiang Mai (Thailand), with many curvy roads traversing lush tropical greenery. Mr. Tum, a man of 55, shaved bald but with a patch of hair the back and small ancient tattoos in the body, manages a "Snake Farm" . In 20 years of daily shows he lost a finger of his hand and damaged the others irremediably after suffering cobra bites. His collaborator mr Feng have many scars on the arms.
There is a ticket office and with few money you are granted access, where you can sit on the tribune and wait for the show. A speaker with microphone and music background announces the start of the "games". The show is simple, Mr Tum and his collaborator stay in a ring, interacting or annoying the snakes and dodging the bites. There are some intense moments like the "kiss of the cobra" or when the situation seems out of control. After the fight, the fangs and the venom of the cobras are shown to the spectators, to demostrate that there are no fictions or deceptions and that the animals have not been mutilated or rendered harmless.
Tum makes shows togheter his collaborators many times a day for people (sometimes two or three), interacting with cobras, pythons, banded krait and other reptiles. Most of these animals are caught in the jungle or bought from the local markets.
It's a way to attract tourists in an area that is sometimes too far from typical tourist locations in the country.
The snakes (especially cobras) is very important in the local culture, as they are a symbol between good and evil.
A fair number of people still attend these kinds of shows despite some in western culture who refuse to attend them or question their legitimacy. An American once spent six months with Mr. Tum to learn Tum’s craft.
Therein lies a controversial relationship between global tourism and survival of small communities that put on such shows as an economic resource.