Friday, March 20, 2009

Honey of the Doncella Bee

This almost colorless honey is from the Doncella Bees (as the local people call them) ... a type of jungle stingless honey bee that produces this light, lemony sweet honey that is prized amongst the jungle people as an antibiotic as well as a lung curative, a cure for eye problems and a general overall tonic.

Native meliponines have been kept by the lowland Maya for thousands of years. The traditional Mayan name for this bee is Xunan kab, literally meaning "royal lady". The bees were once the subject of religious ceremonies and were a symbol of the bee-god Ah-Muzen-Cab, who is known from the Madrid Codex.

The bees were, and still are, treated as pets. Families would have one or many log-hives hanging in and around their house.

This hive is one of four hanging from the eves of one of my neighbors.

Although they are stingless, the bees do bite and can leave welts similar to a mosquito bite.

The outlook for meliponines in Mesoamerica is grim. The number of active Melipona beekeepers is rapidly declining in favor of the more economical, non-indigenous Africanized Apis mellifera. The high honey yield, 100 kilograms or more annually, along with the ease of hive care and ability to create new hives from existing stock, commonly outweighs the negative consequences of "killer bee" hive maintenance. Furthermore, there are flora that the Africanized honey bees do not visit, such as those in the tomato family, and several forest trees and shrubs, which rely on the native stingless bees for pollination. There has already been a decline in populations of native flora in areas where stingless bees have been displaced by Africanized honey bees. An additional blow to the art of meliponine beekeeping is that many of the meliponine beekeepers are now elderly men and women, whose hives may not be cared for once they die. The hives are considered similar to an old family collection, to be parted out once the collector dies or to be buried in whole or part along with the beekeeper upon death. In fact, a survey of a once-popular area of the Mayan lowlands shows the rapid decline of beekeepers, down to around 70 in 2004 from thousands in the late 1980s. It is traditional in the Mayan lowlands that the hive itself or parts of the hive be buried along with the beekeeper to volar al cielo, "to fly to heaven"[citation needed]. There are conservation efforts underway in several parts of Mesoamerica.


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