PythonCoat.html
THE MAKING OF A COAT FROM PYTHON SKINS

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This story is part of my memoirs titled THE SUDAN where we lived from 1961 until 1964. The Sudanese Embassy replied favorably to my application for a Senior lecturer's post at the Khartoum Technical Institute. I signed a provisional contract that still had to be approved by the Ministry of Education of Sudan. At the Khartoum Technical Institute I was lecturing some 14 regular hours plus 12 hours of the coaching new lecturers and students preparing for their re-examination. I also was appointed the assistant to a professor of the University of Khartoum for a total of 9 lecturing hours. Thus the lecturing kept me really busy for the three school years that ended with the one of 1963/4. Vesna, our 9-year old daughter, continued her primary education at the 4th class at Combony Sisters School in Khartoum. Within short time my wife Ljiljana got accustomed to the local climate and customs as well as to all the normal house chores in the surrounding. She has played as a perfect host at several parties that were held in our flat on the 4th floor of a large block of  flats at Hai el Matar (means "Airport Compound").


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THE MAKING OF A COAT FROM PYTHON SKINS

 

Soon Ljiljana would find enough spare time to pursue her seamstress hobbies. Mrs. Mira Diklic, the wife of our neighbor and compatriot, persuaded her that they should jointly produce lady coats for themselves made out of python's skins. Mira used to go to Omdurman, the native township of Khartoum, to search in the native shops for local products. On one occasion she found in an insignificant shop many dozens of dried dessert python skins stored there. The Yugoslav Government sponsored a leather manufacturing plant in Khartoum that started with the production about the same time. The tannery main purpose was to process cattle's rawhides for the needs of leather crafts. Later the plant management found out that the rawhides were not good enough for processing at all. The rawhides have had too many bruises, cuts or other defects caused by the harsh environment in that the cattle were domesticated. Thus the expensive equipment stood idle for most of the time after. Then Mira got the brilliant idea to try tanning python skins there.



Desert Python found in the State of Sabah of the Sudan
>From URL <www.virtualtourist.com> Frockland's Pictures

 
I was somehow intrigued seeing a great number of dry python skins that the old trader kept in large crates inside his mud-house shop at Omdurman. The trade with python skins came to a standstill when the industry started producing skin imitations out of the synthetics. I had to ask the trader how one could catch such a large number of snakes without damaging the skin as there were no scratch marks or similar blemishes on them. I also noticed that all python's skins were cut along the snake's belly bottom thus leaving undamaged the upper skin part.


The kids of the Sudan held quite a long desert python
From URL <www.virtualtourist.com> Frockland's Pictures (Postcard)

The desert python lives in the deep pipe-like pits that could be recognized on the surface as a round hole only. The snake crawls out through that hole when the air outside is cool enough.
The trader spoke a passable English and explained to me in full seriousness how the hunters catch a python. The python's exit hole has to be widened enough that a slim man's legs should fit into the pipe up to the wider hip part. The bare legs are smeared on with animal lard up to man's short pants. The python would start crawling up the hiding pit blocked by bait-man's legs at the outlet. The snake smelling the fat and heat starts swallowing both the legs as it ascends to the opening. Once python's wide gaped jaws reach man's hip the snake has no strength to withstand being pulled out to the surface by the standby hunters of the bait-man. A stretched snake to its full length has no power to wind up around anything. Thus it is an easy task to cut it open all the way up along the belly and to kill it simultaneously. Subsequently the bait-man is released unharmed from the snake's clamped jaws. Thus the python carcass can be peeled off  without making any scratch or damage to the raw skin.

 


Detail of the skin of a Python Regius

One day both ladies decided to venture to this shopkeeper in
Omdurman. They returned home with a dozen of dry python raw skins rolled in as they were rough and not scoured properly. The tannery plant specialists were happy to help and took care of the skins by cleaning and scouring them properly first. Then the skins were tanned to be wet stretched and fixed onto large glass panes to dry in hot air. The result of this procedure was a real perfect product making th e skins flat and equally thick to be used for the forming and sewing a lady's coat. The ready skins were about 4 to 5 meters long, the width varied between 40 and 50cm and had beautiful markings at their inner sections. The two ladies started their joint efforts to tailor, cut and sew several skin parts together. My only help to their flawless team work consisted to apply the special glue "UHU" and to spread it into the seams. Thus the seams stayed flat when the glue dried.


              
Left the open coat made of python skins and near view when closed right (2004)

Both the coats made of python skins were completed before Christmas 1963 and the ladies were mighty proud of their achievement. However they never did put on their python coats in the Sudan due to the rather hot climate there. Nevertheless there was a lot of admiration from other less active ladies. The result of their efforts was the fine looking lady's long coat as shown in the pictures.


             

Left the close up view and the full back view of the coat made of python skins right


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EPILOGUE

 

We arrived to Salzburg from Khartoum by end of February 1967 and there was still winter here. We did not have any proper winter clothing and the winter sales were over in Salzburg already. Ljiljana had to put on her "python" coat and went searching through shops that were recommended for some winter garments. She visited one shop after the other that were still offering winter cloth but all at the exorbitant prices though. Salespeople seeing her wearing an exceptional and obviously expensive coat had thought that she was looking for some extraordinary garments only.
 
         

Disappointed with such results Ljiljana ventured through the Getreidegasse that was the Corn Street in the Old City of Salzburg. There she overheard the following discussion of two boys who were following her talking aloud: "You don't believe that this coat is made of REAL snake skins?" asked the first one. The other one replied: "Silly you, it is made of synthetic material. It's true!" - Frustrated Ljiljana sped up to enter the next nearby shop instantly.

 

Several months later Ljiljana took her "python" coat to a concert held in the Great Festival Hall. After the performance she vent to collect her coat from the wardrobe. There the woman handing her the coat asked politely: "Is this a real snake's coat?" Ljiljana took her hand and stroke it lightly against skin scales. Poor woman whimpered a little bit and exclaimed: "It's a real snake!"

 

Then came times when it was dangerous to carry any garments made of wild animals fur or skin. Color would be sprayed over any fur or skin with aim to cut or to scratch on it thus totally ruining the valuable item. Since those times Ljiljana did not put on her "python" long coat until the day I took the pictures shown here.



DISCLAIMER : On URL: http://www.cosy.sbg.ac.at/~zzspri/ published pages are originals and authorized by copyright of Zvonko Z. Springer, Salzburg 1999.

Email Zvonko Springer at : zzspri@aon.at