Melipona bees are stingless bees native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and many parts of South America. Long before the arrival of Europeans in the Americas, the indigenous Mayan people domesticated these bees. Today that ancient beekeeping tradition known as Meliponiculture is experiencing a significant revival in small Zapatista communities throughout Chiapas, Mexico.
Meliponas are deeply woven both into the natural world and cultural life of the Americas. On one hand, they are far better pollinators than European bees for many native plant species such as tomatoes, chiles, vanilla, bromeliads and orchids, rainforest trees, vines, perennials and annuals. Equally important, the honey and waxes produced by these bees are important in traditional medicine and cultural practices of the indigenous Maya. “My grandmother always kept her (hollow) log with stingless bees near the kitchen,” reminisced one Zapatista leader. “She gave us the honey whenever we got a sore throat or just to sweeten our tortillas in the morning.”
Unfortunately, Melipona populations are being threatened by extensive deforestation, the massive use of agricultural chemicals, the increasing power of tropical storms, and the large-scale commercialization of plants they pollinate, such as avocado, tomato, mahogany, chile and cacao. Schools for Chiapas is honored to be working alongside Zapatista educators, students, ecology promoters and communities to save the Melipona bee and deepen Mayan traditions in Chiapas.