Sunday, February 05, 2023 | Rajab 13, 1444 H
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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Tracking Honey in the 60s

A Window into Contemporary Omani Literature

The following is my English translation of an excerpt from “A Soldier from Oman: Memory’s Nectar” by (ret.) Inspector-General Said bin Rashid al Kalbani


Honey was then a common commodity and a source of reasonable income.


We observed traces of the honeybee through water resources and through the waste it dropped. This latter was of two types. One was light, which meant the honeycomb was somewhere nearby or that the cells had descended rather recently, and as such, there was no honey. The second type was known as mawwit. It had a strange shape, something like a head with a needle. It was this shape that helped us trace the flight direction of the honeybee.


If the bee flew rather high its waste would be both small and light, and the reverse would be the case if flying low or near water resources. If it flew in a vertical manner, it meant that the honeycomb was nearby, and if in a horizontal manner it meant that the honeycomb was far away. However, if it flew in a circle over water, it meant that its honey had been taken away, while if it came to water directly it meant there was honey in its cell.


It was usually the case in those days that the honeybee would resort to the mountain shadow in the summer, facing either the north or the south. In the winter, on the other hand, the bee would face either the east or the west. We would normally find the traces around water resources more often in the summer than in the winter, as the bees would drink more because of the heat.


We would go about looking for honey. If someone found a honeycomb, he would shout saying: “Its hair as samra*; its eyes as ember**”, which meant that it brimmed with honey. No sooner had the rest heard that than they would dart towards him, saying “We’re coming, we’re coming”.


It was customary that if a person found a honeycomb in the mountain, he would leave a mark upon it. If someone else came and saw the mark he would know that it had already been earmarked, and, as such, he would have no right to touch it at all. There was a widespread certainty that people wouldn’t touch a honeycomb in an area that didn’t belong to them. This demonstrated the great respect people had for each other.


As for honey seasons, they varied according to the trees. For example, the sadr honey ended in November, the samar honey in June, and the sho’*** honey in March and April. When collecting honey, the person wasn’t expected to wear perfumes or smelling of onion or garlic, nor should he be wearing red or white clothes. Regarding the time of honey collection, the bee would only attack the collector at mid-day in the summer heat. We would therefore approach the honeycomb with satisfaction at other times, though we would normally take a few precautions.


For example, we wouldn’t approach it with fire or smoke. We would use a method locally known as mo’asha, by which we meant that hunting should be in the opposite direction of the sun rays. We would equip ourselves with a gun, a knife and water in a pot and all fire making requirements. It was normal that during honey harvesting, one would be sometimes stung. We were told that these stings were treatment of some sort for arthritis. I should also mention that the honey we harvested was kept in pottery pots, known as joroor made by women.


The sarh honey was believed to be amongst the best, and would come from flowers of the sarh tree, which had horns-looking fruits. When ripe, the latter would have bee-like sweet substance. One day a person collected that sweet substance and offered it to a potential buyer as honey. When tasting it, the would-be buyer didn’t like it, and deemed it to be of “poor” quality. The man responded by saying, “Of course, you’d naturally say that about the honey of a poor man like me”.


The quality of honey would usually be measured by dropping a small quantity on the ground. If it took the shape of a circle and didn’t mingle with the soil, it meant it was of good quality. If the soil absorbed it, it meant it was of poor quality.


*A tree (the translator).


**The Arabic word for “ember” is “jamra”. The musical effect of “samra” and “jamra” is all but lost in the English translation (the translator).


***Sadr, samar and sho’ are types of tree (the translator).


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