Half for me and the rest for the bees

This short essay is based on IDFA documentary Honeyland.

By Salma Bel Lahdab El Hommad

Hatidze Muratova, a fiftyish-year-old Turkish speaking woman, accompanied by her old mother and her precious bees, lives in the middle of a mountain in Macedonia. Hatidze is very careful and patient with her bees, she gently talks to them, extracts the honey that she needs from them and replaces the bees in their hive.“Half for me and the rest for the bees”, she says. This is her philosophy to take honey from the bees. Once she has prepared 5kg of raw honey, she goes downtown to sell it on the market. She acknowledges that she has very little profit from it, but it is all that she needs for her very humble life in the mountain and to take care of her old and sick mother.

Showing us the landscapes of Macedonia, the camera narrates the harmony and peaceful life in the mountains: the trace of the wind, the green grass covering the hills, the figure of Hatidze on her way to take care of the bees and the quiet nights with her mother in the humble home. The life of this beekeeper changes once she notices the arrival of a large nomadic family near her house. “Turks” she says, watching from her window, the boisterous moving of this big family. The presence of the Turkish family in the silent and deserted mountain is not only a change in the life of the beekeeper but also a change of the nature of the mountain’s ecosystem. Impatient, rude, and destructive, this family is even not competent enough to breed cattle. For that, they learn from the beekeeper how to extract honey, but aiming to make a bigger amount of honey than Hatidze does. Following the pressures of an ambitious dealer, the father of the family works in a crude way to extract every single drop of honey to satisfy the big demand of the businessman. Eventually, he erodes the ecosystem of the bees and the life in the mountain by provoking a devastating fire in the mountains. Hatidze is left with a wildfire landscape in front of her. The travelling family leaves their dwelling in the mountains and Hatidze in front of a sea of flames. Once Hatidze is back at her home, the camera focuses on the home, covered by shadows and dim lights. Her mother is dead. The world as Hatidze knew it, is over. The mountain where she lived is turned into ashes, the rowdy family that kept her busy is gone. Her mother dies and her ‘honeyland’ is shattered.

This summer, during a trip to the Austrian mountains, I got the chance to meet a beekeeper. She explained to me that during the heat wave of this summer many flowers did not blossom, so the bees could not pollinate them as usual. But the beekeeper told me that she always leaves some of the honey to the bees, so in a bad season, the bees can eat their own honey and keep reproducing. As we can see in the movie, this is the same principle Hatidze follows to keep the bees. Half for me and the rest for the bees. In the documentary, one can see that Hatidze is aligned with the nature of her world. She seems to understand the nature of life on the mountain.She seems to be aware that the bees need their own honey to continue living, that is why she leaves half of it for them. At the end of the story, her ‘honeyland’ was turned into ashes, and her mother and the gipsy family had left her. She was alone. But that did not keep her away from the alignment she has with nature. In the light of a new day, Hatidze walks to the small hive, where some bees survived the flames. She takes the bees and starts making honey again. To continue life.

Salma Bel Lahdab El Hommad is a second year bachelor student of Cultural Anthropology.

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