Esunsun: A Tale of Edible Insects

Imisioluwa Ogunsunlade
January 7, 2023

The petrichor trashed the roof of my nose as I stepped out of the house. The fluency of the rain had been by fits and starts until that evening. The skies had held the rains in, only lettingout trickles, drizzles and dribbles in unsteady succession. But the pillars of the above could only hold in so much water and that evening, they gave in, letting loose the kind of beat down that thrashed the doors of our houses as intimately as it trashed the doors of our minds.

But I was ecstatic. I knew that the irregular rain was responsible for the irregularity and undersupply of the flying termites, “esunsun” as we called them in my language: Yoruba language. I knew, also, that a strong rainfall would usher them in at full blast since it was theirseason.

I had always loved esunsun. Proteinous, nutritious winged termites whose binomial name is Macrotermes bellicosus. Not least because it was strange that a specie of termite could be edible but that such little insects could deliver a delicious allure on the four walls of the mouth. As of now, I fail to recall who caught the termites. But my earliest memory about it was when I held the hem of my aunties wrapper, crying and screaming unprovoked that I could not and would not eat what had been flying few minutes earlier just before it was submerged in a web of water so that it could not break free like a child tangled in a charlotteof cartoon webpages.

Memories fail me, too, as to who convinced me to have a taste after the pan had been lifted from the fire. Perhaps, it may have been the sizzling sound that painted the street of my ears or the sweet spicy aroma that tainted the orifice that was my nose. But none of that are important now for I remember my jaws quickly working itself into routine machinations and my face lightning up like “a host of golden daffodils…fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. That was the start of bigger consumption to come.

So, that rain that dinned and dared ended. Before long, power was quickly restored. Flying termites are usually attracted to lights and so my sister and I had gone to put on the fluorescent at the back of the house in order to attract them. “We will come back in the next 10 minutes. By then, plenty esunsun would have abound”, my sister and I agreed – for once. We had readied our brooms in one hand and a bucket of water in the other; a stance that was always quickly reminiscent of the movie Gladiator which I saw in our old rectangular TV where the actor had a sword in one hand and a shield in the other. I later got to know that hisname was Russell Crowe.

Throat poised, we came back minutes later to catch our snack for the night. To our dismay, the backyard was empty. “Ah ahn…where are our esunsun”, I exclaimed. The flowerbed used to be a bed for these insects but what laid on it was mere dew. On the walls, few of them buzzed here and there, one of them falling prey to the lashing tongue of a wall gecko that now had a trophy that we did not. “What could have happened, I wanted to take esunsun to school the next day”, my face reduced to a wrinkle as I grumbled to my sister. I was not sure if she was angry at our fluff or she was angry at me for being that angry at our fluff but she was angry. “Fi mí lè… leave me alone”, she, too, snatched.

I flung the broom in my left hand away and it flared in the air, coming down in turns like a confetti. I had expected the esunsun to come out in bulk tonight because all the ingredients were there: the rain, the season and the lights. But for some reason, my hopes were dented and in that glum I stormed into the house to retire for the night, kicking the pair of shoe laying in my path at the passage entry into a heap of clothes. It may have been my father’s shoe or a visitor’s, I could not care less.

Being stressed about how stressed I was about the esunsun when I ought to have been stressed about how I was still awake considering I had school the next morning, I kept tossing and turning in bed. Then, I decided to go and check the yard again. I opened the back door but there was nothing still. “Close my door”, my mum screamed from where she was.

As I made way back into my room, our neighbour called my name from her porch. Our own house was just ahead of hers and so she could see our yard but we had to go all the way round to see hers. “Esunsun pò níbí o...there are many winged termites here”, she informed.I scavenged for my broom, gathered my bucket of water and galloped to her house in one fell swoop. Her kids were grown up already and none of them were staying with her. “She must have seen us waiting for a kill to no avail through her window and she personally didn’t fancy eating the esunsun or didn’t have time to catch them”, I thought to myself.

At her house, the winged termites swarm like a plague of locusts. Some were just metamorphosing into adults at that point; some had lost their wings, making them my easiest catch as I picked them up and dipped them in my water. The flying ones clung in between my broom as I held it aloft and the ones that did not, like a wand, I waved my broom at so that they got stuck forcefully. In matter of minutes, my bucket was full. I thankedthe woman and made my way for the house.

My sister came to help in frying it. She put the termites in a frying pan and added salt and pepper. She put the frying pan over medium heat and allowed it to cook while stirring it using a spoon. She let it cook until the termites turned brown. Before long, a sweet spicy smell informed us that it was already cooked.

There was more than enough. We put some in the fridge and I kept some away for school the next day. I was sure that my peers in school would beg me for some so I kept yet anotheraway in my school bag so that even if they shortened my ration on the first pack, I would stow away to eat the second one.

Right now, I still do not know why my neighbour’s yard had all the termites and ours did not. Iam thinking perhaps it is the colour of the fluorescent she had. Neither do I know if winged termites are eaten in other parts of this continent or even outside of it. I have heard news that winged termite is a food for the less privileged; but I strongly disagree. I have seen rich people relish it as much as they relish snails, prawns and crayfish. In fact, insects are healthy alternative to orthodox staples such as beef, chicken, pork, and even fish. Moreover, they arehigh in fats, protein, calcium, iron as well as zinc.

I have not eaten esunsun in a while since I have been away from home but I look forward to be back home soon and have a dose of that pristine thing that releases with each bite. I haveheard of its therapeutic capabilities in the treatment of asthma and other throat ailments but I still want to know more about its biological quip. Likewise, I long to know if winged termitesare eaten in other parts of Nigeria, Africa and even outside the country. I long to know if the environment is still fresh enough and conducive for them to thrive back at home. I long to know if any other person sacrificed the integrity of the breast pockets of their school uniforms at the altar of this winged termites. I long to know whether that boy from my primary school has been able to shake off the nickname: “esunsun”, bestowed upon him because he was always bringing it to school. ***

Have you ever eaten it? Did you like the taste? Would you like to eat it again? Tell us your take on this edible insect.

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