The Beekeeper’s Story 2018-06-06T23:57:23+00:00

The Beekeeper’s Story

My name is Mubârak S. B., from the Nu‘mân tribe, whose territory is Wadi ‘Amd. I am a beekeeper (‘âmil nahl, murabbî nahl ). I move with the bees (nûb) using my pick-up wherever I go in Wadi Daw‘an, where there is vegetation, where the rains have fallen, where there are plants. Winter honey is the best honey, of high quality, the most highly appreciated. But even now, in autumn, we bring the hives to the ‘ilb trees. Bees harvest this tree, they take the honey for ten days or so. The resulting honey is pure, good, excellent, but the blossom ends before the honeycombs are filled.

We bring up the bees ourselves. We capture wild swarms in the mountains and the rest we buy at the annual bee market along Wadi Daw‘an. Hives are made of mud, of clay. We buy them from people specialized in their construction. We buy the queen for 50 shillings (16) at ‘Amd, Qutn, Tarîm. The bees have a queen… we know now that we are dealing with a queen, the queen of the bees, however we continue to call her ‘father’ (ab). We call the worker bees her sons (‘iyâl ) or workers (shaghghâlîn). The queen is bigger than her sons and workers.

Our ancestors did the same work as us; they were professionals. It is an activity which has come down through time like an inheritance. Everyone in the country loves honey, even those outside Yemen. This is not only for its excellent taste, but also because it is useful; it is a succesful remedy to every disease, fîhi shifâ’ li-l-nâs (‘wherein there is healing for men’, Quran 16:69).

For us there is little danger from the stings (las‘a); we are used to them, they do not hurt. Even if I get stung a hundred times! There is no venom… We are very experienced. To extract the honey we use smoke. Burning a clean piece of cotton fabric close to the beehive we make smoke that forces the bees to come out and move away. Then we take off the cover and the comb is extracted with a knife. It is put into boxes or larger containers by hand. We do not use equipment; everything is done using our hands and some smoke. There are two ways of selling the honey: directly in honey combs (agrâs) or squashing them to make the honey pour out into a container.

In our tribe, most people work with bees and honey, perhaps ninety per cent of the men from a young age. Here in this tent we are all from the same family. Some are from the Ja’da tribe, but we stay together. There is no chief, we are all equals, we all have the same experience. The work is the same, the skills are the same.

I do not remember stories or poems about honey; however, a few lines from songs come to mind. But we all know the Sura of the Bee in the Quran, “and thy Lord revealed unto the bees, saying: ‘Take unto yourselves, of the mountains, houses, and of the trees…'” (Qur. 16:68-69). Arabs have kept bees for a long time, since the time of the Quran, God knows, perhaps even before the Prophet. Since the time of the Prophet honey was used as a remedy. Honey takes prime place in traditional Arab medicine. Once there were no doctors, hospitals, medicines. Honey cured vomit, toothache, and every type of disease.

We will stay in this area for forty days, then we will extract the honey and move camp going northwards, for three or four hours by car. When we see the right place, where rains have fallen, we stop. Rain falls in spring, a little in summer, and then in autumn; in winter there is not much rain and it is cold. There are five of us here in the tent. After ten to twenty days two of us return home, in shifts. Two others come to the tent, and take their place. There is no fatigue in this work, we only get tired when we move. We have to load the pick-up and then unload. In transit, everything has to be tied together well. We leave at night, after sunset. We travel, we unload, everything has to be finished before the light of dawn.

Some people have a hundred beehives, others two hundred. Sometimes the bees leave the hives and die. There are diseases and we are forced to burn the hives. We have no problems with other people. If we are all honest, there are no disputes. There is no need to ask for permission to set up in a place: we are all one people in this region. The best honey is the shatwî from Wadi ‘Amd, Wadi Daw‘an, Wadi ‘Ayn, Wadi Rakhya, and Wadi Jirdân. The honey from these five wadis is of the best quality. Honey is also collected from cultivated fields in Hadramawt, but it is of lower quality. We work both here and elsewhere, we move from place to place with God’s blessing, together with the bees, depending on the seasons…”

My name is Mubârak S. B., from the Nu‘mân tribe, whose territory is Wadi ‘Amd. I am a beekeeper (‘âmil nahl, murabbî nahl ). I move with the bees (nûb) using my pick-up wherever I go in Wadi Daw‘an, where there is vegetation, where the rains have fallen, where there are plants. Winter honey is the best honey, of high quality, the most highly appreciated. But even now, in autumn, we bring the hives to the ‘ilb trees. Bees harvest this tree, they take the honey for ten days or so. The resulting honey is pure, good, excellent, but the blossom ends before the honeycombs are filled.

We bring up the bees ourselves. We capture wild swarms in the mountains and the rest we buy at the annual bee market along Wadi Daw‘an. Hives are made of mud, of clay. We buy them from people specialized in their construction. We buy the queen for 50 shillings (16) at ‘Amd, Qutn, Tarîm. The bees have a queen… we know now that we are dealing with a queen, the queen of the bees, however we continue to call her ‘father’ (ab). We call the worker bees her sons (‘iyâl ) or workers (shaghghâlîn). The queen is bigger than her sons and workers.

Our ancestors did the same work as us; they were professionals. It is an activity which has come down through time like an inheritance. Everyone in the country loves honey, even those outside Yemen. This is not only for its excellent taste, but also because it is useful; it is a succesful remedy to every disease, fîhi shifâ’ li-l-nâs (‘wherein there is healing for men’, Quran 16:69).

For us there is little danger from the stings (las‘a); we are used to them, they do not hurt. Even if I get stung a hundred times! There is no venom… We are very experienced. To extract the honey we use smoke. Burning a clean piece of cotton fabric close to the beehive we make smoke that forces the bees to come out and move away. Then we take off the cover and the comb is extracted with a knife. It is put into boxes or larger containers by hand. We do not use equipment; everything is done using our hands and some smoke. There are two ways of selling the honey: directly in honey combs (agrâs) or squashing them to make the honey pour out into a container.

In our tribe, most people work with bees and honey, perhaps ninety per cent of the men from a young age. Here in this tent we are all from the same family. Some are from the Ja’da tribe, but we stay together. There is no chief, we are all equals, we all have the same experience. The work is the same, the skills are the same.

I do not remember stories or poems about honey; however, a few lines from songs come to mind. But we all know the Sura of the Bee in the Quran, “and thy Lord revealed unto the bees, saying: ‘Take unto yourselves, of the mountains, houses, and of the trees…'” (Qur. 16:68-69). Arabs have kept bees for a long time, since the time of the Quran, God knows, perhaps even before the Prophet. Since the time of the Prophet honey was used as a remedy. Honey takes prime place in traditional Arab medicine. Once there were no doctors, hospitals, medicines. Honey cured vomit, toothache, and every type of disease.

We will stay in this area for forty days, then we will extract the honey and move camp going northwards, for three or four hours by car. When we see the right place, where rains have fallen, we stop. Rain falls in spring, a little in summer, and then in autumn; in winter there is not much rain and it is cold. There are five of us here in the tent. After ten to twenty days two of us return home, in shifts. Two others come to the tent, and take their place. There is no fatigue in this work, we only get tired when we move. We have to load the pick-up and then unload. In transit, everything has to be tied together well. We leave at night, after sunset. We travel, we unload, everything has to be finished before the light of dawn.

Some people have a hundred beehives, others two hundred. Sometimes the bees leave the hives and die. There are diseases and we are forced to burn the hives. We have no problems with other people. If we are all honest, there are no disputes. There is no need to ask for permission to set up in a place: we are all one people in this region. The best honey is the shatwî from Wadi ‘Amd, Wadi Daw‘an, Wadi ‘Ayn, Wadi Rakhya, and Wadi Jirdân. The honey from these five wadis is of the best quality. Honey is also collected from cultivated fields in Hadramawt, but it is of lower quality. We work both here and elsewhere, we move from place to place with God’s blessing, together with the bees, depending on the seasons…”