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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, January 2, 2001

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

2001 slithers in

Don't get rattled, these sultry creatures
just have a bad rap -- say hello to
the Year of the Snake

By Cynthia Oi

OH, the poor snake, reviled as the symbol of evil and treachery, a seducer of human beings. Snakes coil through the colloquial with tainted terms and phrases. There's "snake oil," concoctions that falsely claim to cure ailments. "Snake pit" conjures up mental hospitals where patients are abused, or business offices where "corporate vipers" devour workers and each other. "Snake in the grass" refers to people who are mean, but who smile and make nice before lunging at you, sort of like those "corporate vipers."

But snakes get a lousy rap, say reptile experts.

"They're really neat creatures," says Dwain Uyeda, reptile supervisor at Honolulu Zoo. "I like them. They aren't smelly, aren't slimy.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Dwain Uyeda gets a grip on Monty, a 13-foot-long,
110-pound python at Honolulu Zoo.

Some cultures do esteem the snake. Aztecs worshiped Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god, as the master of life. In India, cobras were regarded as reincarnations of important people called Nagas. Chinese legend holds that when Buddha summoned the animals of the world, the snake was the sixth to arrive and thus has been honored with the sixth year of the 12-year Chinese zodiac.

All of this is a serpentine way of getting to the point, which is that 2001 is a year of the snake.

According to Chinese belief, people born in the year of the snake are contemplative, private and self possessed. They will scheme to ensure that things go the way they want, relying on themselves rather than the advice of others. They can be vain, vicious and dismissive of others, but are charming and good looking and favor the finer things in life.


Bullet John F. Kennedy was a snake person (1917) who married Jacqueline Bouvier, also a snake (1929) in a snake year (1953). Snakes generally don't get on well with each other, according to Chinese horoscopes. Both intelligent, they become too envious of their partner.

Bullet Jeb Bush, the president-elect's younger brother, was born in 1953, the year of the snake, so 2001 should be interesting for him. Horoscopes say snakes like Bush must maintain balance in social life, work, spending and saving. Ambition should be coupled with compassion. Success is promising but only if the snake keeps an eye on the bigger picture.

Bullet George W. Bush isn't a snake, but he was elected in the year of the dragon, an auspicious sign, say the horoscopes. The last president to be elected in a year of the dragon was none other than daddy Bush, George H.W. Bush.

Snake years brought important historical events: 1917 saw the Russian revolution and the entry of the United States into World War I; 1929 brought the stock market crash and the start of the Depression; 1941, World War II; 1953, the first successful ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; 1965, the first landing of U.S. combat troops into South Vietnam.

A lot of successful people were born in snake years: Mahatma Gandhi in 1869; Pablo Picasso in 1881; Mao Tse-Tung, 1893; Jean-Paul Sartre, 1905; Thelonius Monk, I.M. Pei and Andrew Wyeth, 1917; Yasser Arafat, Martin Luther King Jr. and Berry Gordy, 1929; Dick Cheney, Bob Dylan and both Simon and Garfunkel, 1941; Dennis Miller, John Malkovich and Hulk Hogan, 1953; Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert Downey Jr. and J.K. Rowling, 1965; Fiona Apple and Liv Tyler, 1977. (People born in the last snake year, 1989, are too young to have found fame yet. And, of course, a kazillion nobodies were also born in snake years, but history records only the somebodies.)

In Hawaii, there were a few notable events in snake years. In 1929, Inter-Island Airways was the first to fly Hawaiian skies and in 1941, another snake year, changed its name to Hawaiian Air. Also in 1929, the Waikiki natatorium opened and Makua Valley was designated a military training site. In 1953, KVOK, a low-powered educational station, became the first to broadcast radio in frequency modulation (FM); three Ewa-bound lanes of the H-1 freeway were opened.

It would be cool if the zoo's only snake was born in a snake year. Unfortunately, neither reptile supervisor Uyeda nor zoo keeper Linda Meier know the exact age of Monty the python. They estimate he's thirtysomething, middle aged for Burmese pythons, which live to about 50.

Meier, who calls herself "Monty's mom," says he's "a good snake."

"Reptiles are really misunderstood. They're cool animals, mellow."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Visitor Megan Campbell strokes Monty the python
at Honolulu Zoo.

Monty likes to hang out near his pond and takes a dip from time to time. After he is handled by humans, Monty is eager to slip back into the water. "He likes to keep himself clean," she explains.

Uyeda says Monty "has a great personality," even though a few years back the python did try to eat him. Uyeda was wiping the glass windows of Monty's enclosure and the swift, fluttery motions of his hands attracted the snake. The 13-foot-long, 110-pound python slammed into Uyeda, knocking him down. But before the snake could coil around him, Uyeda yelled, "Monty, Monty!"

Although snakes can't hear, Monty sensed the vocal vibrations, took a second look and realized, "Hey, it's Dwain," and moved away.

Uyeda says the only legal land snakes in Hawaii are called Hawaiian blind snakes. They aren't indigenous but are believed to have arrived from the Philippines -- appropriately -- in snake year 1929.

They're "more like earthworms" than what people think of as serpents, Uyeda says, and can be found under moist ground or vegetation, like compost heaps.

Most local people haven't seen these creatures, and it's likely most don't want to because lousy rap or not, snakes aren't cuddly like rabbits nor majestic like tigers, not elegant like horses.

Intellectually, a person can reason that there's no reason to be uncomfortable about snakes. Even though Judeo-Christian culture blames the serpent for humans' fall from grace, myths have snakes hypnotizing their prey, folk tales have serpents sucking milk from cows, poisoning people with their breath and rolling into hoops to attack, common sense says that's all just hooey.

But common sense and reason slither away in the presence of a snake. When one of them glides across a hiking trail toward your feet, there's no way to not say, "Ish, a snake!"

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