Honey Hunters

Honeycombs hanging on a mountain
Elroy Serrao, via Flickr

Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma look at the lives of honey hunters in India. This dangerous tradition provides thick, sweet honey.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A man climbs on the rocky side of a mountain. He holds on to a thin rope. He has covered his head and shoulders with a cloth. The man raises a long stick with a sharp point. He is a hunter. But he is not hunting an animal. The man on the mountain side is hunting honey. This sweet food is made by flying insects called bees. The bees fly all around the man. If they sting him it would be very painful. If he falls down the mountain, he will most likely die. But if he succeeds, he will bring valuable honey home. The honey hunter is taking a big risk. Today’s Spotlight is on honey hunters.

Voice 2 

If you walk through an area with many plants, you may see and hear bees. These yellow and black insects fly from flower to flower. They are collecting a liquid called nectar. The bees take the nectar back to their home - called a bee hive.

Voice 1 

Bees make their hives out of wax. The wax hive hangs down from a tree or high rock. And thousands of bees sit on it. All these bees were born in the hive. They live and eat there. The wax of the hive has many holes in it. The bees put the nectar in these holes. Soon, the water evaporates from the nectar, leaving a thick liquid. This liquid is light brown or yellow in colour. It tastes very sweet. It is honey.

Voice 2 

Bees make honey to eat as food. But many other animals like to eat honey too – including people. People have used honey as food and medicine for thousands of years. It is a special food in many cultures. People eat honey to help with sickness such as a cough or throat pain. In many cultures, people also put honey on their skin. It keeps skin soft. Honey breaks down bad bacteria and helps to heal wounds.

Voice 1 

But to use honey, people must first collect it. Some people take care of a bee hive. But in some places, people collect honey from wild bees. This is common in many parts of the world, especially south Asia. Honey hunting is a local tradition in southern India. But this traditional custom is not easy. The bees in southern India are large. They can grow up to the size of the smallest adult human finger. And these giant honey bees build their hives on the sides of mountains!

Voice 2 

It takes many years for a honey hunter to learn to collect honey from these hives. From a young age the honey hunter learns everything about bees. He practices climbing hundreds of metres above the ground. Then the honey season arrives. The honey hunter prepares for many days. He does not eat meat. He does not sleep with his wife. He stays by himself. The honey hunter must be calm and full of courage.

Voice 1 

The day of the honey hunt arrives. Early in the morning, the villagers say prayers. And then the honey hunter goes to the edge of the mountain. He climbs down with a rope made from small tree branches. He lights some dry branches on fire. The smoke makes the bees leave the hive. They fly around the honey hunter. He reaches a long sharp stick over to the hive. He gently cuts off of pieces of the wax filled with honey. He takes them back to the village in a container made of bamboo.

Voice 2 

When the honey hunter returns, the village celebrates! The honey is important to them for many reasons. Simone Gie works for the organization Slow Food International. She writes about the importance of honey:

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“Tribes have been honey hunting in this way for generations. Rock paintings in the area show honey hunters more than 2,000 years ago. Honey was once a valuable resource in the trading system between tribes. It still is an important part of their diet, cooking and medicine.”

Voice 1 

The hunter takes some honey. But he always leaves some of the hive on the mountainside. He does not take the part of the hive with the baby bees in it. He does not want to destroy the home of the bees. There are also areas of the mountain and forest that are considered holy. These places are important for the religion of the tribe. The hunters are careful not to take honey from the holy places.

Voice 2 

But this traditional system may not be enough to protect the bees in the future. The forests where the tribes live are changing. People are planting huge tea farms throughout the area. They are spraying chemicals and cutting down trees. This is not good for the plants and animals in the forest. It can kill the bees and destroy their hives. It is also dangerous for the people who live there.

Voice 1 

The Keystone Foundation is a local organization in Southern India. It has worked with the honey hunters for fifteen years. They aim to protect the environment and local culture. Robert Leo works for the Keystone Foundation. He tells the organization Slow Food International:

Voice 4 

“In the past few years, we have seen many people coming back to forest honey gathering, particularly young people. One of the reasons is that it is now possible to make enough money this way.”

Voice 2 

Many young people in South India leave the tribal areas. They can make more money working in the city. But for the tribe to continue and grow, they must have young people. So the honey hunters have made a few changes. They found ways for young people to make money in the village. The tribe still uses traditional tools and skills to harvest honey. But they have a new production center. Here, they clean the honey. Then they put it in bottles. This way the tribe can sell their honey for a higher price.

Voice 1 

The Keystone Foundation also helped set up some hives for people to keep. People can harvest honey from these hives at any time of year. Then the honey hunters can make money even when it is not the season for wild honey. They can continue their traditions. This provides a future for the honey hunters. And it protects the creatures that make the valuable honey - the giant honey bees.

Voice 2 

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Honey Hunters’.

Voice 1 

You can also leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. And you can find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Where do you usually get honey? Do you like to eat honey?


Avatar Spotlight
said on February 11, 2013

For me,honey bee very useful for human.It be use in food as medicine .In winter when I felt my skin very dry,I had put a bit honey on my skin to keeping soft skin..Beside I always drink tea and honey when I have problem about cough and throat,its really have effectively.In general,honey bee very good for health of human.Thanks spotlight radio for sharing much interesting information !

Avatar Spotlight
Rain Bows
said on February 12, 2013

Beautiful article,

I love honey and I think it is very useful.

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 12, 2013

In the past , My father and my uncle used to take honey bees from their hives and also used to be stung by bees and I find that it was so dangerous but they stopped taking those bees nowadays . I also used to eat baby bees and honey bees which just brought from the tree . I notice that It was delicious and I have still remembered this taste . It is rarely hard to look for hive bees for recently in my country because of people and natural disaster .

FreshMan's avatar
said on February 12, 2013

thanks, spotlight ! )))
you very help me to learn English

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said on February 12, 2014

I didn’t know how collecting honey is hard and dangerous in the mountains of South India. In our country people keep the honeybees in the hives beside of their houses, in the gardens. Farmers are wearing a special suit to save themselves from bees’ sticking. Bees owners’ working is not easy or simple, they often have to fight the different bees’ diseases and the danger chemicals using on fields or in orchards to raise the growth. Honey is in high demand everywhere because of its usefulness for humans’ health as well as for its sweet flavour. The honeybees should be protected in the future, it is sure.

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said on February 12, 2014

Honey is very useful to health as drink tea efficient

Luis Piedra's avatar
Luis Piedra
said on February 13, 2014

Honey is used for to lighten diseases of the people.
Thanks Spotlight

Avatar Spotlight
said on December 08, 2015

I can harvest honey from hives at any time of year.
No, i do not. Because i don not like sugar.

Avatar Spotlight
said on December 10, 2015

Thanks for interesting information about honey hunters!
I just wonder if the hunters cut off of pieces of the wax, the bees’ll still live there or go away to have a new home?

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on December 11, 2015

Dear Liz Waid and Ryan Geertma:
Here in brasil we usually get honey in the bottles. Sometimes we meet a man selling some bottles of the honey on the stress or we get any bottles of the honey at the supermarket, stores, drugstores, and at the north and northeast of the our country Brasil. I love honey to eat it with strawberry or banana. Thank you very much for more one important subject that you showed us. Merry Christmas for everybody from SPOTLIGHT.
All the best,
Severino Ramos
( .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) )

Avatar Spotlight
said on April 02, 2020

Usually like honey from the bottle I bought at the supermarket. In Brazil, there is a large production of honey by specialized people called “beekeepers”. They use wooden boxes for the bees to build the hives and take care of them day and night. Some of them rent their hives to farmers, as bees reinforce plant pollination. Bees are the most effective group of pollinating insects, and so it is a gain/gain process: beekeepers improve honey production and farmers improve their crops ...