In my culture white ants were and are still a delicacy. There are several types of white ants generally called ngwen where I come from. Certain types fly out in daytime and the others do it at night. Let me say something about ngwen that fly at night: They are very difficult to catch. And again they are basically in two categories: those that fly out around 2am, and another at around 4am. More delicious is the 2am ngwen. This one is a little bigger and fatty, and may cause diarrhea when eaten in excess, and yet most people prefer it raw. Ngwen normally fly out from grown anthills. We usually had to go searching for anthills that were ready for harvest many kilometers into the wilderness back in those days. On discovering those that were expecting, we then prepared them by clearing and digging a small hole for trapping ngwen on either side of the hill, and sometimes we had to blow tobacco smoke into the anthill to make sure all the ngwen were put on standby. The other materials to prepare for the night exercise were dry grass that would be lit to provide flames, that attract ngwen and got them trapped into the harvest hole before drawing into baskets.
However, we grew up with frightening stories about Jinn’s and ghosts during the ngwen season. Our elders usually told these scary stories at night, especially after supper, and this inflated fear into us to the extent that no one would shout or even talk at night. The Jinn’s are called ‘Yamo’ in my local language, and had the most horrific stories. Yamos were known to be tall, awkward humanlike creatures with goatlike hooves, and would turn you into whatever they wanted if they caught up with you. But I never got the slightest proof whatsoever. Therefore, one required a lot of courage to move at night. But despite all this, white ants are a delicacy in my culture, thus it was a must for people to go hunting for ngwen in the wee hours of the night; the very time the Yamos were known to explore the land.
One day we went to trap ngwen at an anthill almost 4km into the wilderness. It was midnight when we set off in a very dark and quiet night in the month of August. We were four in number, each equipped with a bundle of dry grass, a box of matches, and a basket for the harvest. By about 2.45am we had taken position around the huge anthill, two on either side. Ngwen began to rain out of the anthill as though very uncomfortable in their motherland, time and again blowing out our flames. We beamed with excitement and the baskets had just begun bulging with the delicacy when suddenly one of us glimpsed at something standing, and without looking back shouted, ‘Yamo!!’ Everyone got terrified and in a blink scattered for their lives, leaving all we had behind, only to reunite as we scrambled for the narrow door into our hut. Early the next morning we went back to the scene, but to our utter amusement it was an old tree stump that had scared us out of our wits.
Copyright 2015 by Michael Owuor. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.