Legends and Folklore
Habu's Repayment of Kindness
published Nov 26, 2019

Okinawa is jeweled with folklore. Imagine in times past, on days plagued with typhoons, how children would cluster around their parents to hear stories explaining their world.

One famous story explains how to escape from the habu, entitled Habu's Repayment of Kindness.

One day, a peasant woman went to fetch some sea water to make tofu. As she made her way home, balancing the brimming bucket of sea water on her head she noticed that there was smoke. "Fire!", she shouted. "I must put it out before it spreads." She dashed toward the flames and there she found a huge habu trapped within a wall of flame.

She took pity on the snake and said, "As I am to help you, you must not harm anyone from now on."

She doused the fire with the sea water and went back to the beach to fetch another bucketful for her tofu. Upon returning, when she passed by the place where the habu had been it had disappeared.

The next day the woman took her baby boy with her into the fields. She placed her baby carefully on the edge of the field and went to dig up sweet potatoes but every time she stepped away the baby began to cry. At a loss for what to do, she regretfully left him there alone to cry.

After a while the baby's wailing turned into laughter. Wondering what was happening, she went to the baby only to be horrified by the sight of a huge habu snake. She desperately looked for a stick to drive the snake away but when the baby laughed again she looked more closely. She discovered that her baby was joyfully gripping the snake's neck and that the habu was playing with the baby - swinging before the boy's eyes and making him squeal with delight. It was the same habu that she had saved from the fire.

The habu was helping her thus expressing his gratitude for having been spared. The woman was too surprised to say anything and just stood there watching the happy scene.

The habu said to her, "Let me tell you a charm that will keep you safe from any snake. When you see a snake, cry out three times, 'I am the sea water carrier who saved your family member from the fire!' and I promise you that with this charm you will never be bitten."

From that day on, 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 boy pulled too tightly on his playmate.

Source: TWOO Dec 5-11, 2005 Kendra D. Taylor


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