Snake charmers

Most of the snake charmers who arrived in Singapore during the 19th century were immigrants from the city of Poona (now known as Pune) in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. However, some Malays also entered the profession after picking up the skills from Indian snake charmers. These roadside entertainers made a living by making their pet snakes ‘dance’ to the music of their ‘naskar’, which is a flute-like instrument made from a bamboo stem and coconut shell. Their favoured snakes were the python, mamba and black cobra, although cobras gradually grew out of favour due to the high incidence of death as a result of cobra bites. In the 1930s, snake charmers were commonly found in front of the Tiger Balm shop along Cantonment Road selling medicated ointment to captivated audiences. Snake charmers were a popular tourist attraction in the 1950s and 1960s and they often performed outside hotels and other public places that were frequented by tourists such as Sentosa and Mount Faber. They have since become a rare sight in modern-day Singapore.