An Ancient and Sacred Tradition: ‘Honey Hunters of Nepal’

In 1987, award winning French photographer and director Éric Valli  and his Australian wife Diane Summers (acting as filmmaker) documents Gurung tribesmen of west-central Nepal bi-yearly harvest of wild honey. 

The Gurung tribesmen of Nepal are master honey hunters, risking their lives collecting honeycomb in the foothills of the Himalayas, using nothing more than handmade rope ladders and long sticks known as tangos.  Up to a dozen men are drafted in to support the hunter or ‘kuiche’ [1]

Before a hunt can commence the honey hunters are required to perform a ceremony to placate the cliff gods. This involves sacrificing a sheep, offering flowers, fruits and rice, and praying to the cliff gods to ensure a safe hunt. [2]

The Himalayan honey bee (apis laborious) is the world’s largest honey bee, that builds their nests anywhere from 8,200 to 15,000 feet (2,500m to 4572m) into the air and each nest can yield as much as 130 pounds (59kg) of honey.

But now both the number of bees and traditional honey hunters are in rapid decline as a result of increased commercial interests and climate change. With funding from the Austrian government, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is addressing problems arising from commercialization of honey hunting and the impact of tourism through the Himalayan Honeybees project. Coordinators of the project aim to work with traditional honey hunters to preserve their sustainable harvesting techniques.[3]

  • Honey Hunters of Nepal near Lamjung - video link
  • Honey Hunters of Nepal (104 pages) available on Amazon
  • BBC Natural World - Wild Honey Hunters (full length documentary)
  • Listening to your inner voice: Eric was a cabinet maker and Diane was a lawyer, and both went to Nepal on separate occasions for different reasons. Nepal had a strong pull for Diane, her intuition urged her to go there.  She left her job as a lawyer, and set out on her journey.  Then through a series of coincidences she met husband to be Eric. They have left the beaten track to open their own trail, and they have a message for those who live and work in other walks of life. Their message is one of courage, of pride, of existential fulfillment, and last but not least, of stress tolerance and conflict, because that is what creativity and leadership is all about. [4]

photos:©eric valli. all rights reserved.