The East African longhorn grasshopper or senene, as it is known in Kiswahili, is a cone-headed species belonging to the family Tettigoniidae and order Orthoptera.
In Tanzania, senene is a traditional food for Haya people living in Kagera region, though its consumption is also common in all the northern part of the country. In addition, senene is embedded in the Haya culture and is at the centre of several food taboos. Haya people identify different types of senene, naming them accordingly to their appearance and behaviour. Among the most important are mwanamwana (which means ‘beautiful woman’) considered the tastier, kishorowanda a green one with purple stripes; mfaume that is reported to be the more aggressive one; katikomile a brown insect found mostly during the end of the season and kimbisimbisi a green insect and the most common in the area. Haya customarily consider senene along with other edible insects an important source of food, especially during famine times, and believe they have healing properties. For instance, pregnant women cannot eat this insect, or it is believed they would give birth to children with a head resembling that of senene. While in the past Haya was the only ethnic tribe to eat senene, nowadays many communities have adopted this practice, opening the development of a trade for this product.
Gathering of senene takes place during the night or in the early morning before sunrise, since in these moments insects are less active and easier to catch. Local people use two different methods depending on the number of insects they aim to collect. When harvesting is for family consumption, this operation is done manually in the cultivated fields. Women and children normally carry out this task. When harvesting is done for commercial purposes, men catch insects using iron traps folded into a cone shape leading to a large bucket, which collects the falling insects. They place the trap under a bright light and set smoke under it (light attracts insects and smoke inhibits their ability to fly). Usually, men carry out the trading activities while women are in charge of the cleaning and processing of insects. Senene are either sold fresh or processed.
Senene may be boiled, fried, toasted but not eaten raw since it is considered a taboo to do so. For the preparation of senene, inedible body parts (i.e. wings and appendages) are removed by scratching the insects with wood ashes. Later on, senene are boiled in water or a spiced broth. At this point, insects are eaten or may be used as an ingredient for other preparations such as smoking, toasting, deep-frying, sun-drying. Processed senene can be stored for up to 12 months. For smoking, senene are rolled in fresh banana leaves (ekyangwe) then placed on the kitchen roof locally called obutala. The firewood used for senene smoking is from trees with slight or no smell. Senene is a delicacy normally reserved for men and in-laws. A reception with a plate of these insects is a symbol of respect and acceptance to the family.
Despite its role in food security and its potential for improving the livelihoods of rural farmers, the presence of senene has decreased over time. According to local people climate change, the use of chemicals in the crop fields and overharvesting threaten the future of this local food source.