The Bee Hunters of Lamag

Aside from hunting in the forest, the Ilamag gather honey from wild bees called in their native Kankanaey language as iyokan, alig, lukutan.

By Belinda P. Ngiwas
Northern Dispatch
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QUIRINO, Ilocos Sur – The Ilamag – indigenous people of Lamag in the tri-boundary of Ilocos Sur, Abra, and Mt. Province, northern Philippines – practice the indigenous way of managing their forests – whether it is clan- or communal-owned forest. Aside from hunting in the forest, the Ilamag’s most notable practice is the gathering of honey from wild bees called in their native Kankanaey language as iyokan, alig, lukutan.

Alig and iyukan bees are bigger than the lukutan which are like lice. The lukutan do not sting but they can penetrate open body parts like the nose, eyes, and ears. The alig produce their beehive in caves while the iyokan and the lukutan in the holes of trees.

An Ilamag honey gatherer I interviewed said March to May is the peak period for honey gathering. Flowering (panagbunga) begins in October.

Honey gatherers wake up early in the morning. In the forest, they look for flowering trees and plants. They observe the bees’ movement, bees collecting nectars, from the flowers of a plant or tree in an area where they probably formed their beehives or caba. Nowadays, a hunter also uses binoculars to find a beehive by monitoring the bees’ movement.

Finding a beehive, the hunter checks first if it can be harvested. A beehive that is thick is a good sign. If not, then he has to wait for at least a month before gathering the honey. But first the hunter puts a wooden (crossed) sign pointing to that area. The sign shows him as the finder of the beehive and that he will harvest it in the future. No one is allowed to touch it.

Harvest day

On harvest day, the hunter – usually accompanied by other hunters – brings a piece of wood called angyub wrapped in an ubak (banana stem or wood skin). Then he sets fire to the wood. The smoke from the ubak is intended to drive away the bees from the beehive so that the hunter can then gather the honey without being stung.

In gathering a beehive, the hunter can also use a net to cover his face and a plastic bag to cover his body.

The beehive is placed inside a plastic container to be brought home. At home, the hunter segregates the diru (honey) from the caba by using a sagat (a screen, usually a net). Usually he can gather at least two liters, except during the non-peak season.

The diru is then poured into 4×4 Ginebra bottles. A bottle of diru is worth P100.

Good income

Elders that I interviewed said that honey raising is a good income source for their basic needs and school fees of their children. They also use diru as food supplement.

How does one say whether a diru is pure or not pure, which is usually mixed with water. The elders said that a pure honey when put in a paper will not drip. Adulterated or impure honey drips from the paper. Or you can use a matchstick: when dipped in pure honey the matchstick will still burn; one that is dipped in fake honey will not burn.

Unfortunately, the Ilamag’s practice of indigenous management of forest resources such as honey bee breeding and gathering is prohibited by law, with the state claiming to be the owner of the forest and resources located therein. In fact, a Marcos decree – PD 705 or the revised forestry code – and the implementing rules issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) prohibit the use of forest resources without a government permit.

But the indigenous people of Lamag will continue such practices that comprise their ancestral legacy. And I have learned much from my short immersion in the community of Lamag and its people.

My special thanks to the elders I interviewed namely, Angel Degay, 63; Bartolome Aluyen, 64; Julian Tamayo, 49; Damaso Galleo, 78; Cristino Canipas, 66; Carlos Aluyen, 63; and Victorino Coplanga, 40. Nordis /

The author is a fourth year student of Easter College Incorporated taking-up Bachelor of Science in Development Studies in Baguio City.

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