bees – “The Lost World of the Kalahari”

I have been spending time with my bees – recently did my first split (split the one hive into two separate hives) and will soon do the first honey harvest of 2012.  So, with bees on my mind, I want to include some excerpts from an engrossing book written in 1958 in South Africa by Laurens Van Der Post titled “The Lost World of the Kalahari” about the Bushmen.

The Bushmen loved honey and used a special herbal smoke to drug the bees before he dared reach for the honey because “the wild bees of Africa are the most formidable bees I have ever encountered.  They are smaller than most but quick, fearless, and quite unpredictable.  In the village where I was born no hive was allowed by special by-law within four miles of the township because one sleepy summer’s afternoon all the bees had carried out a combined operation against everything that moved in the streets and sun-filled courtyards and paddocks.  I have forgotten the precise extent of the casualty list but I remember there were two little coloured boys, pigs, hens, sheep, goats, dogs and several horses among the dead.”

To locate a hive the Bushman had an ally in a little bird called Die Heuning-wyser, the honey-diviner, who loved honey as much as did the Bushman.  When the bird found a nest it would alert the Bushman who would follow it and after harvesting the honey “he would never fail to reward the bird with honey and, on a point of mutual honour, share with it the royal portion of the harvest: a comb as creamy as the milk of Devon with its own cream made of half-formed grubs.”

And if you did not reward the bird?  Why then, according to a narrator at the camp fire “it will punish you heavily….I once knew a man whose stomach was too big for his eyes- no, not a man of my own people but of the stupid Bapedi – he cheated the bird out of its share and the very next day it called on him again and led him straight to a hole where there was no honey but an angry female puff-adder who bit him on his greedy hand and killed him…..Another bird who had been cheated once led a man into the mouth of a lion….I tell you that bird is too clever for a man to cheat.”

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