Just like the mad honey, the honey hunters and honey hunting are as crazier as when honey hunters climb a delicate ladder up the cliff – mostly swinging loosely up in the air. Twice a year. Every year.
Honey Hunters: The artist behind the honey hunting
When a boy takes birth in the Gurung community, he has a close acquaintance with the red honey and bees. And, when he is barely ten, he accompanies his father or grandfather or uncles to witness the sheer adventure of honey hunting. From his early days, he has adopted a strong belief to save his culture, and ‘saving his culture’ now has become his only way to put bread on the table, as it happens.
The above coming of age story is not only a story of a single Gurung but is of many Gurungs throughout history. From a young age, the honey hunters get guidance to take the dangerous honey hunting as their passion and profession.
Early Days of Honey Hunters
Growing up, they had no early education since they grew up in a small valley with poverty. As a result, they only learned high-risk honey hunting, and kept pursuing it as a profession – their life revolved around the periphery of their tiny homes, village, and honey hunting pals.
For the Gurungs, the honey hunting and the locality around is the only known land they know, and apart from it, every other place is distant and foreign to them. Only a few years ago, due to rapidly increasing tourism, they got a sneak peek of a tiny world outside. Now the time is changing as the clock is ticking differently for them – unlike in the olden days since they are garnering huge exposure from journalists and foreigners.
The Art of Honey Hunting
Apis Dorsata Labiorasa or as the locals call it, “ The Giant Honeybee”, is the world’s largest honey bee with stings even fiercer. The giant colonies of honeybees guard their mad honey dearly. Therefore, a little reckless step towards them, they feel rage.
As a result, we all can imagine what happens next – the stingers attack the group of honey hunters with their pricking bites. But, does the cruelty of bees stop the honey hunters? Oh, no. No. Instead, they sigh and mutter a prayer under their breath – they remember the guardian of bee spirits – Rangkemi.
Rangkemi: The Guardian Bee Spirit
Apparently, they believe that their spirit God, their Rangkemi guards them or actually braces them against the cruel giant honeybees. According to them, after they make a prayer to their bee spirit – the honeybees are slightly peaceful when the Gurungs approach them. And somehow make their harvesting trouble-free and surprisingly calmer.
Interestingly the devotion of the Gurungs towards the cliff God is even more evident because before they go on a hunt, they organise a ceremony in the name of Rangkemi. In the ceremony, they sacrifice chickens and sheep, plus offer flowers, fruits, and rice to please the Cliff God.
The Honey Hunters bow their heads before the altars saying their prayers to the Rangekemi. After a while, they perform a dance ritual and chant in gibberish by holding bamboo in one hand and another with a pot of water.
Honey Hunting Process
During the hunt, they carefully forward each step towards the cliff and embark on their journey of honey hunting. Subsequently, they ignite the fire using green grass to cause smoke to confuse bees from stinging, and they begin the historical hunt for the mad honey.
After the smoke covers the cliff and successfully distracts the honey bees, one hunter tilts the nest with a bamboo stick and subsequently cuts the uncovered honeycomb, while another hunter waits with a wooden basket lowered down to the ground for himalayan red honey to drip on it.
Current situation of Honey Hunters and bee hunting
As it is apparent that honey hunting is physically demanding but also at times can be tiring for the old hunters. The majority of hunters are now in their fifties and lack the robustness and energy to keep going with the honey hunting.
Although the old honey hunters think about retiring, they are as reluctant as ever to continue the only source of their livelihood since it is the only surviving skill they possess for their food and shelter. Often when thoughts of giving up come to them, they subside them with respect towards their ancestors – the culture of honey hunting would fade away should they part ways with honey and honey hunting.
After the story of honey hunters came to the limelight, many tourists reached out to the honey hunters for expeditions to sight-see the actual process of honey hunting in exchange for some amount of money. And due to the economic helplessness, a few hunters agree to take them for the expedition during unfavourable seasons, causing a cultural threat to the communities.
Future of Bee Hunting
There still is a conflict of interests since some honey hunters want their children or grandchildren to go to school, away from the hustle and bustle of hunting, whereas some are staunch honey hunters scared of losing their children to westernisation.
Alas, the Young Gurungs miss out on higher education due to their weak economical status, although they get primary education in poorly organised educational institutes.
Thus, young Gurungs have no desire to take an interest in the profession of honey hunting – considering it might not take them anywhere, anywhere substantial. Well, the lack of interest is understandable since the mad honey has not mustered the fame it deserves.
Despite a wide variety of qualities, there has not been enough said and emphasized about the potential of mad honey – leaving them neglected and denied from their culture. Unfortunately, not many know the importance that mad honey holds and the possible economy it generates. But, gradually the whispers are on the streets about the honey hunting and honey hunters.
Even though many tourists come to hunting areas for visiting and expeditions and the art is almost worldwide now, the visits in unfavourable seasons hinder the harvesting of honey and honey.
In today’s scenario, a horde of Nepalese youths are allured or obliged to go to foreign lands to earn money and the Gurungs youngsters are seemingly following the same race.
But, it’s undeniable that they earn a small amount since they have no significant skills and no higher education, only to leave behind their cultural treasure of mad honey. That’s why we come up with a motive to help them realise the worth of their cultural art – financially and socially. Right now we are involved in honey hunting with 16+ communities and around 200 honey hunters across Lamjung, Nepal. With whatever profit we make, we share half of it amongst the hardworking honey hunters for the upliftment of education, awareness, and livelihood.
Are you fascinated with honey hunters and honey hunting? And want to experience the adventure by yourself – if so, you can join us on our honey expedition. Or you can click the link given below and purchase the mad honey to taste the unique flavour of medicinal mad honey.