Just as Florida’s Department of Agriculture revealed it may have finally turned the slimy corner on controlling its giant African land snail infestation, word comes out that the creatures may have been brought to the state to be used in a strange religious ritual.
Last week, Florida’s Department of Agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam announced that 159,000 giant African land snails have been killed since they were first discovered in the state four years ago and their numbers are dwindling. Living up to their name, the snails can reach 10 inches in length and live up to nine years while eating over 500 different kinds of plants, chewing the stucco off the sides of houses and spreading a parasite lined to meningitis. Who would bring a monster like this to Florida?
Charles L. Stewart – that’s who. During the eradication process, investigators traced a trail of slime back to Hialeah where Stewart practiced a religion known as Ifa Orisha. Calling himself “El Africano” or “Oloye Ifatoku,” Stewart had giant African snails smuggled into Florida in 2010 to perform a so-called healing ritual where he cut the heads off of the snails and his followers – skip this part if you have a weak stomach – drank the internal fluids and guts.
Did it work? Well, it did if the violent retching, lumps in the stomach and loss of weight was better than whatever was ailing you. After his followers ended up in emergency rooms, federal authorities raided his home and confiscated 20 snails and a number of eggs. Unfortunately, more snails were discovered in the wild a year later and the destruction and multi-million dollar eradication began.
Snails are used as part of Santeria rituals but they are small snails that are dried, pulverized and mixed with herbs before using being used topically, but never as a drink. While sometimes compared to Santeria, Stewart said that Ifa Orisha is an African religion.
Speaking of El Africano, what happened to him? After possibly causing millions of dollars in damages and costing the state more millions to eradicate the giant African snails … nothing. As of November 2014, Stewart was not charged with illegally importing the snails.
Perhaps Stewart is the only one who was helped by drinking the guts of the giant snails.