Harvesting Mopane Worms: Down memory lane Part II

20 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
Harvesting Mopane Worms: Down memory lane Part II The contribution of mopane worms to people’s livelihoods has become so significant that outbreaks of the worms create seasonal employment for locals

The Chronicle

Pathisa Nyathi

I looked forward to taking part in the process of harvesting mopane worms.

As a small child, I participated in harvesting and processing amacimbi.

We made some money when we sold the delicious commodity.

Schooling stole me from the local community and thus from some of the traditional economic activities that we took part in.

In fact, I had since developed a fear of harvesting the mopane worms.

Now I could access money through other means.

I felt distanced from my past.

This was all the reason why I looked forward to taking part in mopane worm harvesting.

Was I still part of the community or not? An opportunity was presenting itself for me to reminisce with the past.

The rains arrived early at my rural home of Sankonjana.

By Christmas time the sorghum and maize crops were well developed.

Amacimbi matured at the time when the growing crops needed less attention.

I arrived on the scene at the right time.

My sister Meby was home, so was her daughter Mabhula with her own little daughter who grew up at the rural home.

She was to prove my partner in the old tradition of harvesting amacimbi, and more specifically isumbe.

Meby’s son Nqoba who is a member of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) was also present, together with his wife a MaDonga from Lupane where the tradition of harvesting mopane worms is not as strong as at Maphaneni.

Another sister, Grace, older than Meby, arrived when she heard there was a bountiful crop of amacimbi.

Each morning the four relatives, minus MaDonga, used to get up early in the morning to go to harvest amacimbi.

Each one of them, clad in scarecrow attire took some twenty-litre plastic bucket and a smaller 5-litre one.

They melted into the bush in different directions.

The five little children and I remained behind.

I knew well that I could no longer manage to harvest amacimbi, certainly not the ones that are picked from mopane trees.

There was something less challenging that I could still take part in.

Harvesting is done in near total silence. When one hears the sound of nearby harvesters, one moves away to some new territory.

The big bucket is placed at some chosen place, while the smaller bucket is used to harvest amacimbi, and when full, it is emptied into the bigger container.

There are attended hazards of disorientation.

A harvester, by moving up and down in all direction, loses the sense of direction and will struggle to locate where he/she left the bigger container.

Grace narrated to us how she was lost and had to summon the assistance of Mabhula to locate the bigger container.

The process is a strenuous one.

Each caterpillar is caught singly, disemboweled and thrown into the smaller container.

One must always keep one’s eyes open to identify where the well-camouflaged caterpillars are located.

Depleted leaves and the presence of hand grenade-like droppings occur under such trees.

The ear-caressing music from the leaf-consuming caterpillars attracts harvesters.

I observed that by about 11.00 am the harvesters were hungry and rushed for tea with magwinya and Lobels bread.

The red Sun Jam dad used to buy us back then was still being consumed.

Of course, things have changed from the time we used to consume the Christmas goodies. Gone were the twenty-litre metal containers in which tea was brewed. Now they use Kango teapots.

At about 9.00 o’clock my team was up and ready to take part in our own harvesting of mature mopane worms.

These were on the march to burrow themselves into the ground to undergo metamorphosis into the next stage of their life cycle.

Mature mopane worms cease feeding and remain motionless on the mopane tree branches.

From their dangling posterior ends, they secrete some slippery brown juice.

In a way, they are disemboweling and cleansing themselves.

What will remain in their bodies is the yellow stuff, which is rich in lipids and protein.

The temperature provides the cue for them to begin the journey down mopane trees.

This stage is reached at difference times by different worms depending on when they were hatched.

By 9.00 o’clock, it is warm enough for the fat and pure worms to begin the journey towards metamorphosis that takes place in silence underground.

Little children swarm around the two of us and now and then make shrill screams when the worms move to close to them.

Natanya is carrying a five-litre tin and darts from one caterpillar to the next, snatches it and throws it into the bucket.

I move more cautiously with a failing eyesight.

I too identify the caterpillars either descending from the trees or already on the ground hurrying to disappear into the ground.

When you catch one it writhes and wriggles, exhibiting some somersaulting gyrations to ward off its catcher by releasing an array of short stabbing spears into the hands of a catcher.

The shongololo-like twisting is quite scary. I was tempted to throw away the self-defending creature but I would not let go.

The worms continue turning and wrestling in the bucket.

Some caterpillars may be descending from trees and even crawling on the ground.

Their movement is initiated by the shortage of foliage on some trees.

They move in search of trees with leaves where they will resume feeding.

These are not to be confused with the mature isumbe on the hurried march to undergo metamorphosis.

We both know what tests to apply to tell one lot apart from the other.

Mature worms have a turgid and stiff feel.

They writhe with vigour and stamina.

They will inflict injury to the holding fingers.

Another test is to feel the posterior end.

When the caterpillar is mature, there is no lump-the hand grenade-like dropping awaiting ejecting.

A mature worm is characterised by some posterior consistency, a uniform feel from neck to posterior end.

As we move from tree to tree and back to the same trees later, we observe some lull in the migrations.

We move in circles as caterpillars begin their treks at different times.

When the sun gets hotter, migrations end.

As we were moving from one tree to the next, Natanya is overheard shouting, “Amaphelandaba!” It was a new word to me.

What I soon discovered was that she was referring to the caterpillars with red lines.

I began wondering whether she knew why these were called Amaphelandaba.

During our youthful days, we did not refer to these in that way.

I quickly figured out that the name was derived from the once ubiquitous Pelandaba buses that were established by Joseph Mtshumayeli Ngwenya of Manyane/Sihwaba. Their distinctive red colour and the drawing of a cockerel in the front characterised the buses. Mtshumayeli Ngwenya traded in, among other livestock, chickens.

The buses are on the revival path under the direction of the Botswana-based Ndodana Ngwenya.

For Natanya the name survived and referred to the caterpillars with red lines-the colour of the Pelandaba buses, now without the cockerel but the image of a smoking pipe inspired by the name of Mtshumayeli’s grandfather Magudukubhema.

By about 11.00 we are back home. Our catch awaits disemboweling by Meby who too is back from harvesting the worms on trees.

It is believed that if isumbe are not disemboweled they have a bitter taste.

However, some people cook isumbe without disemboweling them.

Our catch is reserved for home consumption.

They are cooked and salted before drying.

These are the finest grade that tastes the best.

They will even be eaten as snacks.

For the caterpillars caught in bulk, the method of processing is different.

The process they undergo is known as ukufusa.

A bonfire is made in the bush where firewood is relatively plentiful.

When the fire is all glowing embers, a spade is used to push back the embers and create a centre into which the caterpillars are poured and covered up with embers and the hot soil.

After a short while, a spade is used to mix up and turn over amacimbi like builders’ mortar.

Some pause ensues and after a while, the caterpillars are ready to pick up one by one.

I joined in the picking process.

Some of the caterpillars end when they are sufficiently roasted.

From here, the caterpillars are taken home for drying.

Sometimes that turns out to be a challenge when the rains create a humid atmosphere that may lead to the harvest becoming mouldy.

The harvesting of amacimbi was an experience that took me down memory lane.

It was a pleasure reminiscing with the past that I used to cherish.

I came back to the bright lights of Bulawayo to sample the sumptuous snack.

Munchie, munchie!

Share This: