Bitter Honey

Bitter Honey
Andry Denisah, Kontributor SOPA Images – Sulawesi

Braving through the forest for hours while enduring thorn bush blockage, climbing mountains, passing through rivers and valleys for the sake of finding the trees with sturdy trunks that house honeybees is a routine for Ryono (49) and Bartono (32) as honey hunters from Abenggi Village, Landono district, Southeast Sulawesi. 

“It used to be that every time we went into the forest, we would harvest some honey, but now it’s a hit and miss. If we were lucky, we’d get some. If not, we’d go home empty handed,” Bartono shared.

The decades-old profession is threatened by the palm oil factory that came and destroyed the forest around the area. The absence of trees where the bees nest in makes honey become more and more scarce. Quoting katadata, in 2020 Indonesia was the fourth of 10 countries with the highest deforestation of primary forest in the world. “Well, what to do. We can only hope the existing forest does not get destroyed,” said Ryono.

Like a ticking time bomb, the shift from primary forest into palm oil plantation will bring in ecological disasters that are to hit the next generation. Besides the decrease in honeybee population due to deforestation, other crises including global warming and massive flooding are looming.

The slow death of honey hunters as a job does not only cause economic loss, but also the loss of a cultural value. For the locals, being honey hunters is a generational inheritance. Consuming forest honey is part of daily life, with every house in the village keeping it as staple supply. 

Dedicated to keeping the tradition alive, Ryono and Bartono are determined to keep being honey hunters, while reviving the habit of consuming forest honey and hoping they could still harvest some. Their effort does not go unnoticed by the locals, who give them Landono Forest Tigers as a nickname. The nickname symbolizes prosperity and the role of forest tigers as guardians of the forest that provide water and fresh air for the people around them.