Abundant “Delicacies”

I am sure you remember the complaints of the Israelites in the wilderness, at the time when our Lord provided quail for them (Ex. 16:13 – “…that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp:… .”

To a certain extent, there are swarms of “things” – birds, insects, etc. – that appeared in East Africa at various seasons of the year. Many of these things provided for times of rejoicing – food (delicacies) were now available for many folks. Some of them also caused problems. These include, but are not limited to,

Locusts (some)
Yes, there are many kinds of locusts. And some are edible. But, back in earlier days, there used to be swarms that came down from the north, devastating anything green – growing crops; leaves on some trees and bushes; even chewing the soft stalks of both the corn and millet plants. The invasion of these swarms often heralded a coming famine – after all, those crops were the life-line of existence. In our area these locusts were not considered edible. They were “cursed” because of the havoc that was caused. But there was another species, jumping around in the grass where the cattle were feeding, that were considered a real delicacy. Toward the end of the rains, and on into the early dry season, these locusts seemed to abound and cover the ground in places. The little herd-boys would catch these and impale them on a small stick, lining them up ready to roast. Since they were out most of the day herding the cattle, often with only a roasted sweet-potato or casava root to eat, these locust catches were a welcome supplement to an otherwise boring repast.

Senene (or, shinene [Sukuma])
I haven’t yet been able to find the English name for this type of locust. In Tanzania, they seemed to arrive in the early part of the rains and came out at night, gravitating to any bright object. When we lived out in the boondocks, they seemed to rain on the aluminum roofing reflecting in the moonlight. When we moved to down, there were street lights and there came the crowds. Loud talking and conversation (and shouting!) was heard up until about midnight. Folks scooped them up into baskets or other containers and took them home to cook them up as a special delicacy. I don’t remember knowingly(!) eating any of these creatures but am told they are real tasty.

Ah, those pesky creatures that can eat up anything wooden that rests on the ground. Not the little white ants, but those bigger ones with the large red or brown heads. Termite mounds abound everywhere; of every size and shape. Some even with a “roof” to provide shade when the heat of the sun bores down. Anyway, just about at the time of the early rains, they seem to sprout wings and swarm out of the mounds. Then folks can congregate at the mound and there snag and gather them up to take home to fry. Mmmm, Good! Especially with a bit of salt. Yes, we have eaten them – sort-of like popcorn! – but make sure the wings are off. And, make sure they are really dead because you don’t want them crawling back up.

Somhe (Sukuma) birds (Quelea)
Birds during harvest time, as grain is ripening, are a big problem. I remember as a child out there, helping my African boyfriends by slinging wads of clay into the rice paddies and over the millet fields to scare the birds away. But there is a species of bird (Quelea) that fly in swarms. When they descend on a field of ripening millet they cause real havoc. The Africans often put up large nets to trap them; in our area they used reed baskets or smaller nets, attached to a long rope tied to a long stick, and twirled them around their heads high up into the swarm to catch the birds. These, caught, provided much need protein to their mainly (at that time of year) starch diet.

Guinea Hens
Oh, those guinea hen flocks. With a loud chatter and flapping of wings they flew up into trees to view their domain and usually roosted there, but when on the ground sought for anything to eat – insects, grass seeds and other grains. Intricate closed labyrinth traps, seeded with corn or millet to draw them in, were constructed of sticks and grass. Hungry guinea hens would “follow the food” and find themselves drawn into the depths of that labyrinth trap, unable to escape. The trapper, watching from a nearby site, would quickly run to the trap, catch the bird or two, and joyfully tie their legs together so they couldn’t run or escape. Of course, in the meantime, the other startled birds have flown up into the nearby trees and are “scolding” loudly – while the trapper now takes off for his village in anticipation of a good meal coming up.

One other thing, if a guinea hen is caught young enough it seems to be able to be “tamed” a bit. I have seen African villages where guinea hens roam around just like the chickens. Maybe just a bit harder to catch if you want one for supper, but at least you don’t have to go out and trap them.

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