THE MAYA BEE, XUNAAN CAB

Melipona becheii benetth

As a socially responsible company, Xel-Ha promotes the rescue of a Yucatán Peninsula's ancestral tradition that has been fading over time: the keeping of the Maya bee, also called meliponiculture or stingless beekeeping.

What is meliponiculture?

The Maya bees (or stingless bees), live in the planet's tropical regions, In Mexico they can be located mostly in the southeast area, in the Yucatán Peninsula. Their scientific name is Melipona becheii benetth, and they belong to the family Apidae.

In the Mayan language, they receive different designations, depending on the region: Xunaan Cab, X'colel Cab, Pool Cab and Hobon Cab.

What did it mean to pre-Hispanic cultures?

For the ancient Maya, stingless bees had a very important role, given that native apiculture is based on a rite honoring the four cardinal points and the god Hobnil, god of the hive and patron of beekeepers. This tradition comes from pre-Hispanic times, when the ancient Maya raised large beehives for pure honey extraction.

Wax and honey were the most important exportation articles, which by their high quality and abundance, earned a well-deserved fame outside of the Yucatán.

In the Yucatán Peninsula, there are nine different native species, out of a total of 13 species known. Most meliponinae are centered in the American tropics or neotropics.

 

The stingless bee honey harvesting ceremony consists of redeeming and entrusting the Xunaan Cab to A ha Muzen Cab (lord that keeps the honey) and to Aj Tsiikil Hobon (lord who cares for the hive), as well as to the lord of the rain, and the true god, so that they look after them, no evil can approach them while harvesting, and abundant honey is collected.

Once these ceremonies have been initiated, at certain times or when the honey is harvested, a Maya priest will perform them; otherwise, honey deities' punishments might be received, for instance diseases, bad winds, a cease in honey production and the bees' abandonment of the hive.

What is a meliponary?

Near the plant nursery at Xel-Ha, is the meliponary, contained in a shack, called Na'ajil Cab or Yoo'Toch Cab. Inside it, hollow trunks called hobons are settled; each hobon acts as a beehive for the bees.

The sides of the hobons are sealed with wood covers called U'mak, and finally covered with reddish mud, or kancab. The hobon shows an entrance orifice, through which only one insect can cross, and where a sentinel bee called the Balamil Cab is located.

What is the ceremony like?

 

The altar: It must be directed towards the East. Thirteen candles made out of Xunaan Cab wax, 13 bowls, and three crosses dressed with "huipiles" (traditional Maya dresses) are part of the ceremony.


Food and preparation: The offerings are Saka o Sisool, a kind of sacred drink made of parboiled corn sweetened with Xunaan Cab honey, and served in bowls; stewed chicken; two piles of 13 tortillas each are offered at the altar, and the Aj kíin, (ranking Maya priest) proceeds to the blessing.

Harvesting: The honey harvesting starts with the unclogging of the hobons, then the "honey containers" are punctured with the chan-bak and broken, cleaned with chaka tree (Bursera simaruba) leaves, which work as an insect repellent, and finally the sides of the hobon are covered again with the reddish mud or kancab.

Prayer: It is done by redeeming and entrusting the Xunaan Cab to the deities A ha Muzen Cab, X mulzen Cab, Aj Tsiikil Hobon and Hobnil, as well as to the lord of the rain, and the true god, so that they look after them and abundant honey is collected.

Maya Pax, "gods' music": It is always constituted by the same sounds, considered to be sacred. Each tune has a very specific moment during the festivities, and they are essential to the Maya ceremony. The Maya pax melodies contain rhythms of traditional music such as "jarabes," "fandangos" and "sones."

In addition to the permanent care provided to Xel-Ha's meliponary, this space is an educational center for more than 8,000 children from Quintana Roo who, on a yearly basis, visit it freely. An average of 120 schools of the region are received each year, as part of the educational program created with the Secretariat of Public Education (SEP). These visitors get familiar with the meliponary, its inhabitants, and the Maya tradition. Twice a year, in June and December, ceremonies are held at Xel-Ha, on full moon nights.

What are honey's medicinal traits?

Products obtained from the domestication of bees are honey and wax. Honey has healing properties and is used to treat eye conditions (outgrowth, conjunctivitis, cataracts), ear conditions (infections), respiratory system conditions (pharyngitis, laryngitis), intestinal conditions, and skin problems (hepatic and solar stains, and skin ulcers).

Wax is used for the fabrication of ceremonial candles and honey is also used for the ceremonies, to sweeten the drinks. Meliponiculture is a tradition that has been fading in an alarming way, therefore nowadays the stingless bee is an endangered species.

Socially Responsible Practice Acknowledgment

The work done by Xel-Ha in the meliponary was the reason for an acknowledgment granted by the Mexican Center for Philanthropy in 2007.

All the activities related to the meliponary are supervised and supported by the Popular Cultures Direction, of the National Advice for the Culture and the Arts.




Balamku Inn Video ad