Friday, July 11, 2008

What is a 'Beemaster?'

A 'beemaster', we may reasonably suppose, is someone who has attained some degree of mastery over bees.

One on-line directory defines it simply as 'someone who keeps bees', which is like calling someone who can merely play chess a 'chess master'.

Aesop's Fable CLIV: The Bee Master

A thief came into a bee garden one day during the absense of the master, and robbed the hives. The owner soon after returned, and stood pausing, perplexed at how this theft had been effected. The bees, meantime, cam home, laden from the fields, and, missing their cobs, flew in angry swarms upon their master. "You are a company of senseless, ungrateful creatures," he said, "to let a stranger, who has rifled your hives, go away scathless, and to vent asll your rage on your master who is at this instant studying how he may repair your injuries and preserve you."

MORAL - People too often mistake their friends for their foes.

But where did this idea of 'mastery over bees' come from?

To me, it carries echoes of the passage in Genesis where man is given 'dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth'. This has been used ever since as an excuse to terrorize, exploit and wipe out a huge number of non-human species: the way things are going, the honeybee could be next in line for extinction.

The whole concept of 'mastery over bees' is absurd, as anyone who has kept them will surely testify.

If the term is to carry any meaning at all, it must indicate a certain level of skill in handling bees, and knowledge of their ways and habits.

Unfortunately, use of the term 'beemaster' more often indicates the owner of an inflated sense of self-importance, than it does the possessor of noteworthy skill. Those who call themselves 'beemasters' may be little more than self-promoters, keen to attract a crowd of admirers, but with little real substance.

So how do you tell a real beemaster from the fakes?

A real beemaster will never use the term for self-promotion: in fact, they will never call themselves a beemaster - or beemistress, even, because the one thing a real beemaster knows is that they know nothing. That is what bees really teach you: humility.

This creature, with a brain the size of a pinhead, can build its own home using only its own bodily secretions; feed itself and its brothers and sisters entirely on the products of wild flowers; store enough food to last it's yet-to-be-born kin through the coldest winter; navigate across miles of open countryside or townscape that it may only have seen once; communicate with the rest of the hive about the best sources of food; collect and deploy powerful, yet gentle and natural antiseptic medicines to fend off disease; and offer freely its own life in defence of its home and family.

The honeybee teaches humility: whether we are able to learn the lesson, is another matter.