And after the rain we’d scrutinize the ground for signs of the siafu, angry black biting ants, which soldier for miles, their furious journey dictated by some unseen radar, swarming over and eating everything that lay in their path.  We had heard that they even ate babies left in their prams under the shade of drooping Pepper Trees when ayahs abandoned their sleeping charges to drink tea and gossip about the Memsahib in their quarters.  The siafu were quick workers and the baby had no time to cry.  His mouth would be full of swarming blackly feasting ants before he could shrilly alert the household to the jeopardy he was in.  By the time he was discovered he would be stonecolddead, his eyes deep empty cave-sockets and his mouth a round, silently gaping hole, a final strangled scream silenced in his soft throat.  And the ayah would hastily pack her bags and vanish, never to be seen again.  Mum said, Nonsense!  Siafu do not eat human babies, only baby birds and baby hedgehogs and moths who have banged their heads on an outside light bulb and lie stunned in their deadly trail.   


From an unpublished ms …


The army ant genus Dorylus, also known as driver ants, safari ants or siafu, are found primarily in central and east Africa, though the range extends to tropical Asia. There are some 70 species presently recognized, though another 60 names are applied at the rank of subspecies.

Each colony can contain over 20 million individuals. As in their New World counterparts, there is a soldier class among the workers, which is larger, with a very large head and pincer-like mandibles. They are capable of stinging but very rarely do so, relying instead on their powerful shearing jaws.

From Wikipedia

Bloody, blasted, mean spirited, evil siafu swarmed across the garden last night, not because it has rained but because the daraa ya maji has been generous of late and we were able to drench the lawn with gallons of water. They marched boldly into the bantam’s coop (home of Hat’s beautiful Mr and Mrs Bantam who have scuttled busily about the place since they took up residence here three months ago: Mr B perpetually vain and crowing loudly to alert us all to his feathered glory; Mrs B politely observing his show and sharing her grasshoppers with him).

And they murdered them.

Mr and Mrs Bantam were discovered stonecolddead this morning, their pretty little bodies, plummage quickly losing it’s lustre, quite stiff and their eyes sockets empty.

Hat has been brave. She cried. A little. And then she daubed her hair with her big sister’s pink hair dye and painted her nails – each one a different colour. May she forever approach her sadnesses with such courageous flamboyance.

From An Outpost



10 Responses to “Murderers”

  1. Janelle Says:

    ah pole sana man! bloody bastards! yes. my mum used to put the legs of our cots in tins of paraffin…oooooergh shiver shiver…lots love xxx

  2. carol Says:

    Oh poor, poor Hat. I hate Siafu – though Mum says thats because I sat in them when I was little at a party and one of the guests (rather drunken I suppose) decided to rescue me and put me on the grass in an even bigger pile of them. Mum had to put me in the bath to get them all off. Hat is welcome to my chickens (sadly they’re not bantams) – especially as Lizzie is very fed up with them doing poos on the veranda. lots of love

  3. manda Says:

    poor bantams, poor Hat. I read about theseants with horror recently -The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley – and I’m still horrified to read that it really really happens.

    Will you get more bantams? I hope so.

  4. Roberta Says:

    OH! Poor Mr. and Mrs. Bantam!!!
    I am so sorry for Hat. How brave she is.

    Here we are suffering the plague. The 17 year locusts have erupted from the ground and are eating the trees.

    (I should probably take pictures and write about it.)

    It is not, however, as tragic as poor Mr. and Mrs. B.

  5. ann Says:

    You make our cold and windy corner of the world seem like paradise!

  6. R. Sherman Says:

    Yikes! Scary story — worthy of a late night campfire.


  7. Lulu Says:

    When I lived in Malawi, I remember those soldier ants well, once they walked right through my bedroom. Terrifying things. Don’t whatever you do, watch the new Indiana Jones film – it has a very long and very scary, (if that’s your fear) scene with those red ants and incorporates the demise of several of the cast x

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Janelle – thank you. i ought to have thought about that and put them in a house on stilts … too late, alas.

    I remember it well Carol – I have a mental picture of the exact occassion and location. on the lawn at ndabibi.

    i do hope so manda. but i have shall to take measures to protect from similar invasions. Huxley is marvellous. Have you read Nellie’s letters? I loved that too.

    ann: and according to lulu over at familyaffairs think i make my own patch sound like dire scene out of recent indian jones release … so dont’ go there either.

    certainly, Roberta, the bantams end was tragic, but locusts aren’t much fun either, dessimating everything in their paths.

    Mr Sherman, that’s what i ought to have done, and used the ashes as a buffer around the hen’s coop to prevent siafu getting in.

    thanks for the warning Lulu, i shall give mr Jones and his crew a miss then. not, i have to say, that he’ll be coming to the outpost anytime soon – old beautiful art deco cinema now a bus station. not that same can be said of bloody ants, however, which are still lurking.

  9. potty mummy Says:

    The stuff of nightmares, RM. Poor you. Poor Hat. And most of all, poor bantams. Africa doesn’t do anything small-scale, does it?

  10. nuttycow Says:

    Hate siafu. Poor old chickens 😦

    Glad Hat is being brave about it though.

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