Unknown Honey Hunters of Katarniyaghat Forest
With 230 km from Lucknow and at the border of Nepal, spread in around 400 sq km, the Katarniya Ghat Forest is a part of Dudhwa Tiger reserve. It also provides strategic connectivity between tiger habitats of Dudhwa and Kishanpur in India and Nepal. The Katarniya Ghat forest, home of million wild souls, an orchestra in itself, from the humble beetle to enchanting birds, wings fluttering, slithering & hissing, humming of insects & scary deep roar, playing one enchanting symphony after another.
The Motipur and Kakrha forest range are 2 main divisions of this wild life sanctuary. The wildlife is as varied as the forest itself, ranging from Gharial, Tiger and leopards to Rhino and a vast number of different birds, and it is now one of the best places in the world with complex of sal forests tall grasslands and riparian ecosystem of Girwa and Kaudiyala streams of Ghaghra river.
This forest region is very rich in honeybee diversity and there are good number of Apis Darsota, Apis Laboriosa and Giant honeybee nests are found in the forest. These honeybees are one of the important pollinators in the forest region. Most honeybees are diurnal and forage during the day, but the Dorsata are active during the dusk hours too.
"Any honey hive consists of one queen bee, thousands of worker bees (female bee) and drones (male bees). The role of drone bees is to mate with queen bee and drone bees die immediately after mating. The worker bees (female bees) are mainly forage for pollen and nectar, tend to queens and drones, feed larvae, ventilate the hive, defend the nest and perform other tasks to preserve the survival of the colony. The average life of worker bees are 2 -3 months whereas queen bee lives for 3 - 4 years. Apart of producing the honey in the nest, the another most important role of workers and drone bees are to protect the queen bee from any external threat and stress."
Honey hunting and collection of medicinal herbs and plants from the area of this forest region is a cash rich business for local Kamiha, Jamunetri, Yashodeva tribes of Kakrha and Motipur areas.
Jamunetri tribes of Uttar Pradesh are considered as matrilineal tribe. They do not prefer arranged marriages. Women are considered as head of family in Jamunetri tribe. There are lot of freedom given to women, youth are free to marry whoever they wish to without any form of parental pressure or aggression. They follow the Gotra system and do not marry within the same.
The Jamunetri tribe practices polygamy where a woman is allowed to remarry and have multiple partners after her first marriage. The children's surnames are based on the mother's lineage and not the fathers. Also, it is the mother who inherits the property and not the father.
A trove of dark brown liquid, frozen in timeless forest - allows the continuation of the century-old practice of honey hunting The Jamunetri tribesmen are master honey hunters, and the skills of the dangerous honey hunting are passed on from one generation to next one in their tribe. The tribes mostly collect the honey and natural wax by climbing the tall trees inside deep forest region. Tribe women prepares the necessary tools for men to climb and gather honey from the large trees. The tribesman treats the bees as scared being and they perform prayers to their chief deity, “Uttari Bhawani Mata” before leaving for honey harvesting.
Tribesman ventures for 15-20 days into the dense forests barefoot, a lungi (cotton cloth) tied around their waist and a 'Gamccha' (cotton towel) on the head. They take with them food supplies rice, utensils, bamboo, rope, ladder, axes and jars for honey hunting campaign which continues from April to June every year.
The bees are driven away with the help of a smoker and the smoke from smouldering grass disorients the bees and the honey part of the hive is cut off. They do not cause harm to the ecology and wild animals and are trained to collect honey in a sustainable way so that after a hive is harvested the honeybees return and rebuild the hive at the same place.
In recent times, with reduced forest cover, climate change and government restrictions, it has become increasingly difficult for these tribes to collect wild honey. The early rain drives off the wild honeybees which hugely impact the availability of honey in the forest.
Facing insurmountable dangers, such as the wild tiger or herd of elephants, honey hunters not only gather the wild forest honey, but also collects stories along the way, his own and of those who join in the hunt and returns to the village with both of these precious things – one to fill the stomach, and one to fill the soul.
Every year around 2000 kg – 2500 kg honey harvested by the honey hunters in these areas.