Written by M. Subalakshmi, translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita
There is heavenly nectar called honey, which you probably eat and enjoy on a regular basis. There are stacks of them in shops and honey is used in many food items like tea, baked products and is also used to soothe sore throats, cough and ulcers. However, have you ever thought about where honey actually comes from? How does it end up in the shops near your house?
For the tribal communities of Tamil Nadu who reside in or near the forests, honey is one of the basic food items in their diet. These tribals, like my Kadar tribe, extract honey from different sources in the forest.
Honey can be found in between rocks, in tree trunks and from the branches of trees. When tribals go to the forest to collect honey, they carry with them some essential tools needed to extract honey from trees.
The first tool is pieces of bamboo. These bamboo pieces, which are cut and shaped for the job, are thrust into tree trunks and are used as steps or like a ladder to climb the tree and extract honey.
This next tool is made with grass and grass is sewn together to make a bundle. When the person collecting honey climbs a tree to collect honey, they will set this bundle of grass on fire. The burning fire will keep the person safe by keeping the bees away from them. This tool plays an important role in honey extraction.
This tool is created by carving a piece of wood and is used to beat the wood during extraction of honey.
After the person collecting honey has climbed the tree, they approach the beehive, keeping the bundle of grass lit on fire with them to protect them from bee stings. They then crawl slowly along the branch to the side of the beehive where the honey is and cut away the part which contains the honey, which is the base of the branch.
This honeycomb is then squeezed and honey is collected in a sack or tin container made of a thin metal sheet. The extracted honey is then divided into a glass or plastic bottles.
This is the traditional method that Kadar tribals use to extract honey from trees. It is labour intensive and requires a lot of effort and practice. The next time you eat honey, do remember the hard work that goes into the process behind the scenes.
During the lockdown, many tribals in Tamil Nadu and across India that usually sell honey to support their families are facing a crisis. If you’d like to support them, consider buying local and from tribals directly.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
About the author: Subalakshmi hails from the Villoni Nedugundram settlement, near Valparai district. She belongs to the Kadar community. She’s finished her Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. Being a nature lover, she hikes and does a lot of nature-watching. She also loves to spend her free time teaching dance to the children of her community.