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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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

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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.

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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 mountainside 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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:

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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. (Get our app for Android or for Apple devices. Let us know how you like it and write a review!)

Question:

Do you enjoy eating honey? Are you scared of bees? Would you dare to harvest honey from a bee hive?

Join the discussion

20 comments
  • Yes it’s delicious food , am ‘l scared of bees yes a little l would try to harvest honey it will be an interesting experience

  • I like to eat honey, it’s delicious and good for health. Every morning, I often drink a cup of warm water and a spoon of honey before I have breakfast. Sometimes, I use honey for cook, cakes. I’m very scared of bees and insects. I don’t think I can able to harvest honey from a bee hive. That’s dangerous if you lack of experience and profession.

  • In my early childhood me and my friends used to hunt honey out of the near small forrest next to my my village by the blue nile in mid Sudan yet we do afraid of get sting by the bees but it worth it and it was a good experience

  • Yes i love honey because it’s very sweet and i drink hot water with honey and ginger. and yes i scared of bees. maybe i will try to harvest honey from bee if someone expert with me

  • of cause! I love honey because it tastes sweet and good for health.
    Im really scared of bees, when I was a child, I was attacked by them. So it’s not a good memory.
    I have never attempted it before, so if I have the chance, I will try to harvest honey from a beehive.

  • Yes it’s good taste , no i dont scared , i wish that to harvest honey it’s will be interesting experience

  • Thank you so much for SPOTLIGHT PROGRAMME . All of your program which has given me a lot of knowledge and a huge mounts of vocabulary of English. I would wish I catch you sooner than now, but It’s so lucky because I also reached this programme . I will provide for all my relevant people that there is a place such usefull to help them . I know them also like learning English . Thanks so much !

  • Hi .. i’m from saudi …it’s Good program ,i hope to speak english for good job in future thank you very much

    • I enjoy to eating honey bcause It have many benefits to help on biuld a srentgh and healthy body. Moreover, I scared of bees cause me skin sensitivity and also he pinches me for ugly way therfore I scared and hate this animals though it have a great value. Finally, I don’t dare to harvest honey from bee live and l can’t thinking for this work because it’s a danger work espially when attacked me and pinches me.

  • I like eating honey but unfortunately most honey in the marketplace is adulterated, so I do not trust honey hunters. I enjoy when I see bees collecting nectar from flowers. I want to try harvesting honey from a bee hive.

  • I don’t like eat honey, bu I usually drink when I cough. I scared bee and they stung on mu leg. I don’t like destroy the hives bee

  • Yes I do, it is one of the sweatest food I have ever tasted and it has been used in Arabic culture in different needs.

  • I don’t much enjoy eating honey but sometimes I add it to milk in the morning to improve the taste, and yes I’m very afraid of bees and can’t harvest honey it’s scary.

  • I enjoy to eating honey bcause It have many benefits to help on biuld a srentgh and healthy body. Moreover, I scared of bees cause me skin sensitivity and also he pinches me for ugly way therfore I scared and hate this animals though it have a great value. Finally, I don’t dare to harvest honey from bee live and l can’t thinking for this work because it’s a danger work espially when attacked me and pinches me.

  • In my village we were having many hive and it was very quiet
    Sometimes it was aggressive Example:
    If it smell perfume or anything attaked them harvest.

  • I love honey it is really helpful when I’m sick and yes Bees are scary because they could sting me Maybe I can harvest honey from a bee hive if I was wearing protected clothes

  • Yes I enjoy eating honey, it has many useful such as make food, baked, medicine. Especially, it help us lose weight if you drink honey with lemon and warm water in the morning before have breakfast. i scrare of bees because when they sting very pain. I never to harvest honey from a bee hive. I run far away when I see hive.

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