Traditional honey harvesting by the Kattunayakan in the Nilgiri mountains – Tamil Nadu

The Kattunayakans (also know as the honey hunters) can tell from the ground whether a hive 60-80 feet up in the air has honey or not and whether it is worth the effort climbing up there. […]

Text and photo credits: Accord team, Tarsh and Tariq Thekaekara, Gudalur, 

 | Read the full blog here >>

Listening to K. Chandran’s story, we ended up with muddled emotions. The story is about his grandfather and his love for honey. It is about the ancient beliefs of honey harvesting still followed by him and his people. It is about protecting every small branch of a tree so that the tree is big and strong and the bees can prosper. It is about faith, it is about conservation and it is about injustice.

Chandran is a Kattunayakan from Therapakolly. There is an old mango tree close to his house with so many hives that one could spend more than half a day standing under the tree and counting the hives. That wasn’t always the case though. The tree, once upon a time, did not house a single hive. His grandfather, Kemban Mestri, just like Chandran, just like all of his tribe was a honey gatherer and wanted bees to build their homes on that tree. He placed a ‘stone’ under the tree and together with the elders in the village, prayed to their gods to bring the bees to the tree. As ‘faith’ would have it, their prayers were answered. The first year, there were five hives; the second year, fifteen more; the third year, thirty more! Their numbers kept growing year after year. Today there are around 150 hives on the tree. We don’t know who he prayed to or how he prayed, but we know that the bees are happy on that tree. […]

KN people offering puja before starting to harvest

Even those harvesting honey from his village have rules to follow. Chandran’s great uncle was a revered man in Therapakolly. He remained single and lived mostly in the forest with wild animals. He raised a wild dog pup and together, they would hunt deer in the forest. When he died, he was buried close to the mango tree. The Kattunayakans in Therapakolly offer prayer at the grave seeking his permission to harvest honey. It is believed that animals like tiger, bear, deer etc will follow them to their homes if he (Chandran doesn’t know his name) has not been worshiped.

The Kattunayakans are full of stories and beliefs like these. Some of them include practices which ensure that the tree is conserved and more bees come in the subsequent years. […]

We were happy and awed by Chandran’s story-the magic of faith, the relationship of his people with the tree and their common sense-like conservation values. And now, enter the forest department! Not surprisingly, the huge tree with its numerous hives caught their eye. The Therpakolly people are not allowed to collect honey from their tree anymore. The tree, as the department puts it, is now a property of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.  […]

Source: a bitter-sweet story of honey | At the Edge of Existence
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Date Visited: Thu Aug 01 2013 13:00:11 GMT+0200 (CEST)


Through their lifestyles, cultural practices and spiritual belief systems, intentionally or otherwise, indigenous communities in the Nilgiris as across the world have resulted in a harmonious balance and stability through centuries. The influx of immigrants began about a 100 years ago, and has intensified considerably in the last few decades. These indigenous groups are now a small minority, with their culture, values and beliefs apparently disappearing as they merge into the mainstream. But can ‘culture’ evolved over thousands of years, really disappear in just a few generations?

The blog seeks to answer the above question through stories that are reflective of indigenous cultural knowledge, practices and beliefs that have had or continue to have relevance for conservation.

Source: At the Edge of Existence | Indigenous Cultures and Conservation
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Date Visited: Thu Aug 01 2013 13:25:07 GMT+0200 (CEST)

The Kattunayakan are tribal people who live deep in the forests of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in South India. They collect and sell wild honey. Today, settlers from the crowded plains and eviction from the forest reserve threaten both their land and their traditions. Mari Marcel Thekaekara accompanied a group of Kattunayakan on one of their forays into the jungle. | To read the full story and view more photos, click here >>

In the old days entire families – men, women, children, babies and old people – went deep into the forest in the honey season. We camped there for days carrying just a little bit of rice. Everything else, the forest gave us. But honey was our life. We used it as food, as medicine and what we could not consume we sold. People call us honey hunters. That’s not right. We are honey harvesters. We wait for the right time, when we will cause the least harm to the bees, to the babies inside. Only then do we speak to the bees and take their honey.’

But wasn’t it dangerous to venture in the jungle with old people and little children? […]

Source: Honey is life — New Internationalist
Date Visited: Wed May 11 2016 18:13:59 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Related posts

See also

ACCORD – Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development

Articles by Mari Marcel Thekaekara (writer and Co-Founder of ACCORD-Nilgiris)

Ashwini community health programme

Childhood | Childrens rights: UNICEF India | Safe search

Community facilities

eJournals, eBooks & reports | eLearning

eBook | Background guide for education

Education and literacy | Right to education

Forest Rights Act (FRA) | Legal rights over forest land

Gudalur | Communities: Paniya | Kattunayaka | Mullukurumba | Bettakurumba

Health and nutrition | Recommendations by the Expert Committee

Shola Trust | Nilgiri biosphere

Success stories

Tribal elders

Viswa Bharati Vidyodaya Trust

Western Ghats – tribal heritage & ecology

What is the Forest Rights Act about?
Who is a forest dweller under this law, and who gets rights?

“Who are Scheduled Tribes?”: Clarifications by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes – Government of India

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