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Mekong physician for snakebite

Vietnam Heritage, July-August 2011 -- Mr Chau Phonl, of Vinh Thuong Village, An Cu Commune, Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province, in the north-west of the Mekong Delta, has saved hundreds of people who have been bitten by snakes. The locals call him ‘physician with a black tongue’.
The art began with his great-grandfather, who used his mouth to remove the venom, and his father practised the art. It is said that a special tongue with black spots on the edge has appeared in each generation of Mr Chau’s ‘big’ family, and that his ancestors vowed they would use their gift from God to save lives free of charge. Only one person in a family practises the art and if that person dies someone in the next generation takes over.
Mr Chau’s daughter Huol, 28, has the special tongue and will take over when Mr Chau dies. He is over 60.
‘God gives our family a tongue with black spots, so we are supposed to save people who are bitten by venomous snakes,’ he said. ‘If a snake bites someone and it is still alive, the removal of the venom is more effective and relieves the pain faster. If a snake bites someone and is beaten to death, its venom hardens and it is more difficult to remove.’
 ‘Before I remove the venom, I use water or the liquid from the betel leaves I chew to spray on the bite. While I remove the venom, the tongue feels some hard pieces. Then I spit the liquid out. After removing the venom, I apply some traditional medicine to the bite.’ Mr Chau doesn’t feel like eating for several days afterward.
In the Mekong Delta, trees and bushes are the habitat of a lot of venomous snakes. Most of the people are poor and earn their living close to the land. When the rainy season arrives snakebites increase. The monocle cobra, or naja kaouthia, is a particular danger.
The first person Mr Chau saved was his son, Vuol, who was seven.
A herb Mr Chau uses on bites, ngải, can be found in the forest and he he has wanted to go there and collect it but not been certified as a physician and so rangers have not allowed him in. Some of this herb he has planted in front of his house gets depleted through use.
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By Tung huyen
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