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Indonesian Pop Singer Dies on Stage After Cobra Bite

Indonesian performers often use dramatic props on stage. This concert ended in tragedy.

YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA - JUNE 24:  A snake butcher, Muhammad Nur, holds a cobra as they are harvested to make into burgers on June 24, 2010 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The snakes are caught and processed into burgers which are served at a local restaurant in various guises.  (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA - JUNE 24: A snake butcher, Muhammad Nur, holds a cobra as they are harvested to make into burgers on June 24, 2010 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The snakes are caught and processed into burgers which are served at a local restaurant in various guises. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Last weekend, Indonesian dangdut pop singer Irma Bule began one of her dramatic performances in West Java province like she usually does: with a number of large cobras on stage as her props.

Normally, they’re defanged or have their mouths duct-taped shut so that Bule can attract a large crowd without putting herself in danger. But this time, something went wrong.

The cobra she was dancing with on stage managed to bite her thigh, reportedly after she stepped on its tail. And Bule didn’t stop singing for another 45 minutes, when she collapsed on stage and began vomiting before she died from the bite.

Her mother later told Indonesian news site Detik.com that Irma did not know the cobras on stage would be able to bite her, because the handlers typically ensured they were safe.

“She was just told to perform with the snake and its mouth wasn’t shut with a duct tape,” her mother told Detik.com.

Although some Indonesians drink raw cobra blood in shot glasses on the street, without a dose of antivenom, a live cobra bite can kill a human within 30 minutes. But according to local reporters, she “refused an antidote from the snake handler.”

Indonesian dangdut performers are typically paid only $20 to $25 per  show, and often go to extreme lengths to gather a large audience. A strange phenomenon of slap-fighting has emerged on stage, including some where the singers have ended the show in handcuffs.

Footage of Bule’s final performance is available below:

Photo credit: ULET IFANSASTI/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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