Mayan bees

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The indispensable role that bees play in the upkeep of ecosystems is a subject that has been researched and studied a lot in Guatemala in the past ten years, drawing the attention of biologists as well as scholars of other subjects. Bees, primarily known for producing honey and other products such as beeswax and propolis, also make an incredible contribution to humanity. Without them, it would be impossible to pollinize many kinds of plants and crops, a process that preserves distinct vegetable species and consequently animals as well.

According to the Directorate General of Research (DIGI in Spanish) of the San Carlos University of Guatemala, in our country there exists a wide variety of native bees that carry out an important function as pollinators. 33 different species are recognized, among them the genus Melipona, commonly known as stingless bees. These bees are found exclusively in the tropical and subtropical regions of America and, like honey bees (Apis melliferas), are unique in that they display social behavior.

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Studies conducted by El Colegio de la Frontera Sur and the Autonomous University of Yucatán show that meliponiculture (the breeding and management of stingless bees) is an activity that

Mesoamerican indigenous peoples have been doing since pre-hispanic times. Other studies indicate that the main native bee in these regions was Melipona beecheii, which produces white honey. Today, this species is still kept, principally in the departments of Santa Rosa and Chiquimula, and is attributed with medicinal properties that combat different illnesses.

Although meliponiculture is currently a little-developed activity in Guatemala, there are a few initiatives, such as the Alternative Maya Marketing Civil Association (COMAL in Spanish) in the municipality of Huehuetenango, that seek to revive this practice. According to Armando Hernández, beekeeping expert for COMAL, the association began its small honey-producing project with Apis melliferas in 2012. Later, the project grew to include 76 members, who are residents of the municipalities of La Democracia, San Pedro Necta, La Libertad, Colotenango, San Antonio Huista, and Santiago Chimaltenango.

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In 2015, COMAL began a project to rescue native bees, initially offering producers information about the importance of recovering this species. At the beginning of 2016, COMAL presented its proposal for the “Rescue of native bees” to the EntreMundos small grants program. This project was approved and is currently pushing forward with the installation of 36 boxes of meliponas (stingless) bees in six different municipalities in Huehuetenango. According to COMAL’s experts, the management of meliponas is much easier than that of melliferas (honey) bees, and they hope to commercialize their honey soon, as it is valued highly for its therapeutic properties.

In 2009, Guatemala hosted the IV Mesoamerican Congress on Native Bees, which emphasized the importance of meliponas bees in Mayan rituals, as well as the sacred perspective that even today continues representing strength and wellbeing. For the members of COMAL, honey has a regenerative power, which is capable of restoring not only physical aspects but even the spiritual harmony of human beings. With this in mind, we say, “Keep going, COMAL, continue sweetening the palate and spirit of Guatemala!”