Today I was leading some story time at the school library when a learner rushed in, carrying a small plastic container. She then stumbled, dropping her tupperware and spilling live termites everywhere. One of the girls in the splash zone shrieked and jumped up, shaking her clothing to dislodge the insects before any could begin biting her.
Snack time in Tsongaland is hazardous.
You might remember that the Tsonga and Venda cultures are pretty unique within South Africa because they include a few insects in their diets. Termites are an especially good treat in northern Limpopo. The Tsonga call them manjenjhe (“ma-jen-jay”) while the Venda call them madzhulu (“ma-julu”). This time of year is termite-harvesting season. I’ll see little kids and grandmothers alike hanging around termite mounds – which are very common – patiently collecting a bowlful to take home. Both of my primary schools have termite mounds in the yard that are often surrounded by learners. Since the kids have had little to occupy them lately (if you’ll recall) more kids than usual have been gathering around them. So today I decided to pack my camera and hang out with those kids for the afternoon.
“Ma dya?” They asked me curiously when I came over to watch – do you eat them?
Answer: sure, as long as they’re dead. Surprisingly, they are pretty good. They’re creepy looking, yeah, but small enough that you don’t need to think about it. Fried in oil and salted, they remind me of sunflower seeds. You heard it here first: termites ain’t half bad.
I think the whole process of harvesting them is really cool. Locavores, eat your hearts out.
Here are the steps to harvesting termites:
- First collect some long pieces of grass, and a container.
- Locate a termite mound.
- Stick your blade of grass down the hole.
- Wait a few seconds, then pull up the grass. With luck there should be some termites latched on.
- Here’s the dangerous part! With a practiced motion, quickly flick the insects off the grass and into the container. If you’re not quick you’re likely to get bitten and you will bleed. Termites do not play around.
- 6. Repeat. Enjoy the fruits of your efforts.
By the way, we cleaned up all the spilled termites without incident. I guess I should more strictly enforce the rule about not bringing your lunch into the library, especially when your lunch could itself eat the library.