Recovering Co-Existence of Meliponas Bees and Mayas

Stephane Plamieri, a French emigrant in Mexico, lives his dream life in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico. He is working his fingers to the bone and with passion to recover the meliponas bees tradition in the Mayan communities. The Heritage Route crossed his path in his lovely hotel Don Diego de la Selva to know more about this heritage piece for Mayan and others.
 

The Melipona bee is the symbol of the wisdom of the Mayans. They were living together for more than 3000 years, feeding each other. Deforestation and loss of interest in their honey were the major threats that caused the destruction of 80% of meliponas population up to less than 1000 colonies in Quintana Roo. The Yucatan Peninsula and more specifically , Tulum, was the cradle of native bees, Meliponas. In the large family of bees we distinguish two sub-families :

  • The family of honey bees, we all know bees for their honey and pain of their bite ! Native to Europe, this family is now in every continent.
  • The family of stingless bees or meliponinis (trigonas y meliponas), whose characteristic is the absence of sting. The meliponinis are found in tropical and sub​-tropical areas.

RSF Meliponas3The meliponas are true native bees in America. They evolved with the plants of this region and play a major role in the reproduction of the jungle. They are part of the ecological balance. They were traditionally used as honey or fermented (medicinal).

European honeybees came to Mexico with colonization, but were developed on a large-scale in the early 20th century, exploiting the potential of the nectar and allowing Mexico to be the fourth country for exports. Parallel to the development of beekeeping, raising native bees slumped. Indigenous communities were the only ones with this ancient tradition continued as an act of cultural resistance.

Today few grandparents raise meliponas without the certainty of having a a continuation with meliponiculture with their children. Rural communities, some touristic parks and research centers like the Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR, Chetumal) kept this tradition and allowed researchers a privileged access. With the arrival of africanized bees in Brazil in the 80’s, the aggressiveness of this new breed of bees forced to reconsider all the beekeeping system. From this moment, many researchers have been interested in the meliponas for an alternative production.

The Foundation Melipona Maya

Pyramid architecture of swarm

Pyramid architecture of swarm

Stephane Palmieri is a psychologist, entrepreneur, beekeeper, researcher in bees and organic production. He founded in 2013  the Foundation Melipona Maya (Fundacion Melipona Maya) to recover melipona bees in Mayan communities. When he settled in the area of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico, he started to raise africanized honeybees. Then he discovered with passion the meliponas (Melipona beki), stingless, peaceful, easy to live with and with a strong meaning for the Mayan.

At the time of the « End of the world », end of 2012, he organized an event dedicated to the meliponas and the Bee God « Ah Muzen-Kab ». He was surprised by the important mobilization of Mayan dignitaries, press and other stakeholders of Quintana Roo and more generally of Mexico. This was the seedling of the Foundation Melipona Maya. the Foundation gathers Mexicans and foreigners with different career paths but with important points of convergence in the wild population, the environment, the Maya Culture and organic productions. Academics, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, biologists, engineers, agronomists, beekeepers, and passionate Mayan dignitaries joined their skills and wills to rescue Maya and promote cultural heritage, traditional garden and organic meliponiculture.

We work with the colonies, they are not cattle!

 

Dividing a hive in 2 new colonies.

Dividing a hive in 2 new colonies.

The Foundation aims to organize mother-colonies, reproduce and distribute them to Mayan communities (is it not to produce honey by itself but through communities). Studying traditional methods of sheltered upbringings, communities developed new techniques that enable a significant increased rate of return and success in hives splitting. As of today they have effective cultural and economical interest to develop a plan of revival meliponiculture in Mayan communities.

By today, 5 meliponariums have been built by villagers in 5 different communities, with hives lent by the Foundation. The Foundation provides meliponiculture training and capacity-building for those interested with the same philosophy.

The support of Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Peace Nobel Prize from Guatemala representing Mayan Indigenous People, becoming the godmother of the Foundation, created a mediatic « boom ».

Developing New Market to Keep Melipona Tradition Alive

From traditional use in the past and today, some pharmaceutical companies are also interested in the therapeutic potential of melipona honey. A convention was signed between the Foundation and the French company Ballot-Flurin, specialized in organic apicosmetics and apitherapy. It ensures to sell 50kg of honey with a good price (30 Euros/kg, whereas the current market can pay honey from 30 (vrac) to 90 Euros (detail)).

A melipona colony can produce yearly 3kg of honey. It is much more concentrated than honeybees honey. That is why it is much more powerful for healing effects or nutrition. Ballot-Flurin allocates 10% of profits from cosmetic selling to the Foundation and pay it in advance, which facilitate the Foundation’s operation.

Upcoming Challenges

The core work is to multiplicate coloniesOne of the obstacle is that melipona honey is not recognized as a « honey » because of its higher humidity rate. It is impossible either to sell it as « organic ». This is one of the challenges to make it recognized as honey in order to facilitate the commercialization.

Ceremony of the Flowering and Spring

Célébration de la floraison et du printemps avec les abeilles, Quintana Roo

Célébration de la floraison et du printemps avec les abeilles, Quintana Roo

The Foundation organises events or specific actions to promote the development of meliponariums and traditional use of meliponas. Among them, we participate to the ceremony of the flowering and spring in a Mayan community.

If you want to know more about the Foundation Melipona Maya, visit the website and the blog. You can also support them with a donation.

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