Banje is the Luhya name for a small fish in the Haplochromis genus, found in western Kenya. It has a distinctive yellowish belly and, when young, bluish lips. In the past, banje supplemented the diets of many rural communities, and young people often made a hobby of catching them. They learned how to capture the fish in reed traps that they placed in the deepest parts of the local streams. Women prepared banje using traditional methods: Usually, after being caught from the river, banje were smoked over wood fires for one or two days and then skewered on a stick for easy handling. They were cooked in a pot with water, the traditional salt munyu mushelekha, and some onion, and served hot, usually with brown ugali (millet mixed with sorghum and cassava). People of all ages ate banje.
Some forty years ago rivers, streams, and swamps in western Kenya were full of many indigenous fish species, but continuous destruction of wetlands through encroachment and cutting of native trees threatens the existence of banje and other species. The concentration of tilapia fish, an important species in pond aquaculture, is an additional threat. Local farmers have partnered with the NGO Bio Gardening Innovations (BIOGI) to work on biodiversity conservation, including the restoration and management of wetlands. Hopefully such efforts will help restore banje populations so that this traditionally important species can remain part of the local diet.