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Nsenene- Uganda's Christmas gift from Nature

Updated on November 4, 2016

It is Christmas again and obviously the year is coming to an end. As always, a big fraction of Christians are eagerly looking forward to the festive season. There is warmth in every home, the mood is bright and happiness fills the air. Those who work a distance from home are planning their annual leave to travel back.They can’t afford to miss the joy that comes with spending time with family. Whether or not you have accomplished this year’s resolutions, no one cares. As long as you are alive and well. It is a period of true love.

Fried Ensenene snack- ready to eat
Fried Ensenene snack- ready to eat
the nsenene trap
the nsenene trap

A gift from mother Nature

Down here in the pearl of Africa, Nature has decided to join us as we celebrate and remember the birth of our lord. Just like manna rained down from the heavens to nourish the children of Israel during their days of wonderig in the hot treacherous wilderness, the rich heavens shower us each year not only with life giving rain waters, but also a special kind of green delicacy. And this is the first sign that Christmas is around the Conner. If you have been to Uganda you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, perhaps you have heard, read about it or watched it in the movies. But you ought to visit us for Christmas and experience it yourself.

All over the country, across streets of towns and villages, the word on every ones lips (young and old) is ‘nsenene’. This green flying manna is the leading cause of ecstasy all over the place. Men, women and children stay up late in the night to trap the seasonal grasshopper. In towns where the good lord has blessed the dwellers with electric power, the job is simpler. The wise men of the town organize traps during day with enthusiasm and care for detail. The fine trap consists of vertically placed iron sheets nailed to eucalyptus poles, and a long strip of black polythene or metal drum at the base. At the top of the poles are bright lamps that will illuminate the night. At 10 yards away, I can see with ease the brilliance,passion and expectation burning on their African faces. The children are ideally not allowed in the vicinity because their place is at school during these hours. Occasionally however, I see one or two children assisting some adults. I take the assumption that the adults are parents and am wondering why they have decided to deny these young chaps their place in school. Later I receive information from an expert, that it is important for the children to learn the specifics of setting up this important trap for purposes of continuity for this annual lucrative business. After all what is Christmas without nsenene!?

As night falls, the unsuspecting grasshoppers emerge from their hide outs. (Those that survived the sharp eye of preying birds during day) They converge and fly around the bright lamps on top of the poles in big numbers, as if to discuss strategies on how to evade the hungry humans and birds that covet their big juicy abdomens and want to turn them into breakfast. Those whose wings tire take a break on nearby vegetation, poles, and the slippery iron sheets. Unfortunately, those that rest on the sheets end up in the black polythene waiting at the base. For some reason they are unable to escape. Since they are too many their friends don’t even notice that they are missing, and so the meeting continues as more and more get trapped .In the rural set up, the job is exciting but tougher because the bright lamps can’t work without electricity. It is thus a long night of cat and mouse chase. The children and the more agile youth, spend sleepless nights running after grasshoppers through banana plantations, bushes and so forth. Perhaps this is why those of us who are too lazy to leave our beds for fear of the biting cold of the night, feel the sting in the pocket the following morning at the market place.

At home, the insects are stripped naked, in the spirit of Christmas. Wings legs and antennae are removed leaving only the head and thorax and abdomen. They are washed and dropped into the pan to cook with the fat in their own bellies. No one cares whether these creatures are in pain. The end justifies the means (some careless hands even pull off the heads as they attempt to remove the wings.) I remember when I was growing up I attempted to eat one of these insects alive to prove my man hood to a bunch of peers. I learned a lesson I haven’t forgotten to this day, and swore never to participate in the mutilation of these insects again. Instead I wait for them on the plate when they are harmless to my tongue.

Ensenene being sold at a local market
Ensenene being sold at a local market
A nymph of a long horned grasshopper
A nymph of a long horned grasshopper

Where do Grasshoppers stay?

Grass hoppers don’t have Nests or territories. Many species go on long migrations to find new food. The migratory species gather in huge groups of millions. Because of the fact that they don’t have nests, they are susceptible to predators and harsh environmental conditions. They fly and hide as a way of protection. Their body color serves well for camouflage as they hide in plantations. They also produce a brownish liquid at the mouth in attempt to scare offenders. They thus live only for a short time. They are herbivores and eat plant leaves, flowers, stems and seeds.

Ensenene is a tasty snack rich in protein and fat. If you can overcome your fear for eating bugs, you should plan a visit to Uganda next Christmas. You will not regret the experience. Merry Christmas

But Where do Grasshoppers come from?

The crunchy exponentially delicious nsenene as they are known in Luganda- a local language in Uganda- is in fact a long horned grasshopper in the family tettigoniidae, commonly called the bush cricket, whose scientific name is R.baileyi. (Wikipedia the free encyclopedia)The insect is also eaten in neighboring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Traditionally in Uganda, women and children did the treacherous work of collecting nsenene. The women were however not allowed to eat them as it was believed that women who ate the insects would bear children with deformed heads with a shape similar to that of the bush cricket. This myth is however long gone and women enjoy the snack as much as their male counterparts.

Life cycle

Tettigoniids are distinguished from other grasshoppers mainly by the length of their filamentous antennae, which often exceeds their own body length. Females are usually larger than the males. The life cycle of a grasshopper moves quickly through a metamorphosis period of six weeks. Like many insects, grasshoppers engage in direct sexual reproduction. Male grasshoppers ‘chirp’ to attract females. The male deposits a spermatophore or sperm packet into the female’s vagina. The sperm then travels through tiny canals called micropyles before entering the eggs. Each female produces a clutch of 10-25 eggs in her abdomen. After fertilization the female uses the long sharp extension at the end of her abdomen to deposit the eggs in stems of plants. The eggs hatch in a few days and the nymph go through incomplete metamorphosis. In other wards the young grasshoppers resemble small wingless adults. Each stage they undergo looks a lot like the adult but adds a few changes each time skin is shed. They usually shed skin between 5-6 times before they turn into adults that can reproduce. Females will try to look for a good place to lay their eggs, and that’s it. They don’t take care of their young ones.


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