Hunting Ewi An Igbo Boys' Right Of Passage
By Iwedi Ojinmah 2 months ago
The Igbos have many rites of passage that underscore the importance of age groups within the tribe. They are present both with male and females.
For the boys, one such an event is the Ewi-hunt which is an extremely difficult feat. Success implies that you are now capable of being looked upon as a brave of the community with the ability to be trusted with bigger and more important assignments.
For a young lad, it is an ever important event that enhances one's self-worth. It is also here that even the young girls start to take notice of who among all will prove to be a good provider for any possible future family.
The Ewi also affectionately called the African rabbit is a huge cane rat common to most of West Africa. Its zoological name is genus Thryonomys and comes from the Greek word thryon, meaning a "rush" or "reed". During the planting season, it becomes a major nuisance gobbling up the tender roots of almost everything tilled.
Yummy for the Tummy
Needless to say, it is not a favourite with the farmers so they actually encourage its hunt and are thrilled by the elimination of each individual animal.
More closely related to the Argentinean capybara than any other rodent their meat is lean and when prepared properly, is a delicious delicacy.
While the eating of the meat may be the epitome of the hunt and the ultimate reward itself per se, let me confide in you by sharing that the actual hunt is where the true enjoyment of this exercise lies.
I have not eaten an Ewi in a long long time because today I am a Nze and as a titled man it is absolutely forbidden by the tribe.
Sadly for me, my time has expired and at my stage in life, I am expected to eat other meats. Elephant, Brontosaurus Rex....whatever - but no Ewi.
This is how important a role, meat plays in Igbo life.
Nevertheless, I never pass on the opportunity to watch my little cousins in the village or on my farm scurry around in an attempt to snare one. It always evokes a nostalgic feeling and a glimpse back into the past when I was just like one of them.
The hunt normally starts as a result of one of two things (and for the record, we are not including trapping).
First that the animal has been spotted and has to be cornered and killed instantly, or secondly if some eagle-eyed scout identifies its lair which is normally a large well-camouflaged hole that leads into an underground maze.
Since scenario number one occurs rarely because Ewi's are mostly nocturnal - the actual hunt is more common.
We would start off early in the morning, a fraternity of young hunters with our eyes on the prize.
One set would gather firewood and discarded plastic bottles and make sure the matches were not wet and worked properly.
Another set would be deployed as spotters and patiently pace around identifying other holes around the main entrance.
These are called Opu̙.
The old adage 'that it is a stupid rabbit that has but one hole' certainly applies to the Ewi because it has many, and maybe this it is why it is called African rabbit.
In any case, once all the interconnected holes have been identified they are promptly blocked with mud, stones and chunks of wood leaving but two or three open.
This has to be done with uttermost care as many a time snake holes have been misidentified as Ewi holes and the results have been less than pleasant. It takes a keen eye to differentiate between the two as the Ewi one is not as deep as the snake one.
The next step is to identify if this is an active Ewi complex or one that has been abandoned. This is normally accomplished by pushing in cut palm fronds into the hole and inspecting them to see if they have been nibbled on. Faecal droppings also are a telltale sign of activity.
Once it is established that the hole has occupants one can change gears and move forward.
Roasted Ewi about to be served up
In front of all but, one of the remaining holes, fires are quickly ignited and the smoke blown into the underground corridors behind. This is done either manually by mouth or using plantain leaves to fan the acrid fumes into the complex below the earth.
The sneaky cigarette smokers among us also used this as an opportunity to be able to buy cigarettes at the store and not get reported for smoking.
The quickest and most agile lads are now placed at the exit hole bent over like cricket players expecting a batted ball. They are quiet and all eyes are fixated on one spot.
Meanwhile, underground the Ewi can't take the smoke anymore and makes a dash for freedom where he or she is almost always instantly clobbered and promptly put out of its misery.
In one particular operation, I remember us catching five at one time.
I can also remember being totally embarrassed when one cheeky Ewi feigned me out and ran through my legs, despite me being the village goalkeeper. Needless to say, my mates didn't let me forget this for quite a while till my own homemade trap caught one weeks later and I shared it with themRelated: A Call For Resumption - Making A Case For The Return Of Tribal Marks .
Cane Rats are dried into a pancake shape in Ghana
It is also imperative that every eye is on the lookout because the Ewi may very well decide then and there to dig a brand new exit hole and escape from there. I have seen it happen many times.
Anyway once the dead the Ewi is cleaned and thoroughly washed it is then skewered on a stick and slow roasted. However, if it is really a big one it could be cut up into pieces and eaten as a spicy broth alongside wedges of coca yam doused with palm oil.
I always preferred the roasted version though because of the smoke retention in the meat. It was my introduction to barbecue long before I went to study in the US and witnessed firsthand how they have taken roasting meat to another level. Many believe that their barbecues are limited to pork, chicken and beef but I can testify that if you veer off the beaten track you will see that they also work on native species such as possum, armadillo and muskrat.
Having said that I have often pondered how a tender morsel of Ewi might taste doused in a molasses and vinegar based dipping sauce or alongside a pineapple chutney or a squirt of ketchup and have come to one conclusion - which is : Somethings are best left as is and I think the allure, excitement of the hunt, as well as the preparation of the Ewi as the Igbo boys do it - is one of them.