The State Of Yucatan And The Kingdom Of The Melipona
One recent trend newly resonating with world travelers — especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the long periods of indoor confinement it necessitated — is how to be more respectful of nature.
Acknowledging the extent of our impact on ecosystems and the need to pursue sustainability, more and more people are concerned with partaking in and enjoying natural settings in a socially and ecologically responsible manner. This is tourism, yes — but sustainable and with a cause.
It’s important to highlight that when touring the state of Yucatán, visitors can witness and appreciate an activity that has been practiced in the peninsula for at least seven centuries: meliponiculture, or the harvesting of honey from a unique indigenous bee species — Melipona beecheii — of which the ancient Maya were expert cultivators.
Unique Among Thousands
Yucatán is, for the mindful and observant tourist, an endless font of intellectually stimulating experiences. When the curious enter the realm of Melipona beecheii, they’ll go from surprise to surprise. For starters, visitors will learn that, among the 20,000 species of bee that exist in the world, a genus of stingless bees called Meliponinae, or Melipona, developed in the Americas. This non-aggressive bee produces unique honey, different from the more common type produced by the Apis mellifera honeybee species that the English and Spanish introduced to the Western Hemisphere in the 17th century.
The peaceful Melipona beecheii is also distinguished by its ultra-selective diet. Unlike the Apis mellifera, which can be seen fluttering amid a wide variety of plants containing nectar or sugar, the small Yucatán Melipona beecheii obtains its sustenance from very specific flowers germinated in the ceiba — or “yaaxché”, as the Maya called this sacred tree — in addition to others whose medicinal properties are well-known to traditional healers. These include the balché, chaká or palo mulato, dzidzilché, and most especially, a climbing plant people pluck from their crops but whose yellow flowers the Melipona beecheii adore: the tahonal, which usually grows next to roads.
Delicious and Healing
Thanks to the Melipona beecheii’s preference for the nectar of trees and plants that for generations have served to cure various illnesses, this bee’s honey boasts unique properties. Ancient Maya knowledge, supported by today’s scientific research, attributes to this honey a degree of efficacy in fighting Cataracts or glaucoma growth:
- Infections, conjunctivitis, and wounds
- Dermatitis; helps to regenerate tissues (the cosmetic industry uses it to make creams and masks)
- Gastritis, ulcers, and internal wounds
- Anemia (Honey is used as a food supplement)
- Serious diseases, such as some types of cancer
Apiculture specialist Andrea Figueroa, from Miel Nativa Kaban, suggests that to preserve the ecosystem of all bees it is not necessary to protect the blooms that provide them with both pollen and nectar. If we really want to help them, she suggests we grow plants and flowers typical of the region where we live, since not all bees feed on any plant species.
Figueroa provides more information on the peculiarity of Melipona beecheii honey. For example, a hive barely produces 2 liters of honey a year, whereas one of Apis mellifera can make up to 60. Hence, the price of Melipona honey is much higher than that of the European type. Another singularity of the Yucatecan honey is that it does not always taste exactly the same; sometimes it is very citrusy and other times sweet, because, as with wines, taste depends on the conditions of the land from which the bees are supplied, the climate, the blooms, and the purity that the beekeeper wants to preserve.
Figueroa and her colleagues from Miel Nativa Kaban encourage tourists and consumers to appreciate the peculiarities of Melipona beecheii honey and collaborate to create a sustainable economy. This solidarity tourism provides economic alternatives for agricultural communities, generates complementary income, and contributes to defending and revaluing the cultural and natural resources of localities.
There are Melipona beecheii honey producers in various parts of Yucatán state. In Sinanché, for example, a cooperative allows visitors to enjoy apitourism, through which they can sample different types of honey and learn about both Melipona apiaries — or meliponarios — and the hives of other types of bees. Similar experiences take place in the Magical Town of Maní; there is even a “Route of Meliponarios” called Xunáan in the Chablé Resort & Spa hacienda.
“Local beekeepers, with the encouragement of the state government, maintain fair trade practices through [manufacture and sale of] honey, soaps and creams, [and] a chain is created that implies taking care of both the environment of the bees and the economic income of the families of small producers,” explains Figueroa.
The idea is that a well-informed consumer who knows the environment can, in addition to treasuring a memorable experience, contribute to sustaining the habitat of bees, supporting the communities that live off of meliponiculture, and enjoying healthy and delicious products.