Preserving a 'Sweet' Tradition

Wild sialang honey is getting rarer in Riau's Pelalawan district thanks to unscrupulous harvesting practices. (JG Photo/Adinda Putri)

By : Muhamad Al Azhari & Adinda Normala | on 3:44 PM January 10, 2018
Category : Special Reports

Pangkalan Kerinci. The availability of wild sialang honey has been on the decline in Riau's Pelalawan district, mainly due to unscrupulous harvesting practices.

Saptu, a resident of Lubuk Kembang Bunga village, is one of few people still harvesting wild honey in the traditional way, which requires him to scale sialang trees (Koompassia excelsa) of up to 50 meters tall, at night.

The harvesting process, as the 62-year-old recounts, has been passed down over generations. It starts off by performing a ritual to ask permission from the spirit believed to inhabit the tree, while the collection process requires the harvester not to disturb the bees or damage the tree, to ensure sustainability.

Saptu said there are various groups that harvest the rare and highly prized sialang honey, with each group taking care of three trees. They would carefully observe the nests to gauge when the next harvest should take place, but in recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of people stealing the honey during the day.

"There has been rampant theft of wild honey in our area. They steal it during the daytime, which violates our rules, and of course, hurts us economically," Saptu said.

These unscrupulous harvesting methods disturb the bees, causing them to flee and never return, ultimately causing hardship for locals relying on the collection of honey for their livelihoods.

Freshly harvested wild sialang honeycomb. (JG Photo/Adinda Putri) Freshly harvested wild sialang honeycomb. (JG Photo/Adinda Putri)

Saptu said the theft of honey has severely disrupted the ecological balance and the way of life villagers have so ardently tried to preserve.

The damage has been significant. Until around 10 years ago, villagers could harvest honey four times per year, while now they can only do so once a year.

Yields have also declined significantly. In the past, Saptu's group could harvest about a ton of honey at a time, while now there is hardly enough to provide them with a sustainable income. Each harvest now only yields 100 kilograms of honey, which must be divided among the five people in Saptu's group.

However, all is not lost for Saptu and the residents of Lubuk Kembang Bunga. The forest that is home to the sialang trees is located near an industrial forest plantation belonging to Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), which has been helping villagers to preserve and maintain honey production.

To prevent further theft, RAPP security personnel now routinely patrol the areas where sialang trees are located. The company is also helping the villagers market their product.

"Thank God, now whenever we have a harvest, we no longer have to worry about who to sell it to," Saptu said.

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