AFTER sunset, all of the honey hunters gather around Grandfather while he tells the traditional story of the bees.
LONG AGO, a beautiful servant girl named Hitam Manis worked in the Sultan’s palace. She and the Sultan’s son fell in love. He called her “Sweet Dark One.” But it was forbidden for a prince to marry any other than a princess, so when the Sultan heard of their love, he was furious. He ordered his soldiers to chase the servant girl from his kingdom.
HITAM MANIS fled with her loyal friends. As they ran, a metal spear struck Hitam Manis. The Sweet Dark One fell, but she did not die. A miracle happened. Hitam Manis and the other servant girls were transformed into a swarm of bees. They disappeared together into the forest.
BECAUSE she had been hit by a metal spear, Hitam Manis ruled, “No metal must touch our honey, ever—the person who uses metal must die!” Years later, the prince was out hunting. He noticed honey combs draping off a tree limb. He climbed up with a pail and cut a chunk of the comb with his knife, but when the pail was lowered to the ground, the other hunters were horrified to see their prince had been cut into little pieces. From the treetops came the beautiful voice of Hitam Manis. “This man has broken our law!” But when Hitam Manis realized the man was the prince she once loved, her tears fell into the bucket and the Prince was restored to his former self.
“And that is why,” Grandfather says, “we harvest honey without metal, using only a bone knife, a wooden ladder, and a leather pail.” “And,” my uncle says, “we respect Hitam Manis and the girl servants as the spirits of the bees.” “Yes,” Grandfather smiles, “and we honor them by calling them…” “Our fine friends!” I say, eager to prove I know the ways of the hunters.