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  An article came out recently in a Dubrovnik newspaper about a man named Baldo Radovic' who had a way with snakes. It is presented here with a memorial by grandson Baldo (see bottom of page). —Editor.

The original article first appeared in the September 8, 2006, issue of Glas Grada, a weekly newspaper of Dubrovnik, Croatia. An English translation is below, with permission of the author.

C"ilipi is a village southeast of Dubrovnik, near the airport. Konavle is the surrounding region.

Author: Well-known poet and storyteller of the romantics, publicist, newspaperman…in short, master of words, Miljenko Jergovic'.


Between the two world wars, in C"ilipi lived a man who was good with snakes. They called him Balunc"e. He always wore the native dress of Konavle with soft soled shoes; he never wore a city suit. No one recalls exactly how Balunc"e made peace with the snakes, but in Konavle, even now, it is remembered that he knew how to cure snake bites. He cured by herbs and ointments and when he could not otherwise, he knew how to cure with "words". They say that in some cases he could even help from a distance. In those times there were many snakes -- between the rocks, in the fields, in the hills, and small parcels of land all over -- and never a week went by that somebody wasn’t bitten by an adder or horned viper. That’s all it took to call Balunc"e, and he would take care of everything. He helped poor people and rich, children, adults, male, and female, and he never asked for money, and he never expected a thank you.

When he wasn’t curing people from bites, Balunc"e taught people to live in harmony with snakes. He told everybody that snakes are good beings and God’s timid creatures, and worthy of many things. He explained that a snake attacks only when it's threatened, and that man could learn a lot from a snake’s docile nature. Snakes bring peace to people of good will. It is pitiful to kill them, and it is foolish to hate them. There is enough evil in the world for people to allow a hatred of snakes. 
That was Balunce’s philosophy, and the people of Konavle never laughed at him because they knew sooner or later he could help them. They didn’t laugh at him because man is inclined to believe in miracles. What Balunc"e was doing and teaching was a miracle because if it wasn’t, his name would have been long forgotten. With a stick he would draw a circle on the ground, and snakes would emerge from the sticks and rocks and gather in the circle. Nobody knew how he talked to them, but it’s known that snakes understood him, and in their snakes’ way, they had respect for him. He would put a horned viper on his chest to demonstrate its good nature.
When Balunc"e became very ill and was dying, he wanted to leave his knowledge of snakes to someone. He had daughters and sons but no one seemed suitable. Nobody had received Balunce’s knowledge, nor would the snakes accept them. Why? Because everybody in some way was a blasphemer, men more, women less. But no one is born without some hostility. People tried to convince Balunc"e to [accept an apprentice], and they didn’t believe him when he explained that it wasn’t about the ego, it was about the snakes. Snakes will not be with one who is bitter.

Kate Ruso Radovic'
In the end, he passed his knowledge on to his daughter-in-law [Kate Ruso Radovic']
because he believed she did not possess any bitterness. When he died, she took the task of mediator between people and snakes. She cured Konavle people from bites, assuring that snakes were good and pure, but although she was worthy of knowledge, she was not Balunc"e. Then came modern times, and anti-venom can be found in every village ambulance, so nobody needs the knowledge of curing snake bites. The difference between Balunc"e and his daugter-in-law is that she never became the legend he had become.
For many years now, every summer and spring, then again in autumn when the grapes are ripening, I come to the village of Mrcine (or Dubravka) below the borders of Hercegovina, Montenegro and Croatia, and whenever talk turns to snakes, then begins the story of Baldo Radovic', known as Balunc"e, from Cilipi. And every time, the same story is told without embellishments or additions, and I listen even though I've heard it so many many times; the way they are telling it, they know they have told me so many times already. That’s the way legends are carried on, from age to age and generation to generation. A legend is a story that is told to the same listener, and he pretends that he is hearing it for the first time. It is very important to remember every word. It is very important to remember Balunc"e.
I don’t have to tell you that I am not from Konavle and that I’m telling you this legend as someone from outside. I don’t mean to take it from anyone, but still I feel that it’s my own. Though I am not from Konalve and have never been bitten by a snake from Konavle, I truly believe that Balunc"e cured snake bites and made peace with the snakes. Numerous people he cured, and there were many more that he cured than he made peace with. Only a fool can believe that you can make peace between man and snakes, but it is worthy to spend a lifetime trying.

It's not just that I am not from Konavle, I am also not very close to reptiles. I have no attraction to cobra or python, to adder or horned viper. I curse everyday and I don’t know why I would ever make a circle in the dirt to collect snakes. They will never be my friends, but I am thankful to Balunc"e because he tried to free one’s fear and hatred. I am very happy to be identified with one who freed fear and hatred, then I see myself among them, in a costume in which every male looks much fatter than he is, and in my thirty-plus years I am trying to make peace with snakes. Human and snake harmony is liberating yourself from fear and hate. First from each other, and then from others.
Perhaps you wonder why I am today telling you this story of people and snakes; maybe you think it is an allegory, or contains some unknown metaphor, or that I am speaking figuratively. If so, you miss the point. I am telling it as it is. It is simple and realistic. Baldo Radovic', known as Balunc"e, was a great man. That’s why still today we are talking about him. If he was a fool, no one would say anything. If he was a freak, .... no one would remember him -- they could hardly wait to forget him, especially since anti-venom serum has rendered Balunce’s knowledge with no practical application today. The best that is known about him is that he did not poison people with hatred.

In Loving Memory of My Grandfather

Throughout my childhood I helped my grandfather collect herbs for his remedies for snakebites and other ailments. Because of my interest and dedication, he expressed his desire of passing his knowledge on to me. But, because attending to my higher education required me to leave the village, my grandfather eventually passed his remedies on to my mother, Kate Ruso Radovic'. As a child, when I visited other villages, it was enough to be recognized as Balunce’s grandson. I only had to tell them whose grandchild I was to receive immediate welcome.

I remember people seeking help from him, day or night, unannounced. Treats or meals were always offered the visitors, even over-night stays. Money was never exchanged, but for appreciation the people seeking help often gave him gifts of food or drink.

Balunc"e had 24 grandchildren: 5 girls and 19 boys. Six of the grandsons were named Baldo, after him. I was the youngest of his namesakes.

Baldo "Barney" Radovich
Watsonville, California
March 2007

[Radovich, Baldo; Balunce; Cilipi; Konavle; Croatia; folk art; snakes]