May 18, 2024

Tanje Village: The Honey Hunters

Somewhere in the eastern Nepal, lies a small village of honey hunters with a population of 200. The village has a 250 year old tradition of a group of hunters who collect honey from mountain cliffs that apparently makes you have hallucinations. Each collection season, the villagers have to climb and scale the mountains and walk over small bamboo bridges with hundreds of meter drops and ladders just to get to the area they collect it from, each collection, villagers always risk their lives, especially during the monsoon seasons. It is said that once you are a hunter, you are forever cursed by the spirit of the mountain. The villagers also have their own language while also speaking Nepalese. The villagers hold sacrifices to appease the spirit of the mountain granting them safety on their ‘Honey Hunts’, they sacrifice chickens and goats using sacrificial knives called Kukri’s.

The Honey

Honey that is collected by the villagers

Originally used as a form of medicine, whereas the honey allegedly had a unique healing attributes to it. Consuming the honey in higher doses can affect the consumer with loss of consciousness, vomiting, and even death. What makes the honey special is the bees that collect nectar from 34 species of plants native to the Himalayas that contain medical aspects to them, according to the villagers, also they consume it for strength and courage. The hallucinations come from a plant called Rhododendron, only grown in high altitudes. The honey is highly sought after in places like Korea and China.

Ashdan, The Last Hunter

Ashdan (middle) with a few villagers with Honey Hunting gear (Photo Taken by: Yes Theory)

While the tradition is dying, as younger generations of villagers who would not like to expose themselves to the harsh environments, one last hunter remains to collect. Age 58, Ashdan, might be the last hunter in his lineage as there is no one that is going to fill in his spot after he retires, his grandfather and uncles all devoted their lives to collecting honey. To become a hunter, the Shaman has to find the right man to do so grant them the job. While lack of people willing to collect honey and climate change affecting the ecosystem, the tradition may be over soon.

The Hunt

Villager using a pole to collect honey from the cliffside.

The villagers hike for a day on the mountain climbing it with huge bags, going through waterfalls, and being aware of leopards along the way. The hunter and villagers set up camp right under hives. First off, they start climbing the cliffs using bamboo ladders to the beehives with no proper climbing gear to set up the base of the collection. They have to repel from slippery mountain sides. Then the commit to another small ritual to pray to the deities who live in the mountains. Next, proceeding to start a large fire to stir up the bees. Now, they travel on the sides of the mountains to collect and repelling baskets of honey down to the villagers while collecting from on the cliff sides, whilst being attacked by large honeybees.