The Dreaming

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Bees and Honey

Australian Native Beehive

Although the native bee is no bigger than a fly, it is an important provider of honey. Once the nest is found the sugar bag is eagerly devoured—wax, honey, pupae, dead bees, ants and all. The stick which is used to pry the sugar bag from the tree is thrown in the fire, and by this simple act the spirits of the bees return to the heavens, the Paradise of the Spirits, where they stay until Mayra, the wind of spring, breathes life into the flowers again. Then the bees return to the Paradise of Earth and gather honey to fill the bellies of mankind.

Bees do not think that they were created simply to provide food for men and women. Their busy lives are devoted to gathering honey and storing it up for the next generation, and therefore their nests are well hidden amongst the branches and in the hollow trunks of trees. Aboriginal people have several methods of discovering where the nests are hidden, but perhaps the most ingenious is the way that was first discovered by the brothers Naberayingamma.

These two Numerji men lived a long time ago. They were bearded giants who went on a long walkabout through the land. They had never seen bees until they came to a bloodwood tree where the little creatures were busily engaged in their work.

'Here is a wonderful thing,' the younger brother said. 'The insects are scooping honey out of the flowers and flying away with it. I wonder where they are taking it.'

'We will soon find out', the elder brother said. 'I will show you how to discover their nest. When we find it there will be plenty of honey for both of us. Go and cut a forked stick and bring it to me.

'The younger brother had learnt to trust his brother's sagacity. While he was looking for a suitable branch, the other found a leaf which contained the cocoon of a spider. He teased out the web, and when his brother returned with the stick, he used it to climb up into the branches of the bloodwood tree.

'I am going to put bits of the web on the bees,' he called out to his brother. 'You will be able to see them clearly now. Watch where they go.

'For some time he was busy attaching tiny fragments of spider web to the bees he managed to catch.

Presently his brother came running back.

'I have found it,' he shouted. 'They fly into a hollow tree down there. That's where the nest must be.

'The elder Naberayingamma climbed down, and together the brothers went to the hollow tree. They broke the bark with their clubs, chopped out the honey bag, and ate it greedily.

From their discovery the Aborigines learned the art of attaching a tiny white scrap of web or some other easily distinguishable piece of material to the honey bees to guide them to their nests.

A.W. Reed, Aboriginal Fables & Legendary Tales (Aboriginal Library)


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