Harvesting Honey, 80 Metres in the Air

Wednesday October 26, 2016 Written by Genevieve

West Timorese bees

Every year in West Timor, a community of people known as the Olin-Fobia harvest honey using an ancient, vertigo-inducing ritual that involves climbing an 80-metre-tall Eucalyptus alba tree.

But the height they climb to collect the honeycomb isn’t the most impressive aspect of the practice.

As the traditional custodians of the land where the Eucalyptus alba tree grows, the Olin-Fobia community prepares for their two-day journey back to the Mount Mutis Nature Reserve just as the tree begins to blossom. This involves preparing food, shelter and tools, and drawing an end to any conflict that might currently be affecting the community.

On arrival at the tree – their home for the next few weeks – a boar is sacrificed and eaten. Then, a designated climber begins their long ascent, urged on by supporters singing songs of thanks to the bees for their bounty. The harvest, amounting to as much as 30 tonnes a year, is then divided equally among the community, which means there is plenty for each person not just to eat, but to sell through the World Wildlife Fund, Indonesia.

West Timorese bees

Interwoven with national forest preservation rules, the Olin-Fobia’s low-impact tradition is an inspiring example of ancient ritual operating in concert with modern law, to the benefit of the people, and the insects, and the Earth. Just maybe not the boars.

The below video from the Centre for International Forestry Research shows exactly how it’s done.

Photos: Nanang Sujana/Centre for International Forestry Research