Vice covers edgy topics and dives deep into the underbelly of some of the most fascinating and terrifying facets of human existence. Their video, “The Nepalese Honey That Makes People Hallucinate” is indeed fascinating, with the typical vivid imagery accompanying an intriguing story about people half a world away and the honey that makes people mad.
While the stories and images of the people interviewed are easy to get lost in, the commentary from the Vice correspondent didn’t do the topic justice. His angle was to inspire wonder and curiosity about the drug-like effects of consuming psychedelic honey with the video culminating in him trying the honey himself, but there is a better story than that nestled into the cliffs of Nepal. Cultural value is a better story.
In central Nepal, where the mountains jut sharply into the sky, there’s a community that continues to celebrate traditional beekeeping methods. They embrace their shared history, despite the infiltration of modern technologies into their daily lives.
The Gurung people skirt the line between tradition and innovation. Younger generations travel to the city for school but return home in the spring to preserve their beekeeping culture.
The bees construct hives in the nearby cliff face and harvesting their honey is no easy feat; it requires strength and bravery. It’s a team effort as the men work together to fashion woven strainers. They also harvest nearby foliage to burn for bee-suppressing smoke. The smoke is necessary as these bees are hefty in size and not afraid to sting.
The Vice video shows the hands of those tending to the harvest, red and swollen from the stings of bees. The stings themselves, according to the villagers, foreshadow potent honey and are seen as auspicious, not an inconvenience.
There’s no animosity towards the insects. In fact, one elder comments on how the bees offer their community so much, but they give them nothing in return.
The honey itself is prized for its medicinal qualities and in springtime, the honey is something mythical. Because the bees forage on rhododendron, grayanotoxin, a hallucinogenic compound, infuses the sweet amber liquid. All who consume it, even in amounts as small as a teaspoon, experience an intoxicating high.
We associate getting high with drug use, but for the Gurung people the purpose isn’t to embrace party culture; it’s to preserve their own culture. While historically, harvesting honey was an act of necessity to feed the village’s inhabitants, it is now essential to preserving their way of life.
Even today, the privilege of gathering honey is seen as a way to garner respect from fellow members of the community.
As you watch the video, there’s a striking contrast between the handmade rope ladder and the participants casually scrolling on their cell phones during pauses in the action. Yet, you can’t help but respect their approach: maintain the traditions that form the backbone of their community, but embrace revolutions in education and technology.
The Vice correspondent tries the honey himself, generously accepting multiple “doses” from his companions in honey-hunting. He clearly experiences some sort of high, but that’s the least interesting thing about this video. While the video provides amazing clips of the country and its people, the focus on the hallucinogenic effects of the honey detracts from the heart of the culture.
It doesn’t matter that it gets you high. What matters is the value it brings to the people who consume it, a value that goes far beyond a temporary hallucination and speaks to a deep relationship with the land on which they live.