Documentary photographer Andrew Newey recently traveled to central Nepal to document the Gurung tribe’s ancient tradition of honey hunting. Twice a year, hunters congregate at the feet of the Himalayas to harvest the honey of the world’s largest honeybee-Apis Laboriosa. Using smoke to temporarily drive the bees from their nests, hunters must climb through swarms of bees as they wait for the nests to be vacant. Risking death or serious injury, these men and women perch on rope ladders, knocking honeycomb loose from the cliff sides of the Himalayas with long wooden poles called tangos. The honeycomb is then lowered in baskets to those waiting on the ground below. The skills required to harvest honey in this way are sacred to the Gurung tribe, and have been passed down through the generations for hundreds of years.
Newey’s spectacular photographs serve as documentation not only of a tradition few outsiders have witnessed, but a tradition that is facing the threat of disappearance. Newey states, “Both the number of bees and traditional honey hunters are in rapid decline as a result of increased commercial interests and climate change.” The growing reputation of Himalayan honey has resulted in a push by the government of Nepal to increase production, often forcing traditional honey hunters out in favor of commercial contractors. The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, with funding from the Austrian government, is working to preserve the tradition of honey hunting through the Himalayan Honeybees Project. The aim of the project is to protect sustainable harvesting techniques like those practiced by the Gurung, and to ensure that local communities benefit from the harvest of indigenous resources without damaging the environment.