Monday, 15 September 2014

Indigenous Knowledge in Quail harvest out beats the commercial Quail egg farming

Kenya is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of bird species diversity and richness. This is due to varied habitats types and the fact that the country boarders with unique species of birds that cross boundaries to feed and breed in Kenya.
In the past three year, some species known to occur and breed only in Uganda and Tanzania have recently crossed boarders and are now breeding in Kenya.

Key example are the Magpie Shrike from Tanzania, Rufous-tailed waver from Tanzania and Weyn’s Weaver from Uganda. The other factor is that due to varied habitats and unique geographical features like the Great Rift Valley, the country hosts a lot Eurasian migratory species.
Kenya has also a richer cultural and ethnic diversity as result of different groups of people migrating in the country from other African countries. These groups have evolved with nature and developed unique affinity with nature for nature.  They value both plants and animals for medicine food and protection against evil spirits and misfortune. Among the Samburu and the Kalenjin communities, birds are featured lot in male circumcision preparations.  Candidates go out in the forest and bushes to hunt for the most beautiful birds, among them starlings. They sin the birds very carefully and are left with the skin and all feathers. Each boy can collect as many as twenty different species of birds with different colours. The birds are arranged into a necklace with birds arranged well in colours.  One must be well conversant with hunting techniques and where to get the best collections, because different birds are adapted to different habitats, and they behave differently.

The Luhya Community living in western part Kenya has had a strong affinity to both domesticated poultry. Both wild quails and indigenous chicken have formed part of livelihood of the community. Chicken is featured in most of their cultural activities and beliefs. 

Traditional Hen
Different indigenous chickens have different play different cultural functions. For example the traditional chicken with rose on the body (makuti) was used in cleansing ceremonies to apiece gods. Some chicken found roaming wild were believed to have been given to those who transported a dead body to destination of burial, family members gave them a chicken as the transporter left the compound. The chicken was thrown along the roadside so that evil spirits would not accompany. It was very interesting that such chicken survived very well in the wild and could not join other domesticated chickens. Traditional spiritual prayer people were given white chicken and after offering prayers to community members. Boys were circumcised at ages between 12 and 15. They took a one healing month in seclusion in a forest around fig tree with sponsors or a leader who would teach them family norms and practices. Circumcision is a rite of passage. It was therefore believed that such initiates would be allowed to take some adult responsibilities in the community. Such responsibilities were as leaderships and marriage responsibilities.
Traditional Cock
They were also allowed to feed on some special parts of the chicken deserved only for adult males. For example, only married men were allowed to eat chicken gizzards. The gizzard from single chicken was not supposed to be shared between two people. This would cause tensions and even fights. Ladies were not supposed to eat eggs. They were preserved for the men and children. Any type of ceremony was not was not complete without chicken meat served with brown ugali from finger-millet and sorghum.
In this community, different people had specific responsibilities in a society. Such responsibilities ranged from black-smith, hunters and gatherers, medicine men, mid-wives, and those who specifically. Hunters and gatherers crawled in undergrowth of Kakamega Forest searching for mushrooms, dropped seeds and nuts, fruits, duikers and forest hogs.

Quails are grouped in the same family with the francolins, spurfowls and the stone patridge. Quails are the smallest of the group with extremely shorter tail. They are found hidden in grass and rarely fly, unless flushed out. It arrives with the onset of rains.  The calls are so loud that they attract other from far distances. Females reply in response to males. They form trails inside tall grasses and hardly fly longer distances. The Harlequin Quail Coturnix delegorguei referred to as Isindu in single and tsisindu in plural by the Luhyia community living around the Kakamega tropical rain forest in western Kenya is the most common and preferred for food. They are intra-African migrant found also in southern and eastern part Africa. The males like other species of birds have pretty loud and rapid calls that are continuous.

Quail hunters make use of the loud calls to lour quails in their traps. The traps are usually snares made from the threads or hair of the cow’s tail. The hair is tied across the quail path or trails in the grass. To trap the quails, a four meters long strong stick is planted in the ground at the harvest/hunting site. Three quarters high, small cylindrical woven baskets are hanged on the stick and the stick is bending like bow to the ground. Live male quails are put inside the baskets. The quails will sing inside the baskets as they attract other birds from a distance to the snares on the ground in the grass. It is amazing how many birds the hunters can easily trap as the birds in the baskets continue to call. After the harvest, birds are killed and smoked dry to preserve them ready for the ready market. Local hotels, food kiosks and local buyers have a test for these birds and therefore the market is always available.

Quail Farming
The past two years quail farming was a flooded market in the Nairobi because of its eggs. The eggs were thought to contain medicinal values. Due higher demand in farming, the supply of eggs was much higher than the demand, hence creating low interest in more farming. On the other hand the demand for smoked birds continued at the local in Kakamega County.

Conservation of wild grasses especially in the open glades of Kakamega Forest is to the key for the conservation of the habitats for quails. Since quails are only trapped specialized people in the community, their sustainability is assured. Because this person knows exactly when the birds are arriving and when to collect them and where to the market is. However with the present situation of climate change, which has resulted in shift in rain patterns, hunters may also have to adapt to the situation with some alternative focus. Indigenous knowledge has always has always played a vital role in the local livelihood and when used sustainably, it can lead to sustainable conservation of the natural environment natural resources.

                                                     Research is still ongoing….....
Story by: Titus Imboma
Research Scientist
National Museums of Kenya