It’s a golden syrup we all know and love, stirred into cups of tea or poured onto desserts. We may be familiar with honey, but no one better understands the sticky liquid than the people who comb for it. Adivasi communities in Tamil Nadu have been gathering honey for generations and now, one organisation is helping them sell that honey across India and around the world.
Hoopoe on a Hill is an all-women group based in Kodaikanal, just eight kilometres from the town centre. The group was founded back in 2015 by Nishita Vasanth and Priyashri Mani after they began documenting the history of the Paliyans, an Adivasi tribe in the Palani Hills. They began learning about the traditional practice of gathering honey performed by the Paliyans, who would often give honey to the duo to take home.
But as they were given more and more honey, they realised that they could help the Adivasis by selling the honey for them in a non-exploitative market that gives the community a fair price for their product. “And that’s how Hoopoe on a Hill began,” Priyashri said.
Hoopoe on a Hill currently employs six women who distill, bottle, package and ship out the honey at their studio in Kodaikanal. They make four different kinds of honey — multi-floral, Eucalyptus, bitter jamun and wild cerana — which vary in taste, colour texture due to a number of factors including, the forest where it is harvested, the bee that produces it and the time of year during which it is harvested.
The Adivasis camp in the forest in groups for days on end to harvest the honey. Climbing trees 40 to 50 feet high, they smoke out the bees using dried twigs and leaves set on fire so that the bees leave the hive temporarily. They are then able to skillfully extract the honey without endangering the bees.
Hoopoe on a Hill also has an open dialogue with the tribal community to determine an appropriate price for the products. “They know how much honey there is in the forest. Based on that, they give us a sense of what would be a fair price for them,” Priyashri said.
The organisation also makes beeswax products like crayons, candles, balms and wraps, a sustainable alternative to clingfilm or cellophane. The beeswax wraps have become one of their most popular products.
“Earlier, our wraps were shipped in India to Delhi and other cities. But now they’ve gone to USA, France, Australia and Italy. When we first started we didn’t know it would go so far. But now, we work knowing they’re being set to these places and it gives us a sense of pride,” said Jeeva, one of Hoopoe’s employees.