Why Snakes Lie on Their Backs to Die

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When Hungry Season came Spider went to Snake’s town and begged for food. He knew that Snake had gathered a fine harvest of yams that year, and now Spider said to him:

“Snake, please give me yams to help my family in this time of hunger. For every yam you give me I shall give you two in return when my fields are full.”

“Then you may have as many as you need,” Snake said, and Spider took as many as he could carry. He and his family fed on yams throughout the Hungry Season, then once again the fields were full and men and animals went forth to harvest crops.

Snake came one day to Spider for his yams; and when Spider saw him coming he made a plan. There was meat hanging in his house, and when Snake came inside Spider was careful to let him see the meat.

“That is fine meat you have,” Snake remarked. “I hope you will give me some, as well as your yams.”

“Well, I may give you a little,” said Spider, “but wait till I return. I am going outside.”

He went outside. He climbed up on the roof, let down rope through a hole and caused it to fasten about the meat. He pulls up the meat and hid it, then climbed down to the ground. He found his wife talking with Tortoise.

”Come in,” he said. “Snake is here. Let us have something to eat.” Spider, his wife and Tortoise went inside and met Snake waiting there. “We are going to cook food to eat,” said Spider, and began looking for the meat. It was not there. “Where is the meat?” he asked his wife. “Have you put it in another place?”

“I have not touched it.”

“Tortoise? Did you take my meat?”

“I am not a thief, like some other people whose names I will not mention,” said Tortoise rather coldly. Spider turned to Snake.

“I think you have taken the meat, Snake. It was here when I left the house. And so were you, and you were looking at it.”
Snake said he was innocent. Spider became thoughtful.

“I have a certain magic knife which possesses magic powers,” he said. “It will soon discover who the guilty person is. All of you lay your necks upon this log; if you are not guilty no harm will come to you, but if one of you is the thief then he will die.”

Spider’s wife obeyed. He ran the blunt edge of the knife across her neck, and she rose unharmed. Tortoise lay his neck across the log, although he protested at such foolishness, and he also was unharmed by the knife.

Snake’s turn came. Spider now used the sharp edge of the knife and cut Snake’s head off. Snake wriggled and writhed on the ground as he died, and turned his stomach upwards so that everyone might see his flat and empty belly and know his innocence.

Since that time all snakes have died with their stomachs turned upwards, to remind the world that they were once considered honorable people.

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