Ah Mulcen the Maya honey god holding glyph that can be interpreted as Honey, Bee, or Earth
The modern day Maya believe in the Laws of Nature that have been passed on to them from their ancestors. They know they must ask permission from the gods every time they take something from Earth, and that appropriate thanks must be given afterwards.
Gifts from the earth are considered sacred, and so the harvest of honey involves spiritual ceremonies and rites. For example, in order to ensure a good honey harvest, el x’men (the shaman) performs a ceremony to Ah Mulcen – the god of honey, and as soon as the first honey is collected he takes a small portion, to be used later in a celebration of thanks offered to the four bacabes – the guardians of the countryside.
A Maya codex, the TRO CORTESIANO, contains dozens of representations of bees, their hives and the symbol caban, which can mean either earth or honey. On the pages of the codex, we see repeated figures of Ah Mulcen, the god of honey, and Yuum Kaax, the Maya corn god, performing tasks related to apiculture.
Four bees from TRO CORTESIANO Codex
For example, on one page we can see four containers used for collecting honey – each represents a season of the year. In another place we see the gods protecting a palapa and the jobones or corchos – the hollowed-out dry logs where the bee hives are kept.
Many chronicles from the XVI Century, written by such historians as Cristóbal de San Martín from Cansahcab, Iñigo Nieto from Citilcum, Hernando de Bracamonte from Tekit, and Juan de Magaña from Sotuta, make reference to the melipona bees and the high quality wax and honey they produce. They also speak of Balché, a ceremonial drink made from honey and the fermented bark from the balché tree.
Diego de Landa makes many references to honey production and the preparation of Balché that was used during Maya ceremonies throughout the year. He also describes rites performed by the elders during the Maya months of Tzec and Mol (October and part of December)
Smoking out the bees in order to harvest honey
Giovanni Francesco Mayoli, an Italian doctor who lived in Valladolid during the XVIII Century wrote a manual about the traditional medicine practiced by the Maya. He also observed that the Maya society was a collective organization – like a bee hive. Each individual is a worker bee who labors for the common good. The queen is the ruler, the instructor, and is charged with the responsibility of keeping the hive healthy and productive. She is assisted by the hive’s guardian bee, the Balamil cab, who watches the entrance and keeps hostile insects away.
In Yucatan, despite the hot humid climate, approximately 2,500 species of plant life thrive. All of them depend on the bees to pollinate and promote genetic diversity.
La melipona is an internationally recognized symbol of Yucatan. The bees’ main enemies are fires set to clear fields for planting corn, cutting of trees, hurricanes and drought. Since the 1950s the honey producers have received government subsidies, but without responsible building, forestry, farming and livestock grazing policies, the bees face increasingly aggressive adversity that will be difficult to overcome.
And we must remember that the unique ecosystem found in our peninsula cannot ever be replaced if it is lost