Melipona beecheii are native stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Carribean, and many parts of South America which were domesticated by the Mayan people long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. Today that ancient beekeeping tradition is known as Meliponiculture. The nurturing and domesticaion of stingless bees is experiencing a significant revival in small Zapatista communities throughout Chiapas, Mexico. (Click for a popular article about the Melipona revival in Chiapas.)
Native bee species are declining in Mexico and worldwide due to extensive deforestation, the massive use of agricultural chemicals, the increasing power of tropical storms, and competition from aggressive European bees. (Click for article about Melipona loss in Yucatan.) However native bees are excellent pollinators of many plant species and the honey and waxes produced by native bees are important in traditional medicine and cultural practices of the Indigenous Maya.
“My grandmother always kept her (hollow) log with stingless bees near the kitchen,” reminisced one Zapatista leader. “She gave us the honey whenever we got a sore throat or just to sweeten our tortillas in the morning.” (Click here to see photos of the unusual Melipona hives now being managed by Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.)
In addition to producing this sweet honey which is uniquely medicinal, Meliponas are also extraordinary pollinators. Because they evolved with tens of thousands of plants unique to the Americas, these stingless bees often polinate native species more efficiently than European bees and are far better pollinators for many unique American plants such as bromeliads and orchids, rainforest trees, vines , perenniels and annuals. In other words, Meliponas are deeply woven into the complex web of life here in the Americas upon which we all depend. (Click here to read about details (in Spanish) of specialized polinazation by stingless bees.)
In what could prove to be the greatest danger yet to their long-term survival, Melipona are facing the power and logic of globalization (or neoliberalism as our Zapatista hosts say) because a few of the American plants pollinated by Meliponas now have great commercial value. To name only a few, Meliponas are the most efficient pollinators of avocadoes, tomatoes, Neem, mahogany, chiles, cacao, vanilla, and achiote. The emerging international market in Meliponas as pollinators of these and other commercial crops represents a double-edged sword for these gentle bees.
On the one hand, new research is providing improved techniques for hive division while the production of Melipona honey and wax is increasing with new hive construction and harvesting techniques. However, removing these ancient bees from human cultural traditions and placing them directly onto the international market could expose the species to increased disease and genetic weaknesses. (Click here to read article about the current crisis facing at least one species of American bumble bees sold on the international market as crop pollinators.)
Schools for Chiapas is honored to be working with Zapatista educators, students, ecology promoters, and communities to save the Melipona bee and deepen Mayan traditions in Chiapas. People-of-conscience everywhere are invited to join us in this noble effort with your heart, your mind, and your hands. Remember us in your prayers, join us in researching native bees, come to Chiapas to taste Melipona honey, and share your economic resources to make it possible... Please enjoy the You-tube video below which shows the important Melipona bee ceremony known as Un-hanli-cab in Yucatan, Mexico. Our thanks to alexecheverria for posting and sharing this wonderful video!