Over the course of human history mankind has used insects for a variety of different purposes. Termites were important insects to many ancient cultures, and even a few modern cultures as well. Today, most of the world knows termites as wood-destroying insect pests that can cost homeowners dearly. Recently, termites have also been regarded as one of the tastiest types of edible insects. While many Americans are still trying to wrap their minds around the concept of “edible insects”, many people living on termite-rich land have integrated termites into their cultural identities. For example, the Azande people of modern day Sudan have been consuming termites for centuries. The protein and fat content of the native termites have provided consistent sustenance to the Azande people over the years. However, the Azande tribes do not just eat termites, they also use termites for making important decisions that relate to warfare, marriage and the state of the natural world. For the Azande people, consulting with oracles is the best way to make proper decisions in life. The “termite oracle” is one of the most important oracles to the Azande people.
The Azande people subscribe to a particular belief system that most Americans are not familiar with. For example, any mysterious situation or problem that requires clarity or answers can only be investigated by consulting oracles. For the Azande people there exists three oracles in particular that are important to the Azande way of life. These three oracles include the poison oracle, the rubbing board oracle, and, of course, the termite oracle.
When it comes to matters that do not involve serious incidents, like murder, the Azande take their queries to termite mounds. An Azande tribe member will locate two sticks; one of the sticks means “yes” while the other means “no”. The tribe member will place each stick into a termite mound and leave it overnight. The termites will feed on the sticks, shortening them. However, by morning, one stick will be shorter than the other since both sticks are not consumed in equal amounts. When the tribe member returns to the mound, his question will be answered based on which stick had become shorter in response to the feeding termites. The shorter stick can either be the stick representing the answer “no”, or the stick meaning “yes”. This method of divine communication is a little far-fetched for most westerners. In fact, even the Azande themselves regard the termite oracle as “unreliable”. Do to this skepticism, most Azande tribespeople will go onto consult a different type of oracle in order to obtain a more accurate response to their queries.
Have you ever heard of any religion that deifies termites?