My Snail Hunting Adventure
Chukwuebuka C. Oguocha
© Copyright 2021 by Chukwuebuka C. Oguocha
Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash
The nature, and physical qualities of some creatures can be so deceptive; therefore, making us not to believe that there are more to what they are, and what they can do, than what we originally knew them for. This is the case of some underrated animals, like the snails.
Experience is indeed the best teacher, I will also like to add to this fact by saying that; “experience is also an eye-opener, and a good convincing factor.”
It would have been a statement open for arguments, or even unbelievable, if not for the personal experience I had about how destructive snails can be, apart from seeing them as harmless, yet consumable creatures.
Pests, from Adam have been known as agents of destruction to our farm produce, especially as it concerns leaves and vegetables. Another interesting creature with similar havoc inflicting quality is the toothless nocturnal creature called snail. It's okay to ask how can a toothless animal share such qualities with the pests, which had long been considered potential destructor of farm produce?
Growing up as a child was fun, especially as better part of my life was spent in the village, after the crises in some parts of northern Nigeria prompted the need to relocate to the east. Though, before then I had tasted life in the village, as my dad was fond of taking I and my siblings home during festive periods, and during those times I derived pleasure going on some adventures with other kids in the village, part of these was going for snail hunting which was mainly done at night hours.
With the help of other kids I learnt that snails comes out of their hidings after the fall of dew in the middle of the night, after a very sunny day, especially if there was rainfall the previous day.
It was always fun, and there was always a unique sensation attached when ever we are to convey in group to set out for snail hunt. I had enjoyed the discussions, and jokes even as we roamed the bushes in search of snails.
Some times I and my group members would run into different groups, who were out for the same purpose, some of these groups were from different villages.
What really interests me was how they generated certain unique sound they made with their mouth, which only the snail hunters were probably conversant with. This sound was usually made when ever the groups sights a strange light from a distance; to be sure of their safety, several persons would make the sound, if the other party responds in similar manner, they either meet to exchange pleasantries or go their separate ways. In a situation where there is no response from the strange party, or if they sound unconvincing, the snail hunters quickly find their way out of the environment for safety. In some cases, the lights from their locally made lanterns would be turned off, while they remained calm to observe the strangers to either know who they are, which will determine if they should stay, or leave that area for safety.
In one of my snail hunting adventures with other children, and few adults from divers families in my village, we had similar encounter as explained above, though there was little panic as the supposed strange group didn’t respond to our call, which demanded we put off our lights; as the unknown party advanced forward, it dawned on us that we had been joined by the company of village hunters with guns, and machetes, with their lit lamps fastened to the head.
Fortunately one the adults with us was able to identify one of the hunters by his step, with a low voice he mentioned his name as they got closer, the hunter and his company quickly raised their guns in readiness to shoot, as they didn’t see the caller. The hunter whose name was called asked in Igbo language: “Who knows me?”
The caller, who was part of my company quickly put on his lantern to reveal himself, he responded with the same language: “it’s your brother”
Immediately he stood up, with his lantern raised, to reveal his face, the hunters quickly withdrew their guns, and demanded for the rest of us; they saw us after all, but chose to be silent when we beckoned on them. We emerged from our hideouts, the hunters laughed as they watched. After a brief discussion they went their way, while we continued our hunt.
I had admired, and wished I could be lucky like some of my friends who were fond of picking bigger snails. I felt this people knew exactly the spots where bigger snails could be found each time we came into a particular bush area, so in order to catch big snails like them, I thought it wise to carefully follow them with hope of catching bigger snails like they always did.
I ended up being disappointed many times I didn’t achieve my aim. Though, there were few times I was opportune to catch big snails but not like those I have chosen to follow.
Many times after the hunt, it was usually time for everyone to present his or her container or bags for assessment. After these exercise, I always emerged among the list of those with the lowest, and smallest catch, if not the lowest. From that moment, my friends, and fellow snail hunters made fun of my little achievement till we parted to our different homes. Their actions towards me was so annoying that I made a decision, I considered funny.
On our next hunt, I made up my mind to add to my hunt the white little snails, which was of course neglected, as less worthy meat to take home; but since I desired to have a reasonable volume of catch after each hunt, going for it was the best option for me at any moment.
Just as expected, I ran into plenty of white snails, and since I had no rival to compete with, they were way enough to fulfill the purpose why I resorted to hunting for them.
As usual, after the hunt we resumed the session where every hunters' catch was examined. In fact with the help of my white snails, I could remember vividly that the snails contained in my paint bucket exceeded half of it's size, unlike previous times. If there was any opportunity to proceed with the hunt, my bucket would get filled up.
I felt uncomfortable after we had assessed our bags, and containers as usual to know those with the highest, and smallest catch. I noticed that anyone who glanced at the content of my paint bucket left with a smile, they couldn’t help, but made fun of me as we walked home; some even called me (mpioro), the white snails Igbo name, I would have done same, since that's part of the fun during the adventure, so I tried to behave, and flow with the moment, even though the joke didn’t go well with me.
It was after we've reached home that I understood the reason they smiled at the sight of my catch. A relation of mine, from the same kindred, whose father’s house was separated from mine with a fence decided to open up.
As we got to the entrance of my father’s compound, he laughed and said in Igbo: “How can you make the white snail (mpioro) a choice?”
“But what’s wrong with them, are they not snails as well?” I asked, still in Igbo language; my cousin giggled and left.
I felt miserable, and slept with less peace of mind till the next morning. I was in the room with my siblings when I heard my mom calling at my name, I rushed to answer her. My mother demanded that I bring the snails I’ve been able to gather so far, that she had plans of cooking bitter leaf soup.
I didn’t know how to bring my self to tell her that I caught the wrong snails, so I quietly went to the place where I've been preserving them. I arrived with the bucket of snails and presented them to my mom who was ignorant of my present state of mind at that moment.
She demanded I get her a pan, which I did in couple of seconds. To my greatest surprise, my mom expressed joy seeing the white snails, which my friends and co-snail hunters despised. I was happy she liked it, and that brought back my confidence and joy. When I demanded to know why she was happy about the white snails, she confessed that they are medicinal, I quickly picked that as a point.
My mom demanded I wash, and boil the snails in a big pot, instead of smashing their shell like we use to; this was to reduce the effect of the slippery mucus born from the snail.
After the snail had been boiled, I and few of my siblings began to pluck the meats out from their shells, while we were at it, a woman walked in, she exclaimed in Igbo: “So you eat(mpioro) white snails?” My mother answered with a smile, telling her how medicinal, and good it is for consumption, though people don’t go for it, because they consider it less important.
The woman said something that got me wondering at that moment. She talked about how especially the white snails had turned pest in her farm, how they were destroying her maize farm. My mom was surprised at her confession, and pitied her over the havoc caused at her farm by the snails. My mom went further to tell her that I will be coming to her place in the evening so she could show me her farm, so I can harvest the snails. The woman was indeed happy about my mom’s suggestion, and promised to take me there when I finally arrive at her place.
At past four in the evening, I left for the woman’s house with one of my younger brothers. As expected, immediately I arrived she suspended what she was doing, grabbed a Cutlass from her local kitchen, and led the way to her farm. When we reached her farm, what she said became obvious; I wondered if a snail I'd always perceived as toothless could cause such level of damage.
At the entrance of the farm, I saw couple of white snails as they perched comfortably on several leaves of the maize plants, their excreta were also littered over some parts of the already consumed leaves.
Though the woman seemed to have added something that looked like ashes to prevent the snails from destroying her plants, but the creatures seemed very stubborn to let go. I became annoyed my self seeing the level of damage caused by these little things I've so long underrated.
I stepped into the farm with my brother, and started the evening hunt, the woman joined us while she complained bitterly.
At the end of the exercise, we were able to catch plenty of white snails, more than I even expected, the woman could not stop thanking us, she pleaded we extend her greetings to our mom as we finally left for our various homes.
On our way home, I and my brother had already decided to prepare a special delicacy with some of the snails; we agreed on frying some quantity with the mixture of, palm oil, onions, fresh pepper, and salt.
Few hours later, we had achieved the recipe, almost everyone in the house requested for a taste. It was indeed tasty, and I liked the noisy crackling sound in my mouth as I ate the fried snails.
After several encounter, and series of adventure as it concerns snail hunting, and consumption, I made up my mind to own a snail farm when I grow to adult age, after I learnt that snail can be reared.