Honey Hunters of Odra-Desh
Kandhamal, one of the poorest district of Odisha (earlier it was known as Phulbani), is a tribal dominated district where majority of the people belong to the Kondh (Kandha) tribe. Around 71% land area is forest and 12% of the land is cultivable. The organic turmeric cultivated in this district is popularly known as 'Kandhamal Haladi' and is renowned for its purity.
The district is full of flora and fauna. A wide variety of wildflowers like orchids are found in the dense forests of the district. Mango, mahula (mahua), Indian gooseberry (amla), kendu, meswak and jackfruit are also found in abundance in the wilderness. Dependent on forests for their livelihood, they collect fuel wood, grass, medicinal plants, fodder, herbs and roots.
Their food, vegetables, roots and ferns such as jibura, linguda, parmal or fish and jungle birds, comes from these forests. Apart of Babmboo and broom grass, honey collection from dense forest region of Kandhamal is one of the quick cash earning job.
The tribes are trying to keep their tradition alive. The tribesman walk up 60 - 80 km for three days deep inside the forest and walk down for as many days to collect a specific type of bamboo stick essential to the annual rituals. To offer their goddess Duarseni, apart of 18 items offered, the tribal community also use to prepare delicious cake of Ganher trees.
Honey hunting is an old age practice among the tribes and harvesting honey from trees and cliffs are an important source of income for tribes. Man has been hunting and raiding the wild bees nests in forests at least since he evolved into his contemporary form.
Twice a year (Jan - March, Oct - Dec), wrapped in swarms of thousands of bees, the honey hunters work without any protection in deep forest region. They hunt barefoot and entrust their lives only to a strong rope and long purification rituals: for weeks before harvest time begins in the forest, perform daily prayers, avoid any contact with women and follow a strict vegetarian diet. Honey Hunters would go out deep into the forest for months at a time. The practice supplements kitchens, and during it the tribesman also collect medicinal plants and herbs. Children go hunting and foraging because it is a matter of survival, custom, and ritual. Hunting enables children to learn about nature and imbibe traditional knowledge that generations before them have cultivated. Living in harmony with Nature has been an integral part of this tribe and it abundantly reflected in a variety of traditional practices, religious beliefs, rituals, folklore, arts and crafts, and in their daily lives.
The honey of wild honey bees, Apis Dorsata, which is also known as "Liquid Gold" is found in good quantity in forests. There are more than 700 different species of rhododendron in the world but only very few are having grayanotoxin (natural compound) in their nectar. Rhododendron species of plants are found in forest and the honey produced by wild honey bees from the nectar of the the flower of Rhododendron species are having hallucination properties which is consumed in regions of Odisha as a recreational drug and traditional medicine.
Honey’s antioxidant and antibacterial properties help improve the digestive system and boost immunity.Honey’s antiseptic properties inhibit the growth of certain bacteria and help keep external wounds free from infection. It helps reduce swelling, pain and even scarring as it works as an anti-inflammatory as well.
For thousands of year, humans have trained animals to help them such as dogs sniff the drungs and mines, Pigs locate truffles, similarly, a honeyguide bird which locally known as "Tumba" use to work with honey hunters of tribes to locate the honey bee hives in the forest. Tumba bird love wax of honey bees whereas tribesman love honey “So there’s no conflict of interest over the reward. The tribesman call the honeygudie Tumba bird with loud sound of "Kooddd-hm" and Tubha leads them to the nests. Its a sound which honey hunters learn from their fathers and call is “a reliable signal to honeyguides that this is a human who’s looking for bees and is more likely to be a good collaborator. Tumbha Birds have figured out that people are the best partners in this endavor because they know how to use fire - and bee danger averted.
The final outcome from the honeycomb in the middle of the dense and silent forest comes as an unexplained smoked woody flavor honey which causes a sharp burning sensation in the throat. Not only human being but forest animal such as Tiger, Bear, Monkey and many more use to eagerly wait to rob wild honey hive and get a piece of it. Forest is also full with many more mysterious honey which could be in very different in color, taste and texture. One such secret honey is locally known as "Vandeva Saswad Madh".
In the month of November, the tribes also use to harvest very unique, mysterious and rare green wild honey (fluorescent color) from the hive of wild honey bees in Kandhamal forest. Local tribes use to eagerly search for green honey producing hive in the forest and wait for this honey throughout year. It is still not known the reason of this green color in honey, however, it is assumed that honey bees has produced it from various type of Giloy. Tribes believe that this green honey is a blessing of their deity Vandeva "Lord of Forest". After harvesting the honey from the honey hive, tribe first offer this honey along with rice (known as "Saswad") to their deity. It is then distributed and eaten by the tribes and they sell the extra honey to their nearby local market. Local people use to treat several diseases using this secret honey and also known to increase the fertility in the human being.