The myth of hissing ants in the Sukuma people’s culture

Grumeti | August 2020

The Sukuma are a Bantu ethnic group from the south eastern African Great Lakes region. They are the largest ethnic group in Tanzania, with an estimate of 10 million members or 16 percent of the country’s total population. It’s the tribe to which I belong.

Hissing ants (Megaponera analis), also known as Matabele ants, occur in the Sukuma land and all throughout sub-Saharan Africa at large. These ants feed entirely on termites actively raiding termites at dawn and dusk.

The Sukuma believe that when you see a trail of hissing ants carrying something in their jaws then it foretells a successful endeavour, but when you see them with empty jaws it foretells the opposite!

So, with that explained it’s time for my story… One morning this month with guests on a game drive, I headed out to the plains. Crossing the dusty road was a trail of hissing ants and they had something in their jaws! I stopped the vehicle and got out encouraging the guests to do the same for a better view of these tiny mythical creatures. I explained the myth story of this ants to the guests, and then we got back in the vehicle and carried on searching for big animals.

The first sighting of interest was a pride of lions of both males, females and cubs, then followed by a single lioness with three very small cubs. The safari went on and we encountered a female leopard with two cubs, followed by a male and a female cheetah in close proximity which is not common at all. After all that my guests were very happy but they asked to see elephants, if possible. We drove around in search of elephants with no luck until the guests acknowledged the effort and suggested we make our way back to the lodge. On our way back, close to where we saw the hissing ants, a breeding herd of elephants appeared from nowhere! My guests were so excited and I reminded them of the hissing ants story I told them in the morning.