In Nepal, an isolated tribe known as the Gurung go on the hunt for a special honey perched high upon a series of cliffs. The honey is known for its hallucinogenic potency, and is often taken for recreational use or medicinal purposes by the villagers. Hallucinogen Honey Hunters takes viewers on a rarely glimpsed journey to this region, and observes the culture surrounding this mystical honey.
Known as "mad honey", the hallucinogenic substance is produced by the largest wild bees in the world measuring up to 3 cm in length. In order to procure the honey, the villagers must brave steep climbs up treacherous cliffs and the fury of swarming bees. Their hunt begins at the break of morning. A small group of male villagers are shown filling their knapsacks with essential supplies, and trekking off to the foot of the nearest cliff. They fashion a makeshift ladder out of bamboo, and begin their climb. The process is carried out with great care and reverence, and serves as the elaborate and inventive preamble to a potentially dangerous encounter with thousands of angered bees.
Hallucinogen Honey Hunters takes viewers step by step through this process, and invites us to marvel at the fearless commitment of each hunter. By taking part in this annual ritual, they are following in the footsteps of several generations which came before them.
What is it about the honey that so defines the lifestyle and identity of the Gurung? In its smallest doses, the honey can ensure a soothing sense of inebriation much like the experience produced from a substance such as absinthe. Some villagers ingest a teaspoon of the honey each morning, as they believe it strengthens the immune system and can lead to a longer and more fruitful life. In larger quantities, it can induce cardiac arrest, full-scale hallucinations or a period of time when the body seems to undergo a purge and rebirth.
With Hallucinogen Honey Hunters, prolific documentary filmmaker and world traveler Raphael Treza once again places us inside the fascinating culture of a largely unobserved people, and his unflinching camera invites us to watch with equal parts fear and fascination.