High up on a steep, rocky hillside, thin, young men clamber deftly among the branches of small trees. Each of them—t-shirts torn and feet wrapped in cloth against the thorns—carries a basket and chisel.
A sticky sap seeps from slices in the bark of these Boswellia frereana and carterii trees, which grow wild in the rugged hills of Somaliland, a fragile, self-declared territory in northern Somalia. Over several weeks, the sap will harden into clots of amber resin called frankincense.
“I have done this work for 20 years,” says Musa Hassan, pointing to the trunk of one tree where wounds in the bark bleed sap which is still viscous but hardening. He demonstrates how, once the sap is dry, he will chip it away into his basket.
“My father and grandfather did the same. It is dangerous in the trees but we cannot earn money another way here.”