A cobra lashed out and bit Irma Bule in the thigh while the snake was being used as a live prop during a concert in the village of Karawang, West Java, last Sunday. The pop star continued to perform for 45 minutes before collapsing.
The cobra, named Rianti, had been accidentally stepped on by the singer, who was known for wearing snakes on stage and regularly performing with reptiles. According to an article by the National Post, Bule thought the cobra’s fangs had been removed and that it was free of venom.
The pop star is shown in a video jerking back as she is bitten by the king cobra. A handler then carefully pulls the reptile off her leg.
Fox News reported that audience member Ferlando Octavion Auzura told local media about the cobra’s bite.
“The accident happened in the middle of the second song when Irma stepped on the snake’s tail. The snake then bit Irma on her thigh.”
Bule, 29, was offered an antidote for poison by a medical staff member near the stage following the biting incident, but the singer refused the assistance and kept performing.
— Seputar Indonesia (@koranSINDO) April 5, 2016
About halfway through her concert, Bule collapsed and began vomiting and having seizures. She was pronounced dead at the hospital the following day.
Notoriously lethal, a king cobra bite can pack enough venom to kill 20 people or drop an elephant.
Irma Bule, a mother of three children, was known in the Karawang area of West Java province for her “goyang ular,” which is Indonesian for “snake dance moves.”
Irma started singing “dangdut” when she graduated from junior high school, Time Magazine said.
Many of Indonesia’s young performers, like Irma, are from poor backgrounds and struggling to make a living while they hope for a hit song.
Irma’s fellow singer Yeyen told local media that the payment for each performance is around $20. A snake dancer can earn an additional $5. Tips from the audience are a bonus.
“If there are snake dancers, there will be more audience. Therefore… we have snake dancers.”
Time said that Irma’s mother talked to local media as well.
“Irma’s mother Encum said her daughter, whose real name is Irmawati but whom her family called Eneng, started performing with snakes three years ago — but she usually sang with nonvenomous pythons that belonged to a snake handler and with the snakes’ mouths duct-taped shut.
“‘Eneng perhaps didn’t know it was a poisonous snake. She was just told to perform with the snake and its mouth wasn’t shut with a duct tape.'”
Indonesian performers dress provocatively and learn to dance seductively in order to garner more tips. This was the method used by dangdut superstar Inul Daratista, who caught the eye of television execs and was propelled to fame.
PETA made a comment about the cobra biting incident in an article, condemning the use of reptiles in performances.
“When living beings such as snakes are used as props, it can end in disaster for both the humans and the animals. There is nothing glamorous about showbiz for snakes and other animals who belong in their natural homes, not under the stress of bright lights and screaming fans. When Bule stepped on this cobra’s tail, the animal acted defensively. No amount of training can stop an animal from behaving instinctively, and trainers and handlers cannot protect themselves or the public from an angry or terrified animal.”
Indonesian journalist Made Supriatma has researched dangdut and made note of Irma in a Facebook post.
“Irma is a portrait of an Indonesian woman who happens to be at the lower level of society. She fights hard. She exploits what she can exploit to go on living.”
As Time wrote, Irma was “driven by poverty to risk her life.”
Indonesian police are investigating the cobra bite incident.
[Image via Chilli Productions/Shutterstock]