by Dr Dawn Gould

06 / Honey Bees: their past and present importance.

Bee Keepers have, over a long period, been part of the culture of maintaining bees and their hives. Just imagine what would happen if there were no bees to pollinate all the growth upon which humans depend. Already it has become necessary for bee keepers to move their private hives to areas needing the attention of the bees. South Africa has two indigenous sub species of honey bees: Apis mellifere capensis (Cape bee) and Apis mellifere scutellate (African bee).

Honey Bees

The study of archaeology has helped the world to understand how changes in plant species have taken place over time – this by the pollen that been left in the soil. Further information comes from the study of history. Travellers wrote of their observations of bees as well as the interaction between people and bees. The Khoisan who once lived in the Outeniqua area – George/Oudtshoorn, Western Cape Province – were great collectors of honey and at times would use it as a means to trade with the Xhosa living more towards the Eastern Cape. Fermented honey, as a drink, was also well known among the clans. In the Baviaanskloof, approximately between Patentsie and Willowmore, Eastern Cape Province, there are rock paintings of beehives and swarms of bees.

Language too reflects the bees imprint on words. Melissa, that lovely female name, has its origin in the Greek language for a honey bee, while a further female name Deborah translates from the Hebrew word meaning “stinging bee”. This last sentence once more suggests the long association mankind has had with bees. What comes to mind when the word bee is mentioned, honey, a sting? That is a fact but think of all the sayings alluding to bees. They are symbols of industry ”as busy as a bee”, education “spelling bee”, a spelling test, “ the bees knees” refers to something that is extremely good, “to have a bee in your bonnet” suggests someone who talks about something over and over again to make it seem important.

In literature the poet Sylvia Plath wrote five Bee Poems, William Shakespeare mentions bees in Henry V Act 2 scene 1, Victor Hugo wrote The Imperial Cloak a pamphlet against Napoleon who had his cloak embroidered with bees, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled The Bee Boys song.

One has to admit that bees are important to human beings. ImagineMag! has a bee box and has had great epicurean delight from the taste of their own fresh honey.