The history and truth behind Harurwa

While a lot of people have heard of the Harurwa insects of Norumedzo Village, Bikita District, Masvingo Province of Zimbabwe, and while lots more have enjoyed the delicacy that Harurwa insects are, very few people realise that there is a very elaborate management system that goes with the tradition of Harurwa.

There is a whole systematic management system that goes into Harurwa which in itself is proof of the efficacy of indigenous knowledge systems, in this case, as far as management goes.

So lets look at the Harurwa traditional practices used to manage Harurwa so as to demystify the rumour, gossip, innuendo and half truths that a lot of people, out of ignorance tell each other about Harurwa and the traditional practices thereof as practiced by the people of Norumedzo village.

 We hope that by now most people know that the Harurwa insects came naturally from God to cushion Nemeso, the founding father of Norumedzo village who was born with four eyes and was rejected by his father for this abnormality of having four eyes.

He was given his inheritance in advance by his father in the form of the piece of land now called Norumedzo village so that he could be far away from the rest of his people because of this abnormality of having four eyes.

He therefore didn’t have anything to eat and God through the ancestors then gave him these insects, not just for momentary hunger satisfaction but as a perpetual source of food and trade.

The detailed story of Nemeso is found in the book Harurwa written by this same author. What we can with authority reveal is that Nemeso is the first born son of Fupajena – today represented by Chief Mazungunye- and Mhepo, the rain maker daughter of Chief Musikavanhu of Chipinge.

Fupajena is the brother to Mutindini, popularly known as Mutindi today represented by Chief Mukanganwi. Both Chief Mukanganwi and Chief Mazungunye are Moyo Chirandu Duma and in fact form the nucleus or centre pivot or fulcrum of the vast Moyo Chirandu Duma people who are the majority sub tribe of the generality of the Karanga tribe of Zimbabwe. 

What we want to document now is the actual practice of the Harurwa tradition as it is done by the Moyo Chirandu – Duma – people of Norumedzo village, Bikita District, Masvingo Province Zimbabwe because there have been many distortions regarding the Harurwa insects and we want to clear the air and clarify matters so that those distortions  are cleared and Zimbabweans and the rest of the world begin to clearly understand the Harurwa practice as carried out by the Moyo Chirandu – Duma- people of Norumedzo.

‘Do you know the Harurwa insects of Norumedzo village in Bikita district Masvingo Province, right here in Zimbabwe?’

‘Oh you mean those stinking green beetles that are eaten when one is crying?’

This is the answer that one gets when such a question is posed in places far away from Norumedzo village where people don’t quite understand the whole harurwa practice.

Now, the insect Harurwa has an acidic juice inside its belly. This juice is its defensive mechanism. If you try to catch it, it squirts this acidic juice out of itself and if the juice gets into your eye, it is very irritating and you will spend a minute or two with this sharp irritation which goes away anyway without damaging your eye at all. Consequently your eyes will naturally produce tears as tears are also the human’s natural eye protection from any foreign bodies entering the eye.

But the tears people are referring to are not the ones caused by the insect squirting its defensive acidic juice into a person’s eye.

Because this acidic juice is sour, before you fry the insects for consumption you must ensure that this juice is squeezed out of the insects otherwise the insect will be horribly sour in the mouth if you eat it with the juice inside it.

But it always happens that when you kill the insects for frying and eating, there will always be some of the insects which will retain their juice. In fact it is actually a skill which gets acquired through practice and experience that one gets to kill the insects in such a manner that you end up with very few or none at all which retain the acidic juice.

To achieve the highest level of the skill, one has to master the art of pouring very little amounts of hot water on the insects which will be in a container and as the insects try and fight this hot water, they do so by squirting the acidic juice out of themselves. The longer one takes pouring these small amounts of hot water on the insects while stirring them means that almost all of them will die after having tried to defend themselves thus ridding themselves of this acidic juice resulting in very few retaining this juice.

The belly of a harurwa insect which hasn’t squirted all the acidic juice out of itself turns a very distinctly dark brown colour after it is fried and this colour is much deeper just on the insect’s belly as opposed to the rest of the insect’s body which will be a benign and appetising light brown.

If you then go on to eat this insect with a dark brown belly due to the acidic juice still inside it, your mouth is sharply incensed by this sour tangy taste which makes you want to spit the insect out of your mouth. The sensation this sour taste causes in your mouth conjures tears from your eyes in the same way you feel tears when you eat say a sour fruit like a lemon.

These are the tears people in Harare and other parts of Zimbabwe not privy to Harurwa refer to.

But the way they say it, one would think that these insects are eaten when one is howling! In fact people far from Norumedzo actually believe that indeed harurwa are eaten when one is crying. That is not correct. Far from the truth. The explanation lies in this insect which may have retained its acid. And this doesn’t happen all the time at all.

So it is absolutely incorrect to say that Harurwa insects are eaten while one is crying.

They merely cause a teary sensation similar to the one you get when you are eating a lemon and this only happens if you have met with a Harurwa whose acidic juice has not been removed before frying the insect for consumption. It doesn’t happen all the time as people are erroneously meant to believe.

Such a sour harurwa insect is called a FUVE in the Karanga vernacular language (pronounced as spelt) of the area and it is identified by its distinctly more darker brown belly than the rest of the harurwa insect which will be a light crispy brown.

In fact when eating the harurwa insects, you are actually warned to be careful of these FUVES, so you can select those harurwas with the dark brown belly and you throw them away as they are the fuves and you only eat the ones without the dark brown belly to avoid the sour taste. We hope this puts an end to the incorrect debate particularly in Harare and other places far from Bikita and the Harurwa insects as it is in these far flung places where some people who know nothing about Harurwa have gone on to mislead people into believing that harurwa are insects that are eaten whilst people are crying.

Dr.Claude Maredza is an author and film writer, producer and director.

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