The Greek that is translated as “serpent” in English is translated in Uab Meto as koko, a semi-mythical animal.
Pieter Middelkoop (in The Bible Translator 1956, p. 130ff.) explains: “In various translations [the Hebrew term] nachash is rendered by ‘serpent’, but the difficulty is that in Uab Meto there is no general word for serpent. Curiously enough they use a general word, kauna, including all kinds of insects, iguana, lizards and serpents. But the python is never called kauna: it has its own name in Uab Meto, i.e. liuksain. But Atoni people [the groups that speaks Uab Meto] never mention its name because it is taboo and so circumscribe it as, Uis meto, ‘Lord of the dry land.’ And whereas lizards, etc. are also called kauna, the crocodile is excepted, never being called kauna. Its name, besimnasi, is also taboo and therefore it is indicated by the title, Uis Oe, that means ‘Lord of the water.’
“Each kind of serpent is indicated by its own name, preceded by the word kauna, so, for instance, kauna umeke is a kind of serpent, the principal food of which are mice, and therefore it is also called kaunifo, ’mice serpent’; and kaun usau, a kind of poisonous viper. Consequently it is impossible to render serpent’ in Uab Meto with kauna because it covers too wide an area of very different species. (…)
“Now in Timor there is a kind of semi-mythical animal, i.e. koko. There are three kinds of koko:
- koko manu with legs and wings, a kind of flying lizard;
- koko poli (koko belu), a kind of springing reptile using its tail to spring;
- koko kauna, a very big kind; some old Atonis told me that it is nearly as big as a python, but different in hue. However, the explanations concerning its size differ rather much, but anyhow the koko is a mythical figure in the stories, that can speak and converse with man.
“(…) One cannot say that it is only a mythical figure, because the Atonis say that their ancestors have seen it and had intercourse with it. Nowadays, when one asks if anybody has seen it, the general reply is in the negative. As an exception, one may meet someone who says that he has.
“It is quite clear that the koko in the belief of the Atonis is of the same species as the nachash in the Scripture.”