Tanzania: Children Should not go out at Night Catching Grasshoppers- A Story of Primary School Staff in Missenyi District, Kagera Region

Fresh and fried grasshoppers,Haya of Tanzania and Baganda of Uganda favourite food

It was Monday morning, the first workday of a new week, the Mtakuja (not its real name) Primary School staff in Missenyi district, Kagera region, were in a jovial mood to start it with recharged and positive attitude.

The head teacher, Mr. Kibole, and his mates were restless as it was almost kicking to 7:30 for pupils to assemble for inspection, but could see only a few patches of five or more doing environmental cleanliness, and when they assembled, it was clear almost half of the pupils weren’t present. Teachers were very puzzled and Mr. Kibole had to call for an emergency staff meeting to look at the matter.

It is a season for grasshoppers in the Kagera region which come in plenty during the rainy season especially in May every year. They tend to come out in full moon. Adults, school children, and even the young ones, all rush out in streets by night to catch grasshoppers around the locally made traps.

The grasshoppers, famous as senene, is a traditional food for the Haya people in the Kagera Region, Northwest of Tanzania, embedded in their customs and taboos. In the past, gathering senene was usually in the early morning, when one would visit the wildernesses to search for them naturally called ‘Okulinga’, and then finds them (he/she) would specially call the villagers by raising a very high voice of’ Uliii, Uliii, Uliii’ which reaches the villagers, who would leave behind everything they were doing, taking their tools usually the locally made containers with small open spaces to enable the catch to survive with air, heading to where the call came from.

By that time it was strictly for adults and very rarely, school children were seen catching senene with adults, except on days when they were not supposed to be at school. All the catch would be taken at home, prepared by removing wings, legs, tails, and horns, boiled with salt, and deep-fried, ready for eating.

Only men and male boys monopolized the consumption of senene, as it was a taboo for women and girls not allowed to eat. If it appeared the head of the family is away, the dried senene would be wrapped in bananas tree old peels, hanging the wrapping at the cooking place until when he would come back even if he is away for years, for example for those who went to the first and second world wars. Men were obliged to reward their wives with a nice-looking pair of Kitenge fabric, an East African wax.

There was no entrepreneurship as we see today, so neither women nor children would sell the grasshoppers while in the wilds or the fried ones at home.

Nowadays things have changed, as Chinua Achebe wrote in his book, ’Things Fall Apart’, Ineke the bird said, “Since man learned to shoot without missing, I have learned to fly without perching on a twig”’ Likewise women break the chain of living under taboos and started eating senene and as entrepreneurship and trade has grown up, both males and females have turned to senene businesses to earn the living.

Surprisingly enough, they are accompanied by their children most of them school children so that they add volume to the catch, or the children themselves sell out the grasshoppers to quench their thirst of getting money for luxuries.

Childhood has dramatically changed over about last fifty years the rule of the game written by adults who had turned them to be a source of income, hence fell to misconduct.

The catching of grasshoppers has increased tremendously in recent years, because of emerging of iron sheet traps folded into a cone shape leading to a large bucket which collects the falling grasshoppers. They are attracted by very bright lights, and the rising and heavy smoke caused by burnt fresh grass makes them dizzy and finally lost sites to fall into the bucket, property of the owner, while those which are swimming around in the air are caught by comers.

Back at Mtakuja primary school, the meeting ended by issuing a strong statement and warning to parents who allow their children to go at night to catch senene, that they are unable to attend classes the next day because they are still asleep at their homes. They also found out that some of those pupils who attended classes that day were not fit for the lessons as they were yawning and blinking because they had slept late the previous night, the number of attendance and performance is low. The head teacher sent a letter to Ward Executive Officer informing him of the situation, asking him to take stern measures to parents, to arrest the situation.

This affects not only Mtakuja primary school but almost the whole district of Missenyi and the entire region. It is from this new habit of absenteeism and unfitness, that Bugombe village in Kanyigo ward has come with a strong warning to parents who allow young children to go out at night to catch grasshoppers. In a village general meeting in May 2022, village chairperson, Japerson Mutabuzi, informed the issue of night catch of senene, and truancy of pupils at school has been discussed in the village council and it is brought before the general meeting for discussion and decision.

A decision was reached to stop the habit immediately contrary to that the parents be brought before a court of law Children in Tanzania are subjected to the worst form of child labor, including forced labor in mining, quarrying, and domestic work.

The National Multi-sectoral Early Childhood Development Programme (NM-ECD), 2021/22 – 2025/26 directly invests in Tanzania’s human development through accelerating early childhood development gains enhancing the multi-sectoral approach to young children of 0 to eight years of nurturing care to see that “All children in Tanzania are developmentally on track to develop to their full potential”.

Early Childhood Care and Development is now a global agenda with ECD services, recognized as essential to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which provide a crucial opportunity for achieving equity among all children globally, with every country expected to work towards achieving SDGs by 2030. Among the main SDGs that directly relate to ECD is Goal 4 which calls for governments to ‘’Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning”.

By: Mutayoba Arbogast- K-news Contributor, Tanzania

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