Buffalo, Bees, & Human Beings in Africa

A  good memory from two African teachers who took the time one day to talk with me.  One was Masai, son of a clan of vigorous warriors who herd cattle in the grassland plains.   To earn manhood status they face lions and sometimes the fierce Cape Buffalo.

Traditionally Masai young men prove their courage by killing a lion.  But the teacher told me that when the Cape Buffalo stampede them the Masai lie belly down on the earth and let the buffalo pass over them.  They know that the buffalo horns sit on their heads in an  odd way that does not allow the buffalo to scrape up the man lying on his belly. So, the Masai men face the lions and outsmart the cape buffalo!

The other African teacher was from the Wakamba people.  Traditionally they lived in semi-arid lands, both herding and farming until the lands would grow worn down and then they would move to a different place. Now the game parks in Kenya have reduced their territory  and limited their movement. But, the craggy baobab trees still dominate the Wakamba lands.

Craggy Baobab Tree Painting

High up in those amazing baobab trees the Wakamba often have hollow tree- trunk bee hives.  They manage the fierce African bees, the bees that stampede in their own vicious way when disturbed!

Now my question to the Wakamba teacher: How do they harvest the honey without getting stung to death by the African bees?

“Ah….., ” he smiled with lights in his eyes.  “We go in the night, when all the bees are inside their hive so that we don’t get into their flight path. Then, one of our strong young men climbs up the baobab with a rope.  He ties it around the log-hive and lowers it to the ground.  Then, one of our young boys who is being trained to be a man, holds the smoker to keep the bees calm while an older, experienced man opens the hive and takes out the honey.  We have a secret: We do this work naked—so the bees won’t get trapped beneath any clothes and go into their alarm-attack mode.” He had lights in his eyes again.

Over the centuries the Masai and  Wakamba people who have figured out how to live with dangers in their lands, like the  buffalo and bees. I admire that knowledge.

Last thing.  I asked the Masai teacher: “What do you do when African bees swarm after you?”  Answer: “We run!”  Umm…lights in the Wakamba eyes again.

I’m glad that after I left Kenya and started working with the World Renew countries in Asia, that our team in Kenya introduced bee hives that remain on the ground and are easier for the bee keepers to work with….but, still I wonder what the rest of the story is!

Painting: African Men Talking

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