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Mayan Beans

Jim Boxberger
Posted 2/17/23

In case you missed me the last week or two, I was away taking a little time off before the busy season to get some rest and relaxation. During that time, my wife, Vicki and I went to Cozemel, Mexico. …

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Mayan Beans


In case you missed me the last week or two, I was away taking a little time off before the busy season to get some rest and relaxation. During that time, my wife, Vicki and I went to Cozemel, Mexico. Cozemel is a small island off the coast of Mexico approximately thirty-two miles long by twelve miles wide. We had been there before some twenty five years ago as a stop on a cruise, but didn't take in much of the local flavor. This time while there, we took a very educational tour that introduced us to Mayan culture, including bees, chocolate and tequila. Our guide was of Mayan descent and explained to us many of the customs and traditions of the Mayan people, which are still alive and well in Mexico and other parts of Central America. 

The first question on the list was why the Mayan calendar ended in 2012. Well it didn't, even though to the rest of the world it looked like it did. That is because European explorers didn't know how to read the calendar properly. The Mayan calendar consists of five wheels that would get turned based on the phase of the moon and sun. 

Mayan astronomers had a vast knowledge of the sky and Mayan kings used this knowledge to maintain power. Imagine the beginning of a solar eclipse and panic would ensue, then the king would make a sacrifice to gain favor again with the gods and moments later the sun would reappear. It would make that king seem very powerful, when in reality he knew from his personal astronomer exactly when that eclipse would occur. Mayan astronomers could watch the sun directly during the day, with lenses made of obsidian that would block out all harmful rays and made looking at the sun during the day no different than looking at a full moon at night. We got the chance to see this first hand while there and it is quite impressive. 

Back to the Mayan calendar, to make a long story short, that date in 2012 when the world was suppose to end was just the end of a Mayan millenium and the start of another. Think of it as a Mayan Y2K. There is much about the Mayan culture that has been lost due to the fact that Spanish explorers burned most of the Mayan writings and books when they sacked the ruins of the Mayan civilization looking for gold and riches. 

Only five Mayan codexes (books) are known to exist in the world and all are in Europe. The Mayan language is still spoken, but the knowledge to read or write the language has been lost, according to our guide. 

The next part of our tour took us to a bee sanctuary where a small, stingerless bee is producing an amazing honey. The Melipona bee, is a rare bee that has been widely overlooked by many outside of the Mayan culture. Unlike European bees, which are the type that we have here in our area, which can be raised in commercial hives, Melipona bees prefer to make their hives in dead logs, which make commercial applications of their hives almost imposible. Almost. 

Most Mayan families will have between five to twelve Melipona beehives in their backyard to produce enough honey for their family for a year. Any excess would get sold off or traded to other families. A typical Melipona beehive will produce one liter of honey a year and it must bee extracted by the use of a syringe. The honey is not like our honey, although it is still sweet, it has a citrus taste to it and it is much thinner (liquidy). 

Melipona honey is not used as a sweetener, it is a medication. Melipona honey is used to treat cataracts in the eyes and in the cleansing and healing of wounds. That is why it is so important to the Mayans, but why is it important to us? Do you like vanilla? Where does vanilla come from? Of course it comes from vanilla beans, but where do the beans come from? No it is not a vanilla tree or bush. Vanilla come from an orchid and the Melipona bee is the only bee that can pollinate the flower of the vanilla orchid. 

When European explorers first brought vanilla back from the new world they wanted to grow it in similar climates along the mediterranean sea, but although the orchids would grow and bloom, no beans would form. In 1836, a scientist went to study the vanilla orchid in central America and found that only the Melipona bee had the knowledge of how to pollinate the flower. There is a trapdoor in the flower that the bee must raise to get to the pollen inside and once the scientist had this knowledge he was able to go back to Europe and artificially pollinate their vanilla orchids. Next week will be the chocolate portion of our tour with a visit to the Mayan Chocolate Company.


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