Apiculture among the Lacandon Maya


Several species of the stingless honeybee (yus) is frequently partially domesticated by the Lacandones. However, the Lacandones had never succeeded to keep these bees near their households. The main reason for this failure is ascribed to the presence of a particular black bee (k’ekam), which kills or drives off all the honeybees.

To establish a colony at the household, a pear-shaped gourd is pierced with holes, just large enough for the bees to pass through. Then a larger hole of about 9 cm. in diameter is made to allow part of a hive found in the rainforest to be placed inside. The hole is closed by placing back the removed piece, which is secured with honeycomb or with sap of the sapodilla tree. The gourd is then tied up under the eaves of the house.

When the tree called pukte’ is through flowering (around April), it is time to harvest the honey. The gourd is opened and everything is removed except the young bees. The honey is squeezed from the comb into a strainer after which it is poured into the beverage. When all the honey is removed, the comb is washed in the river and dried in the sun. When it is needed the dried comb is used to make candles.

Today, the Lacandon do not divide honey into different varieties like they did in the past. Honey that was used for the ritual balché beverage could only be produced by the k’oh bee. It is likely that in this context k’oh means ‘scarcity’ or ‘precious’. The honey from this bee could only be used for this purpose. When the right honey was not available sugarcane was used as its replacement. The honey of the bee that the Lacandones call mahan kab was used for the balché beverage that was not destined for rituals. Kab means ‘bee, beehive and/or honey’ while mahan means ‘lend out’. This bee was also known as ni’ ma’ax (monkey nose).