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How the tikung beekeeping tradition is supporting life for man and bee in Danau Sentarum

A bottle of APDS (Association of Periaus of Danau Sentarum) honey.

Where the locals farm their own honey

Honey coming in from different periau ready to be dehumidified and packaged at APDS.

At Danau Sentarum National Park, the local communities manage their honey production in groups called periau made up of traditional forest honey farmers.

Each periau belongs to a village, which will see their respective honey farmers collecting and harvesting their own honey from the tikung, an artificial branch the villagers of the national park use in their traditional honey farming.

Thanks to this traditional way of producing honey, the Board of Indonesian Organic Certification (BioCert) certified it organic in 2007.

There are at least 15 periau located in the area with the oldest group being periau Semangit.

After harvest, the honey will be sent to APDS (Association of Periaus of Danau Sentarum) located at Dusun Semangit (Semangit village).

From APDS, the honey is packaged and sent to Jakarta. According to APDS product manager Abang Muhammad Erwanto, APDS managed to export 7 tonnes of honey to Jakarta this year alone.

Even so, the association is still able to keep up to 3 tonnes for their own stock.

“This stock is for us to sell to any visitors who come to visit Danau Sentarum,” Erwanto said.

The income from the honey provides an alternative income for the these communities who rely heavily on their fishing industry.

APDS office at Semangit village, West Kalimantan in Indonesia.
The honey that comes in from the local villages is dehumidified for up to 48 hours before being packaged.

The legend behind the tikung method

How the tikung, or the rafter, method came about is an interesting story on its own. According to Erwanto, the tikung has been used by the local communities for generations.

“Once upon a time, flood hit our villages. Boats drifted away and one of the boats got stuck to a tree. As time passed, a colony of bees came and built their hives in that small boat.”

Inspired by this, the local Malay community of Danau Sentarum started to put up their own artificial branches which they called the tikung.

Tikung is usually made from tembesu (Fagraea fragrans) wood. It is cut into a board about 1.5m in length and hung at an angle from a tree. The bees will come and make their nests on the tikung when the trees begin to bloom. The size of the tikung allows the bees to make bigger hives.

Erwanto pointed out there are no specific kinds of tree to hang the tikung. As for the location of the trees, there is no preference either.

Erwanto says the honey farming provides an extra income for the people of Danau Sentarum.

A song to call the bees

Muhammad Wasir is one of the few who can sing the timang before a tikung is put up on the tree.

Interestingly, one of the most important parts of setting up a tikung requires some singing skill. Before a honey farmer climbs up a tree to hang a tikung, one of the villagers would sing a special song called timang.

Muhammad Wasir, 63, is one of the few who can chant the timang song. He remembers how as a young child he used to follow his grandparents to harvest honey. It was then that he first heard the song.

Wasir explained that they believed every tree had a ‘penunggu’ (spirit) who guarded the tree. By singing the timang, the farmers were asking permission from the penunggu to set up the tikung against the tree trunk.

They were also calling upon the bees, imploring them to set up their hives on the tikung and to call more of their friends to the tree.

He has taught his children the song, so he believes that the timang tradition will continue on.

Watch Wasir singing the timang song down below. Take note that every time he claps, those present during the setting up of the tikung also have to clap their hands too.

The importance of honey production to Danau Sentarum

The forest honey bee (Apis dorsata) is indirectly a bio-indicator of Danau Sentarum.

According to Erwanto, this is because the bees are sensitive to any changes of environmental factors such as temperature.

“If there is any forest fire, the bees will not return to make any hives the subsequent year. This happened once in 2005 when open burning took place near here.”

Erwanto explained that knowing the importance of the forest to these bees made the local communities more protective of the environment.

A tikung hanging on a tree without its bee’s hive.

A partnership to make Heart of Borneo initiative successful

Located in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, Danau Sentarum National Park falls under the area of Heart of Borneo (HoB).
HoB is a conservation agreement initiated by WWF to protect a 220,000km2 forested region right in the middle of Borneo island.

As part as the HoB initiative, WWF-Indonesia has been supporting APDS through product marketing activities. WWF-Indonesia also been assisting APDS members in Internal Control System (ICS). This is to ensure the farmers maintain the hygiene of their products.

APDS honey in stock at Semangit.
Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.
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