Hoopoe on a Hill runs out of a small home in a village near Kodaikanal. We are a group of four women who work together to bring wild honey gathered by adivasi communities of the Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu to you.
In 2015, we visited villages in the Palani Hills to understand the adivasis who live in and take care of our forests. As we worked on documenting their histories for a project funded by INTACH Delhi, we discovered a rich and wonderful aspect of traditional hunter-gatherer life in this region – the practice of gathering honey.
The Paliyans, an indigenous tribe in the Palani hills, foray into the Shola forests in groups for days on end to gather the honey. They camp in the forests and build their tools on the spot with vines and dried twigs. A small prayer is offered before skilful climbers clamber up (trees, caves or cliffs) to the hives. They smoke out the bees, deftly collecting only the honey chamber of the hive. The honeycombs are brought down and the honey is extracted. Leaving behind hives for the following season and the bees, they return with cans of honey on their long journey home. The adivasis have a long tradition of trading honey – earlier, in exchange for cloth or salt or what they needed, and now, for money.
Different types of bees collect nectar from wild flowers, making honey of different flavours. These varieties are gathered in different seasons – early May for the bitter Jamun (which is renowned for its medicinal qualities), June for the multi-floral, and September and October for the eucalyptus. We also have the rare Cerana and Dammer kinds of honey, which are precious in quantity and quality. We filter the honey (to remove bits of wax and parts of the combs), and bottle them in glass jars.
Our relationship with the adivasis of the Palani Hills has grown over the years. It is a source of great pride that more and more adivasis of the Palani Hills have chosen to trust and work with us.