Meet the Honey Collectors of Sundarbans

  • By Tushar
  • 08/May/2024
  • Comments (1.5k)

Sundarbans is no less than a magical land in West Bengal, offering a plethora of surprises to visitors. While boat safari remains the primary attraction in the land of Mangrove Forests, only a handful of visitors or tourists are aware of the real-life struggles of the residents of Sundarbans. Agriculture, fishing activities, boat building, tourism, etc. are the popular means of livelihood. However, there is one more occupation that is less talked about in Sundarban, and that is the profession of honey collection.

sundarbans honey collection
Mouwalis - The Unknown Heroes of Sundarbans

You must have heard numerous stories about the Royal Bengal Tigers of Sunderbans National Park or must be very excited to experience the boat safari, relishing the mindblowing cuisines alongside. But not must is discussed about the Mouwalis and their families, their struggle for livelihood, and so on. Let’s know about these hidden heroes and appreciate their ventures.

The honey collectors in Sundarbans are known as Mouwalis. The honey produced in the Sundarbans forest is mainly attributed to the giant honeybees, specifically Apis Dorsata and Apis Laboriosa. The process of honey collection is teamwork, and functions in a group of 5-10 members. The actual process of honey collection is carried out in the months from April to June. The nectar is sourced from the primary tree species found in the Sundarbans region, namely Khulshi, Aegiceras corniculatum, Goran, Ceriops decandra, and Keora, Sonneratia apetala. The task commences with the Mouwalis arranging for small wooden boats, and basic food supplies such as cooking oil, rice, spices, pulses, and kerosene oil, in amounts that would last for about 40-45 days. Along with these they also carry some additional essentials like medicines and fishing nets to cater to their daily meal. Before setting on their journey of honey hunting, they offer their prayers to Dakshin Rai, the most revered Goddess of the residents of Sundarbans, and Bon Bibi, who protects the people in the forest. After offering prayers, they set sail toward the dense forest of Sajnekhali, Do Banki, Sudhanyakhali and a few more similar areas. The Mowalis must get permits from the Forest Department to enter the forest of Sundarbans.

How the Honey Hunters Gather Honey

Honey hunters navigate their way through a labyrinth of muddy saltwater rivers, winding creeks, and narrow channels that traverse the Sundarban Forests. They embark on their journey when the sky is clear and the river's tide is low, leaving one person behind to steer the boat along the riverbank. Utilizing dried leaves and sticks, the hunters generate smoke to drive the bees away from the massive honeycomb colonies. Despite the perilous task of plundering the nests during daylight hours, the hunters put on minimal protective gear, often only wrapping long scarves around their heads. Enduring countless stings, the hunters swiftly extract sections of comb containing honey, depositing them into wicker baskets for transportation back to the honey boat.

The Mowallis strive to extract all the honey and nectar from each colony swiftly. Given the presence of tigers and the dense mangrove forest, efficiency is paramount in their mission. Upon returning to the boat, they deposit the combs into a collection barrel.