All over the planet, the humble honeybee busies itself with a singular purpose – perpetuation of the hive. Highly organized work-forces operate together with seamless efficiency collecting pollen and nectar to create honey. This honey sustains the colony, and most importantly feeds the omnipotent queen and her offspring, throughout the year, especially in the cold dark months of the flowerless winter.
At the same time, all over the planet, many human beings are also on a mission to hunt for bees, harness or host their hives and gather the honey for their own uses; be that culinary, medicinal or cosmetic.
The honey hunter-gatherer’s quest varies from harvesting honey from naturally occurring to purpose built hives, in all sorts of environments; from cliffs to deltas, gardens to abbeys, large-scale bee-‘farms’ to singular hives dotted over a cityscape. All over the planet, one man, Eric Tourneret, has travelled, dedicating his career as a photojournalist to discovering the types and traditions of beekeeping, honey hunting and honey gathering; taking images of bees and their keepers – their hunter-gatherers in different societies and subcultures, some of which are increasingly threatened by the creep and crush of globalization.
Stingless Bees in Mexico
Stingless bees are native to equatorial zones of Australia, Africa and the Americas, building their hives in hollow tree trunks. However, they can also be found in earthenware pots, as well as trunks, by the walls of houses occupied by the coffee-making Nahuat and Totonac families in Puebla on the foothills of the Sierra Madre, Mexico. This community is The Tosepan Titataniske (United, We Conquer) cooperative, made up of nearly 6,000 families regrouped to market Fairtrade coffee. As well as the coffee cultivation, the bees are managed, literally next-door to the houses – continuing the tradition, which historically was undertaken by the women in the pre-Hispanic era. This idyllic set-up, however, is under threat. The stingless bees are being affected by the pesticides used within the surrounding mono-cultural farmlands, and by the stronger African bees.
Bee-Keeping in France
Domestication of the bees, beginning, we think in the Middle East, has progressed through human civilization to more familiar apiculture, as it is practiced in France: monolithic-looking chestnut trunk and slate hives (bruscs) can still be found in Cevennes; farmers in rural Provence use traditional transhumance transportation – donkeys; and resourceful use of local oak, straw and dung to make hives can still be found (just) in the Basque-lands.
Urban Beekeeping – London, Paris and New York
Big cities may be the surprise saviors in the plight of the bee under threat from loss of habitat and chemical-induced starvation. With an increasingly monochrome mono-cultural countryside, devoid of patchwork diversity, and bathed in an invisible haze of agricultural chemicals, cities may unexpectedly offer a better-balanced and purer environment for the bees. Environmentalists have been repeatedly stressing in recent years that a balance between mankind and nature must be restored. It may be the tiny humble bee, reintroduced and flourishing within the city, man’s archetypal artificial creation, that is the first step on the long road to restoring this vital balance.
In London, the mayor, Boris Johnson, previously stressing the importance of the humble bee in food production and as “a reliable barometer for measuring the health of our natural environment” initiated a competition, funded by the government, to set up 2012 gardens (to mark the 2012 London Olympics year) and 50 apiaries, as well as beekeeping training courses. Londoners were also encouraged to grow melliferous plants (those that can be harvested by domesticated honey bees) and not just random flowers, fruit and vegetables, using the least chemical products possible, to encourage responsible apiculture and make London a bee friendly city.
New York City
In New York City, in a similar time scale, 2008, the New York City Beekeeper’s Association was set up, forming a group of like-minded bee-minded people, from established apiarists to absolute beginners. Another highly unlikely environment, proving highly successful in the promotion, management and sustainability of these vital little insects.
In Paris, there are more than 300 hives thriving on the roofs and gardens, as the city is reasonably pesticide-free and provides a variety of blossom. Like Londoners, the Parisians have also become keen apiarists. The Parisian beekeepers may well be contributing to the salvation of the bees; as opposed to an average of 10 to 20 kilos for hives in the fields of rural areas, the city hives can produce up to 100 kilos of honey per year.
All photos by Éric Tourneret.
Excerpted from a longer piece by Jenny Jones: http://www.merchantandmakers.com/honey-gathering-eric-tourneret/
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