Ituri Forest Pygmies | Who Rules the Forest? National Geographic Magazine: Pygmy Collects Bee Honey

A Pygmy hunt involves using found forest materials in DR Congo.  One Pygmy in the hunting group spots bees swarming and needs to get 60 feet up in the air. He is nearly naked and carrying nothing – but he quickly manages to make a long rope out of vines and a basket out of vines and leaves. His wife carries a smoldering log he places in the leaf basket to use as a smoker. He drives the bees out of the hive and collects the honey then climbing down with his prize. Pgymies depend on honey as a dependable food source in the Ituri Forest. The semi-nomadic group also hunts small mammals with nets. 

From my journal:  The first hunt of the day nets nothing, but on the way they see bees streaming out of a tree about five stories high.  They stop and make a long rope out of vines and attach a basket they assembled from leaves and vines, and put fire inside it to smoke out the bees.  The women turn the embers they are carrying into a full campfire in no time flat…but not as fast as the male pygmy can manufacture 10 stories of rope from vines.

Paluku says I am the first white man they have seen. Four days walking with Pygmies thru dense forest is quite a workout.  What they consider paths, I would consider bushwhacking…and at four feet tall, they sail right through openings where I constantly bang my head.

From the National Geographic story by Paul Salopek:  Musa the pygmy has found a honey tree. This is an event. All hunting stops if asali, as it is called in Swahili, can be located and consumed.

Among the Mbuti, the quest for wild honey is tireless, constant, almost obsessive. They have honeycomb on the brain. It is their favorite food. The honey season in the southern Ituri is measured out according to the flowering cycle of the mbau tree – the bee’s main source of fructose. In May the towering giant blossoms, and real honey production begins. This is white honey: young, virtually transparent and cool to the taste, like a pale wine, or the first breaths of dawn. Later, by August, the honey turns oil-dark. Black honey is strong, warm, musky with distilled sunlight and the pollen of a myriad tropical flowers.

“We like it all,” Musa says unnecessarily. Then he knots together a 150-foot rope of lianas and does what must be done.

He and a hunter named Jolie, who at four feet tall is tiny even by pygmy standards, shimmy some 60 feet up the smooth, fat shaft of the tree to ax a hole in the trunk. The women send up a smoker fashioned from a basket of embers and leaves. Within minutes, to small yelps of anticipation, the combs are lowered like hunks of gold. Soon the entire band, stuffing their stomachs with pounds of sweet liquid, feels the sugar’s glow. The men argue and holler at each other loudly. The women guffaw even louder at sex jokes. Somewhere up among the attic of leaves – 30 or 40 feet off the ground – children as young as five or six, smeared with honey, bombed by angry African bees, are chattering with delight.

Tasting rain forest honey for the first time is an unforgettable experience. It goes quickly to the head. Its delicious perfume carries with it the suggestion of a better world. As it seeps directly from the membranes of the mouth into the bloodstream, immediately yielding up its concentrated energy, generously radiating its stored warmth, a single word comes to mind: Yes.

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