‘We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.’ - Jawaharlal Nehru We, at Zizira, explore the hills and valleys of Meghalaya to get the best of the best from Meghalaya. This time we went on a journey to Thad village situated in Umsning of Ribhoi district in Meghalaya. It is located 12km away from sub-district headquarter Umsning and 38km away from district headquarter Nongpoh.
Our teams met Bah Peacemaker Rantong, a beekeeper and farmer, from this small village.
Like many beekeepers in Meghalaya, beekeeping in Thad village has been part of their culture. It has been practiced for ages, and the culture is passed on to the younger generation to date. Almost all households in the village rear bees. Beekeeping is not just for commercial purposes. For them, bees are part of their family. They mostly use the honey for curing themselves of cough, cold, and for wounds and minor injuries. Honey has been used as a multi-purpose medicine in their household. They rear two species of bees - Apis Cherana Indica (Indian local bee) and Apis Trigona bee also known as a stingless bee. Stingless bees (known as Ngap Ryngkai in local Khasi language) are friendly which means they don’t sting. Sometimes, they keep them inside and live together to warm their house with sweet and melodious sounds. Apart from beekeeping, the farmers of this village also grow vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, beans, and many more just enough for their consumption. They also practice poultry and pig farming.
Where Does Honey Come From?
Bah Peacemaker tells us that beekeepers, from this village, scouts for the bee swarms in the jungle. When they find one, they will follow it until they found the place where the bees congregate around their queens. They then prepare a new ‘Ksing’- a traditional house for bees, cylindrical-shaped, hollowed out from tree trunk. Once the Ksing is ready, they carefully take the queen, tie her gently with a string so she can't escape and place her on the new house. The swarms naturally follow her to the new home. Apart from the traditional ksing, we also saw bees accumulating inside a big mortar that the villagers normally used for grounding rice grains! The bees seemed to like it there! The villagers are also seen using green bee boxes provided by the government. According to Bah Peacemaker, the government provided ‘modern’ bee boxes produces more honey compared to the traditional ‘ksing’. The area is surrounded by thick vegetation and trees that provide an amazing source of nectar and pollen for the bees. We witnessed that the surrounding where the bees reside and gather their nectar from are free from pollution and pesticides. Wasps and hornets are bees' natural enemies, they attack the beehive anytime especially during the harvesting seasons. The smell of the sweet honey is very strong and attract them from far. Bah Peacemaker tells us that bees need ongoing care. It is vital to check on them frequently. They require a considerable amount of time investment to take care of them if they are using it for commercial purposes.
How Do You Feed the Bees?
Bah Rangtong tells us that beekeepers in their village avoid artificial feeding at all costs. Instead, they plant trees like ‘dieng tohtieh' a kind of bottle brush that provides nectar for the bees. The trees around provide enough supply of nectar. The bees naturally feed and collect nectar from the jungle. As per their knowledge, none of the beekeepers in this village feeds the bees with sugar. To feeds 30-40 boxes of bees in a day with sugar water, it will cost you around 1 or 2 KG of sugar daily. Honey is the bees' own food. When harvesting them, the beekeepers leave enough honey and pollen for the bees to feed on until next season.
Harvesting and Processing
Harvesting is normally done four times a year; one regular size ‘Ksing’ can provide 4 to 5 KG of honey. The honey is used as food and is also sold to generate income for the beekeepers and their families. Small beekeepers of this village follow traditional ways to extract the honey from the honeycomb. They use a mosquito net to extract honey from the comb. This process is time-consuming. The comb is placed on the nets and left it hanging on the ceiling over for a day or overnight. Then the extracted honey is put on a bucket or a jar. Another round of filtering happens with the use of a cloth, called ‘Jain Sala’ to further separate the honey from any remaining comb. Beekeepers who own more than 30-40 boxes used Extractor Machine to extract the honey from the bee comb. After all the honey is extracted, the remaining are put back to the Ksing so the bees can use them to rebuild their comb or ‘lang’.
Wisdom from the Bees
Bah Peacemaker recently started a small group of farmers who worked together to help maintain the traditional way of farming and beekeeping. When our team asked Bah Rangtong as to what motivates them to start this group, Bah Rangtong was quick to answer, “Busy as a bee”. He learned this lesson from the bees. If the bees are hardworking and endure, they have a constant supply of food for themselves and provide benefits for others. If they are lazy, they will not be able to produce much honey for themselves or others. Bah Peacemaker wants to take this lesson from the bees to inspire his group to work hard, endure, and keeping themselves busy month-by-month and season-by-season so that they will benefit from it. Bah Peacemaker also mentions that he wants to follow the footsteps of Bah Freeman, a tea farmer, who has done many things to help the farmers in his village. Bah Peacemaker aspires to carry on the good work started by Bah Freeman for the welfare of the farmers of his village. Presently, there are four people in this group, and they have plans to induct more farmers. They select farmers that are sincere and reliable who can work together to accomplish their dreams. Bah Peacemaker collects honey from beekeepers from all over the village and helps them to market their products with only a small profit. The main goal of the group is to helps each other to market their products. They are figuring out various ways to plant different crops that will help them succeed. Zizira is privileged to work with Bah Peacemaker. We have learned a great deal from him and the people of his village. On our way back, we realize that there is so much wisdom that small little creatures like bees can teach us, something that’s simple but profound. Are there any other lessons that you get from the wise bees? Share it with us by dropping your comments below.