Hunting termites with the KHo People
Mar 30th 2017.
It is only 13 hours, I have neatly dressed up, waiting for the sun moving towards the mountain range in the west, and immediately, I follow the K’Ho to head for the forest, looking for white ants.
From Trang Woat tribe (hamlet 2A, Dinh Trang Hoa commune, Di Linh district, Lam Dong), following the inter-village road for 20 minutes by motorbike, we are at Bonom loong forest gate, of Hoa Bac commune of Di Linh district, where the K’Ho usually come to hunt for termites.
Ka Trim, a termite (k nap) hunting” expert” says: “K nap only leave their nest when the weather is dry. On rainy days, if their wings are wet and become heavy, they usually lie dormant in their nest”. Then she begins sharing her knowledge of termites: “There are many kinds of termites. Besides botau k’nap (termite queen), soldiers and workers, there are k nap, brung and k nap byae among a lot of termites, the K’Ho use each type of termites for different purposes: nap as food, brung as fish bait, k nap by ae for bird’s food… termites soldiers and workers, the K’Ho often rarely catch termite soldiers and workers.
According to Ka Trim, when there isn’t persistent rain anymore instead, the chilly weather and sometimes a bit of warm sunshine visiting the Western Highland forests, K’Ho people gather in groups, eagerly go to forests to catch termites. “If it has just stopped raining, you must wait for another 2-3 more days prior to catching termites. Generally, termites begin flying out of their nest at about 2pm. But the time for them to fly out most is at twilight, Ka Trim says.
Surely, being a termite hunter, in addition to the ability to detect termite nests, the skill of catching termites must also reach the ultimate level among immense coffee plantations. Weaving her way in the immense coffee plantations for less than 10 minutes, l see Ka Trim pointing at an earth mound protruding from under the layer of rotten hay: That’s it! Botul k nap (termite nest) Then, she quickly manipulates necessary actions to catch termites very skillfully. As quickly as lightning, 5-6 rut (to a bamboo instrument dedicated to catching termites) have been set. Hearing the alarming noise, every colony of soldier termites worker termites break out fiercely. They spread out their pincers to protect their nest and the termite queens.
Chewing the trompet-shaped cigarette wrapped in n’ha pot jinao leaf (a type of forest leaves, similar to the rolling tobacco) on his lips, and then blows the smoke hard into the termite nest, K Nuys, a senior termite hunter in Trang Woat tribe, looks at me, and says “In 15 minutes, the termites start fly out As a matter of fact, after being intoxicated by the smoke, the colony of termites scatters then slips into the rut Just waiting for that, K’Nuys catches the whole colony of termites and puts them in Rodo (a reed-woven bag) neatly and quickly. He continues blowing, again and again about 4 times. Then he begins to replace the rut with the mosquito net cloth.
Occupied in watching his movements of blowing the smoke and then catching the termites, did not realize that know it is already dusk. “In low light conditions, the net cloth is the suitable solution to catch the remaining termites,” K Nuys both spreads the net and explains to me.
The way K’Ho people catch termites skillfully and diligently, but never touch botau k’nap (termite queens) made me deeply think. Recently, with the fever of looking for specialty of this kind of insect in restaurants to meet the needs of the wealthy tycoons, lots of people have defied dangers, hunting for termite queens to radically kill them, however, ethnic K’Ho community still keeps their cultured behavior due to a very simple reason “Without termite queens, termite colonies could not survive”.
The late afternoon flash of sunlight is like a reminder that the day has almost been over. K’Nuys deploys his skills of catching the bait for the last time, while KaTrim and hastily collect the tools, preparing to leave the “battlefield”. Although quite tired, when looking at the rodo heavy with k nap, every one of us is delighted. Of course, we do not only catch termites at Bonom loong tribe, but many local people really enjoy this dish. Ms Ka Reu, one of the local termite hunters, opens the rodo to show me the content of almost 5 kilos of termites. “For skilled hunters, 5-6 kilos of termites a day is a normal thing. The price of 1 kilo of termites is about 100,000 dong, but we K’Ho people do not pay much attention to the economic side of the work. Catching termites only aims at meeting the needs for food” Ka Reu says.
Returning to Trang Woat, the tribal people are very satisfied with the “trophy” we have earned Everyone laughs heartily and shares the greasy termites. And I quietly observe how people behave with the produce and somewhat feel amazed at the awareness a bit of the minority community here. In their way of thinking and feeling, privatization seems to never exist. If any, it only occurs in a few people, a few places. The remaining majority of the community people keep the lifestyle of shared feeling, shared and, that is, working together, eating together and sharing mutual benefits. From the termites caught, K’Ho people can process them into many different dishes, such as roasted, fried, steamed, according to individual taste. As for me, I choose the most simple and easy dish: salted roasted termites because you just need to put a bit of salt into the polo (reed woven small bags), slightly shaking for termite wings to have fallen off, and then pour out on the doong (flat winnowing basket) to sift and winnow, removing their wings. Then keep boiling for 5 more minutes and remove the saucepan from the fire, you’ll finally have a very attractive dish.
With the salted roasted termite dish, in the past the K’Ho reserved termites for days when food was scarce by exposing termites to the sun for 1-2 days, then kept in dinh dor (bamboo tube) and put on the kitchen platform, 5-6 months after, they took the food out and processed and had a very special, distinct flavor. “Every time we cook, we just take a few termites from the bamboo tube and we’ll have a delicious bowl of squash, pumpkin or vegetable soup!” K Nuys says.
In the small wooden cabin, the electric lamp still shines calmly. The nocturnal wind blows slightly, sit grasping my knees, enjoying the salted roasted termites, the “trophy” of an afternoon wandering with the indigenous K’Ho in the middle of the jungle, or more exactly the vast coffee plantations. In the garden, the night wind still blows melodiously.
By Trinh Chu