30 August, 2009

Of Bees, Honey and the Beekeepers of Hadhramout

Bees. Honeybees. Where would we Mankind be without them! It's said that, without us humans - bees would survive and thrive even more; but - without them, the human species would most likely perish and maybe even be completely exterminated from the face of the Earth. It has often been said that bees are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Most crops grown for their fruits - including vegetables such as squash, cucumber, tomato and eggplant, nuts, seeds, fiber - such as cotton, and hay - alfalfa grown to feed livestock, require pollination by insects. The main insect pollinators, by far, are bees.

Incredible and amazing that, so tiny a being can have such a decisive an influence and impact on our lives. Without doubt, bees are most probably the most beneficial creatures to Mankind. Here are some amazing facts about these wonderful insects:
  • The honey bee has been around for about 30 million years.
  • The honeybee is not born knowing how to make honey; the younger bees are taught by the more experienced ones.
  • It is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
  • Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including: water, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains "pinocembrin", an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.
  • Honey contains vitamins and antioxidants, but is fat free, cholesterol free and sodium free.
  • Honey is one of our safest foods. Many harmful germs cannot live in honey for any length of time.

  • The honeybee's wings stroke 11,400 times per minute, thus making their distinctive buzz.
  • A honey bee can fly for up to six miles, and as fast as 15 miles (about 24 km.) per hour.
  • A honey bee visits 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip.
  • A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honeybees and one queen.
  • Honeybees are famed for being the most hard-working creatures in the world.
  • Worker honey bees are female, live 6 to 8 weeks and do all the work.
  • Honeybees can count and can even differentiate patterns which help them in finding good source of pollen even when they are far away from their hives. And they can roam very far, but still remember to return to their hives.
  • There is only one queen in a hive and her main purpose in life is to make more bees.
  • The queen bee lives for about 2-3 years and is the only bee that lays eggs.
  • Only worker bees sting, and only if they feel threatened and they die once they sting.
  • Honey bees communicate with one another by "dancing".
  • Bees recognize other members of their own colony by their distinctive scent.
  • Bees are said to have a stronger sense of smell than dogs and some - due to their acute, fine tuned sense of smell - have been trained to detect land mines.
  • Mathematically, honeycomb is the second strongest structure in the world after the pyramids. And is said to be the strongest structure in nature.
No wonder all sacred scriptures mention bees and honey. Ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Hindus and the Chinese - all mention the greatness of honey. English, Welsh and Celtic tales are full of the wonders of honey. No other creature in the animal kingdom exhibits individual traits and social cooperation parallel to that of the honeybee. The infrastructure of bees nests - is so highly organized, perfectly uniform and functional, that one can't help but be utterly awed.

Very few creatures are mentioned in the Quran Al Kareem; it is no accident that the Holly Book has one Surah named after the bee; and has high praise for these tiny insects, referring to them as 'healers'.

"And your Lord taught the honey bee to build its cells in hills, on trees, and in (men's) habitations; Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth), and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord: there issues from within their bodies a drink of varying colours, wherein is healing for men: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought. (Surat an-Nahl (The Bee), 68-69) Read more on the perception of bees in Islam here

Several Hadiths too, in the The Book of Medicine, mention the healing powers of honey. I quote from Bukhari: 'Honey is a remedy for every illness and the Qur'an is a remedy for all illness of the mind, therefore I recommend to you both remedies, the Qur'an and honey.'

Very sadly and of much danger to our survival, domesticated honeybee population is declining. In 2004, the National Geographic warned: Bees, via pollination, are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of the food U.S. consumers eat.......Unless actions are taken to slow the decline of domesticated honeybees and augment their populations with wild bees, many fruits and vegetables may disappear from the food supply. And just a few days ago, the Telegraph stated: The number of bees in the UK fell by up to 15 per cent over the last two years while the population of butterflies and other insects is also down.

Here in Hadhramaut, bees are revered and honey is highly priced. For hundreds of years, generation after generation, bees have been kept. It requires hard, intensive work; and much care and love. Here, especially in Wady Do'an, beekeeping and the producing of honey has been so perfected that - honey from the Do'an Valley, is the most sought after and most expensive in the world; with customers coming from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, prices can be as high as the equivalent of 100$ or more for a kilo of the honey. Do'an honey is dry-land, monofloral, wildflower honey, renowned for its unique buttery flavor, rich aroma and high viscosity—and for its reputed medicinal qualities. In the Do'an valley, the jabali [mountain] bee which people used to keep there, is gone; now bees from Ethiopia, from people who grow crops are kept; but the problem is that this new bee [Apis yemenitica] is not as drought- and hunger-resistant as the wild mountain bee was. Beekeeping and the production of honey has become so modernized here, that the quality of the honey extracted is as not as excellent as before; and, the species of bees raised is not what was there long ago. Bees can survive without US. But, can We survive without them? Time.