Home > Local News > Toke-Geckos and the Legend of the Liver Snake

Toke-Geckos and the Legend of the Liver Snake

Source: LTO Cambodia
There is a kind of lizard that lives here in Southeast Asia known as
the Toke Gecko (in both Khmer and English). It’s an attractive animal
with great marble eyes and a hide colored dirty blue with bright orange
spots. Mostly nocturnal, they are up to a foot long, they stick to the
walls and ceiling and eat bugs and very small animals including House
Geckos (ching-chok) and giant centipedes. Tokes are solitary
creatures, shy but not averse to living in and around houses in the
city. They are far less common than the ubiquitous House Gecko. Perhaps
one in ten or twenty houses has a Toke living in, on or around it (if
that many.) We have one that stays at our house on occasion, sometimes
months at a time.

The call of the Toke Gecko is loud and distinctive and the source of
their name. A healthy, happy male gecko will bark out mating calls
several times a night. They ‘bark’ almost as loud as a dog but in a
parrot-like voice – the call coming in short rounds of two or sometimes
three parts – first a growling frog-like wind up, followed by a well
pronounced ‘toh-kay, toh-kay, toh-kay…’ repeated anywhere from a couple
times up to 10 or more, and sometimes capped by a final little
‘er-er-er-er-er’ trailing out like a noisy gear grinding to a stop.
Some people hear the call as ‘geh-ko’ instead of ‘toh-kay.’ See what
you think… *Mating call of a male Toke Gecko*

When my daughter was a young toddler a talkative Toke Gecko lived just
outside the door down the hall. She was fascinated by the sound of the
gecko’s call and would stop whatever she was doing to listen whenever
it started up. Just learning to speak at the time, she learned to speak
Toke, repeating the call exactly as the gecko barked, with the same
rising tone at the beginning, pause in the middle, and trailing end.
She had animal book with a picture of a Toke and would point at the
photo and say “toh-kaaay” with a perfect Toke Gecko accent.

I think of Tokes this evening because we have one living in the house
again, somewhere in the eves upstairs. He’s quite a loud and generous
barker, letting fly long and often. My maid, a 50 year old Khmer woman,
was just going on rather excitedly about our new guest, thrilled with
his presence as she says this is very good luck for the house,
especially this particular gecko who barks a lot.

On traditional wisdom she tells me that the amount of luck derived from
a Toke is tied to the number of times the gecko barks in a single
round. An odd number of barks is much better than an even number. A
round of 5 barks is average. Less than 5 is not good. More than 5 barks
is good luck, even more so if it is an odd number. The more barks the
better.

Then she paused and said warningly,

“Not everybody believes the next part, but I know it is true. I have seen it with my eyes – the Liver Snake.”

The Toke Gecko’s ability to bark is determined in part by the size of
his liver, she told me. Barking less than 5 times is a sign that the
gecko has a swollen liver, putting pressure on his innards and impeding
his barking ability. This condition can be relieved with the symbiotic
cooperation of the “Liver Snake,” an animal rarely seen by people and
one in which “not everyone believes.”

She explained, “when a Toke with a swollen liver sees a Liver Snake it
will approach carefully, stay still and open its mouth wide and
invitingly. The Liver Snake will then enter the gecko’s mouth, stretch
into his abdomen and eat part of his liver,” thereby presumably
relieving pressure on his barker. The snake then departs, better for
the meal of liver, leaving the Toke also in an improved condition, now
able to bark longer and stronger.

Supporting the validity of these claims she first offered two forms of
evidence: authority and personal experience. First, she said in a
serious tone that she learned about the Toke from her parents who were
very knowledgeable of such things. But more importantly, that she had
actually once witnessed a Liver Snake engaged in the act with a Toke.
She described how back when she was a teenager she saw them doing it in
a tree near a pagoda in Battambang.

I must have looked skeptical because she quickly added, “But if you
don’t believe, there is a way to prove it.” Appealing to my bias for
the scientific method, she offered up an experimental means of
verifying the story.

She laid out the protocol. First catch a Toke Gecko alive and tie him
to a board. Then cut a long piece of a papaya leaf stem. Apparently a
papaya stem is about the same color and size of a Liver Snake, green
and as thick as finger. Then you poke the stem at the face of the
restrained Toke Gecko which, when confronted with this faux Liver
Snake, will open his mouth widely just as he would for a real Liver
Snake thereby demonstrating the Toke’s behavior around Liver Snakes
and by extension, the existence of Liver Snakes. QED

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