Bayaka Honey Gatherer

Congo Basin, Central African Republic

Jungles: Life in the Trees

… If, like me, you write a blog, then I would hazard a guess that, like me, you too are fascinated by the Site Stats that are presented to you every time you log on to make a post.  Mine appear as a graph with ‘time’ along the bottom and ‘hits’ up the vertical axis and I am well used to so called ‘spikes’ in the graph which generally occur when one of my posts is picked up by RedditStumbleupon or such like and receives a short lived but unusually high number of hits.

Since Human Planet began airing on British TV a few weeks ago, I have become well accustomed to my weekly spike on Thursday night and Friday morning, the result of people watching the program and then turning to their computers to research one or other of the stories from the show in a bit more depth.  This week, after the Jungles programme, the spike was quite big… a veritable Matterhorn on my stats graph in fact.  I was expecting that the Bayaka honey gatherers story would be the thing capturing the public’s attention, but to my surprise, after a little investigation it turned out that of the top 20 most searched phrases in Google last night that directed people to this blog, all but two of them contained the words ‘Rachael’ and “Kinley’.

It appears that our Rachael’s antics ‘going native’ in a Korowai tree house on last night’s Behind the Lens section of the show have made her somewhat of an attraction to a certain section of the internet’s browsers.

So, for all you new Rachael Kinley fans out there, here is nice homely photo of her singing to a young Bayaka baby in the Central African Republic, just to remind you all what a lovely young lady she is.

It normally falls in the hands of the researchers to keep the talent happy.

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OK.  That’s my public service over for the day.  Let’s get back to the story about the Bayaka honey gatherers from last night’s show… stay with me folks, this is the educational bit.

Our Bayaka village in the jungle of the Congo basin

The Bayaka are a lovely bunch.  I reckon that if you took a survey of a thousand random people and asked them to describe a typical jungle tribe, you’d probably end up with a vision not that dissimilar to the Bayaka’s.  They are a forest people in the truest sense of the word.  Totally at home in their jungle.  Hunting with spears, adept at climbing trees, they can build an overnight shelter from scratch in less than half an hour.  They have an incredible culture of song and drumming rhythms and a fascinating tradition of forest spirituality that involves enthralling dances and a mythology of glow-in-the-dark forest spirits created from a luminescent jungle fungus.  The resulting Willo the Wisp-esque deities regularly graced us with their presence during the many long nights of song and dance we experienced during our 2 weeks with the Bayaka.  The list goes on. In fact the BBC could have easily made a whole program just on them… Now I think about it, they probably have.

Anyway, we came here to film the incredible spectacle of honey gathering, something that is practiced by a number of the men in the tribe, the two most notable of which, Tete and Mongonje (pronounced Tetay and Mongonjay) we managed to shadow for a couple of weeks.

Tete and Mongonje size up a hive

Mongonje starts a smokey fire at the base of the tree to pacify the bees…

… and Tete begins his 40 metre climb

Photographing this story took quite a bit of organising.  Apart from the fact that the only way in to this part of C.A.R. at the time was to hire a private plane, the main problem was working out a way to get ourselves and all our kit 40 meters up into the canopy with these guys.  Which is where Tim Fogg, our rope access specialist came in.

Working in film, there’s quite a bit of hanging around between takes.

Its always a pleasure to work with Tim.  He’s been in the business of rigging for over 20 years which is a reassuring qualification in a line of work that demands your complete trust in its experts.

I’m scared of heights and that is something that doesn’t appear to be changing as I get older.  In fact the opposite is true.  Six months before we began shooting Human Planet, the BBC sent us all on a week long rope access training course at Westonbirt Arboretum near Bristol to get acclimatised with the equipment we’d be using on the Jungles and Mountains episodes.

Ben making it look easy up an oak tree on our training course

During that course, I asked climbing expert Ben, one of our instructors, whether he got nervous high in the trees and to my surprise he said that he did.  Especially if he hadn’t been climbing for a little while.  So, I think that a fear of heights is healthy and normal, except if you’re a Bayaka of course.

Rigging the tree was the easy part (For me at least.  I just stood there watching along with everyone else).  For large trees like these, Tim fires a small weight attached to a thin line using a giant sling shot, securing the line over the crown of the tree.  A climbing rope is then attached to this line and pulled up over the crown, becoming the rope that we ascend using a belay system.

Tim helps cameraman johnny film Tete climbing

In contrast to our incredibly stringent BBC health and safety regulations.  Tete and Mongonje climb their trees the old skool way.

Creating foot holds

Staying attached

A piece of liana is cut and used as a makeshift harness.  This and the series of foot holds cut from the tree’s trunk with an axe are the only things stopping a honey gatherer from falling to his death.  Let’s zoom in a little on that makeshift harness..

Health and safety officers look away now

Yes.. It’s started to fray from the friction caused by climbing.  Needless to say, I have incredible respect for these guys.  As do the rest of their community.

Young climbers in the making

My favourite shot from this sequence in the TV program is the rising shot of Tete climbing the monster tree that you can see at the beginning of this clip…

To get this shot, the crew used a contraption called a dolly.

Tim and Tom transport the dolly to our tree

Tim rigged the tree with a vertical line running up to a branch in the canopy about 3 metres out from the trunk.  The camera was then attached to the bottom of the dolly and a slightly heavier counter weight to the other end of the rope which was fed through the pulley system of the dolly.   As the counter weight fell, the camera was pulled up vertically to achieved the shot. Furthermore, the dolly has a remote controlled head, so that it was possible to pan the camera downwards as it passed Tete on the tree.

A fantastic shot I think you’ll agree.

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Oh look. There’s another picture of Rachael

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Interested in more stories from the Central African Republic? Click HERE TASEARCHCAR

Still reading?  Join in the discussion on my Facebook page.

28 Responses to “Bayaka Honey Gatherer”

  1. Tom Kostes says:

    Cool images and wonderful story.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Nick says:

    Did you bring them few jars of honey when you were bringing all that heavy equipment all the way there!?!

  3. Pradeep says:

    thanks for sharing the behind the scenes story. fascinating.

  4. mazagangy says:

    okie that make me sick and i will never eat honey again
    and u look great Rachel with those kids :)))

  5. Alejandro says:

    Soy de Buenos Aires, Argentina. El sábado fui a ver la muestra de Discovery Channel con tus fotos. Realmente preciosas, en especial el retrato de la nena con la cara pintada.

  6. Ellen says:

    Hi Tim,

    I wanted to congratulate you on building up such an amazing portfolio! However I was a little dissapointed to find only about 100 images in there. I have searched for more of your work on the internet but have been unsuccessful. I would love to know where to find more.. Do you supply stock libraries? What do you think of the stock industry? Who do you shoot for and where do the images end up? I would like to see your earlier work too…


    • Timothy says:

      Hi Ellen,
      I syndicate my images through Axiom and Eyevine. I have found the stock industry to be very rewarding (financially at least).
      I shoot for many different organisations on a freelance and contract basis, normally on longer term projects.
      Unfortunately, all my earlier work was shot on film and hardly any of it has been digitised up to this point in time. Someday I hope to get around to that.

  7. Charles Budd says:

    Amazing experience, I’ll have to try to watch the episode, if I can find it online. Great photos and write up too.

  8. I am blown away by this culture’s appreciation and determination to obtain honey and provide for their families. I am a beekeeper and I thought that was work but all I have to do is lift off the lid to one of my hives to get honey. I am curious though… if given the opportunity to raise bees in hives of their own, do you think this culture would take that opportunity or is honey gathering so respected that they wouldn’t dream of having hives? I want to take beekeeping to Haiti but feel like this idea could be expanded to include more countries. I just don’t want to tramp on their culture.

  9. evenstarwen says:

    This is insanely amazing. I love the behind the scenes peek. Oh, and mad respect to those climbers. Seriously.

  10. […] Although I would have loved to have been on this shoot, it was great to be involved in the training side. If you havn’t watched any episodes yet – Human Planet – then I couldn’t […]

  11. Laura says:

    Just came upon your photos today and I am truly blown away. 🙂

    Raleigh NC USA

  12. Theresa says:

    I am amazed at the beauty and how captivating these pictures are. Congratulations for such a skill requires a depth of heart and love for diversity.

  13. This is some fucking serious business.

    I swear I will never feel stress at my job again.

  14. Andrew Newey says:

    Hey Tim,

    The best episode so far and not just because Rachel got her $%&^ out! 😉 Have you had to increase the bandwidth yet to cope with the surge of visits? 🙂

    The girl we were both talking to at Destinations can’t make my tour due to a wedding so I think she may join one of yours.


  15. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Guillem Lopez, Julien Dorol, Julien Dorol, Mitchell K, FrisoPoldervaart and others. FrisoPoldervaart said: En zo deed de BBC dat : […]

  16. That is abso-freakin-lutely incredible! Both the images and the film bit in particular. Yes, that panning vertical dolly shot is something to be appreciated. I wish I could get a hold of this whole series somewhere.

    • Timothy says:

      You’re in Russia right? Have you tried using a proxy to watch it on BBC iPlayer? If not, it’s going out to the rest of the world in 3 months time on Discovery. The U.S. Discovery version is a different edit to the British one, and not so good in my opinion, so try and hold out for the original if you can.

  17. Tej says:

    superb photography….loved hearing your stories behind the photos at the Destination 2011 exhibition today…..


  18. Trey says:


  19. Tom H-J says:

    Love the piece by the way Tim

  20. Tom H-J says:

    I’m a great Rachael Kinley fan too!

  21. Sally says:

    Everyone knows that the ‘how they do it’ bit is always the best. Why didn’t the boys take their clothes off too????

  22. Anon says:

    LOL. I am a Rachel Kinley fan. Great photos by the way.

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