THE HONEY HUNTERS OF THE NILGIRIS

Semenarae – Banglapadigay, Tamil Nadu, India, 2014.

The honey hunters of the Nilgiri mountains in India, belonging to the tribal groups Kurumba and Irula, specialize in harvesting of the precious bitter honey of the Apis dorsata, the largest and most aggressive bee species known today.

Wrapped in swarms of thousands of bees, the Indian honey hunters work without any protection. 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, they stop using soap, perform daily prayers, avoid any contact with women and follow a strict vegetarian diet.

The honey of Apis dorsata, It is taken directly from the combs found on the steepest cliffs or in the tallest trees of the forest, is now commonly known as “liquid gold”. In the past twenty years, its price has increased from about 5 rupees a liter to the current 500, experiencing an incredible increase of 10.000% of its initial value. Between the Blue Mountains in Southern India a true “honey war” has started: rival groups of collectors perform real works of sabotage to win exclusive territory  on the best hives.

The honey hunters of the Nilgiri, heroic figures midway between saints and entrepreneurs, are a living form of tradition that have adapted to a modern context by bring together beliefs and ancient rituals with the new threats of market expansion. These men, praying under the high cliffs and risking their lives among the swarms of giant bees, are become today entrepreneurs. Their request for prosperity to the Gods has now become very concrete: in fact, as in many other parts of the world, today they just pray for a salary.