Cozumel Mexico .net presents the history of Mayan Beekeeping.
Meliponiculture is the Mayan beekeeping tradition which is preserved and can be
seen at Xel-Há's Park nature preserve.
The Mayas believed bees had cardinal virtues (traditionally, there are four
cardinal virtues: *Prudence – the ability to judge between
actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time *Justice - proper
moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others *Temperance
- practicing self-control and *Fortitude - forbearance, endurance, and ability
to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation), and were also treated as a
deity associated with all powers that come from earth.
The beautiful sunny days with warm temperatures at Xel-Ha's Park nature preserve
are the perfect scenario for bees to enjoy daily dances as they leave their nest
in search of food. Eager to make the best for their community, they set out to
visit blooming flowers that inhabit the tropical forest of the Yucatan
Peninsula. They collect nectar and pollen to produce the most delicious natural
sweetener known to humankind; honey!
has been used for centuries because of its healing properties as a natural
remedy to cure eyes (fleshy, conjunctivitis, cataracts), ears (infection of
ears), respiratory tract treatment (pharyngitis, laryngitis), intestinal
treatment (gastritis, typhoid), and skin treatment (liver and sun marks, skin
ulcers). The Yucatan Peninsula is one of the richest bee faunas in the world,
and for thousands of years bees were extensively cultured by the Maya for honey,
and were honored as sacred creatures. Honey was so precious to the Mayas that it
was used for many purposes such as food and medicine, for ceremonial practices,
and as a form of exchange for other valuable goods.
Bees were also treated as deity associated with all powers that come from earth.
Bees were known in Maya as “Cab”, which means land, bee-hive, bee and honey. One
of the most venerated Mayan deities was “Muzen Cab”; that means Great Guardian of Honey or
the Great Lord of Bees. And the Mayan Bee God Mok Chi; transformed into a Bee
depicted in the ancient mural to the right. The Madrid Codex (Maya Literature,
shown on the lower right side of this page) is a great source that explains the
complex spiritual meaning of Mayan apiculture, and their devotion towards bees,
honey and beekeeping, which was strongly related to the days of the calendar.
is said that Mayan beehives were positioned towards the four cardinal points
that hold the universe. Each cardinal point was known in Maya as “Bacab,” and
the Eastern Bacab was the direction they believed honey was produced. As great
apiculturists and expert practitioners of bee husbandry, the Mayas collected
honey from many species of bees, and out of over 500 species of tropical
stingless bees, they favored the Melipona Beechei Bonnet. According to ancient
Mayan myths, the first inhabitants; called zayawinicoub, ate up all the royal
honey they were harvesting. To avoid facing death as punishment from their gods,
Hobin (god of the beehive) turned them into stingless bees so they could restock
The distinctive characteristic of the Melipona bee also known as the “Mayan bee”
or “Xunan kab” (Royal Lady) is that it lacks a stinger and the honey produced
has a high nutritional and medical value. The Maya people used the stingless bee
honey as a sweetener, and antibiotic and to make the fermented honey drink
called “balché,” a ritual alcoholic beverage. They kept their stingless bees in
hollow logs (depicted above) just as their descendants do today. Although Mexico
is one of the most important honey producers, apiculture of the Mayan bee
referred to as meliponiculture, is an activity that has lost its strength in
recent years. Deforestation and introduction of Africanized bees to the Yucatan,
which produce greater amounts of honey have also caused meliponiculture to
decline and gradually disappear together with the population of Melipona bees,
now considered an endangered species.
The work carried out by Xel-Há at the Melponary won an award in 2007 given by he
Mexican Centre for Philanthropy which considered it one of the best socially
responsible programs carried out. All the activities related to the Meliponary
are supervised and supported by the popular Cultures Direction of the National
Advice for the Culture and the Arts. Don’t miss the opportunity to encounter and
learn more about the Mayan bee during your next visit to Xel- Há!
I hope that you have enjoyed this fascinating feature. The best part about it is
that you can experience it first hand! For more information about Xel-Há and how
you can make arrangements to visit during your next vacation to Cozumel; simply
lick on the "Mayan Ruins" hyperlink below and you will be taken to the site that
will allow you to take the tour! We look forward to the opportunity of having
you as our guest.
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