Beekeepers in Fiji

A few more photos from Fiji. Norm and I are doing well and though we have only been here for a week it feels like a month. Must be the heat.

Pound for pound (or kilo for kilo) one could do worse than to marry a Fijian. From left to right, we have, beekeeper Waisea Navakabau, his mother-in-law, and his wife. Pleasant, smiling, and friendly. Waisea, age 55, a native of Nanukuloa, Saivou, Ra, has been keeping bees for about 12 years but sadly his level of expertise leaves a good deal to be desired. It is humbling to see a man such as himself working hard, but with no real assistance, association, books or information available, it is difficult for him to excel. We spent the hot morning with him in his apiary and combined weak hives, removed wax moth damaged frames, and showed him what we know about routine inspections during the dearth period (when there is no nectar flow, which is now in this part of Fiji). We hope to use him as a teacher-trainer in follow-up projects. His experience still makes him one of the better qualified beekeepers in the region.

This is the fellow from the other day, and I like this picture because it seems to me to come closer to capturing the intense sun and heat of the day. This was when we had to chop our way through the overgrowth to get to the hives. Very hard, hot work, not to mention having to wear the veils to keep the bees at bay. We have given all of the beekeepers whom we encounter (at the very least) new hive tools and leather gloves, since those are the two items we found from our research were the most lacking here (the beekeepers have been using rubber gloves, which are worse than useless once they are wet from sweat within and honey from without). The frame being held here has a great brood pattern, but there is not much honey and no pollen.

Waisea Navakabau (55) and Maikeli Ratu (28), both from Nanukuloa, in front of their shared apiary. The grass is kept at a decent level by the cows that share the field. This picture was taken after we had combined weak queenless hives with stronger hives (though sadly none of the hives could be described as strong).

Father and son Bees Without Borders men take a break from wearing their veils and pose for the camera while their new beekeeping friends continue to seek out wax moth evidence, search for signs of queens, and combine colonies to help them stave off wax moth damage and better survive the dearth.

Norm enjoys the coconut water. After a Sunday morning spent working bees, one of the beekeepers scampered straight up a tree and using the same sort of machete with which we had cleared bamboo and brush from some of the hives, he chopped with one hand, caught the falling coconut with the other, and then opened the beautiful seed (indeed, it is not a nut, not a fruit, but a seed, or so I have been informed) for us to drink. Then he chopped the shell some more so we could eat the white flesh within. Great stuff, thirst quenching, especially appreciated since we had forgotten our bottled water and did not feel comfortable to drink the village aqua. (It has become popular in at least the East Village of Manhattan to buy whole coconuts and drink them. If these Fijians knew that the hipsters in NYC were paying $3.50 a piece for them they would run a bamboo boatload of them there
in no time).

Sulu (yes, like Sulu from Star Trek, though she bears no resemblance to the gay Japanese American man who played her namesake) is a 59 year old Fijian who recently reclaimed her farm from a long term lease to an Indo-Fijian family*. She now shares the small farm house with some of her extended family, some animals, and about 30 beehives.

* Only Fijians may own land in Fiji, but there are about 300,000 Indo-Fijians, almost all of whom lease land from Fijians, sometimes for a century at a time. However, sometimes, when those leases expire, the Fijians do not wish to renew the lease, sending the Indo-Fijians elsewhere, often to the squalor of squatter camps around the major cities. Wikipedia says “…Indo-Fijians (38.1%), descendants of Indian contract laborers brought to the islands by the British in the nineteenth century. Most of these Indo-Fijians are or are descendants of Bhojpuri-speaking Biharis. The percentage of the population of Indian descent has declined significantly over the last two decades due to migration for various reasons. The Fiji coup of 2000 has provoked a violent backlash against the Indo-Fijians…”

A smattering of Sulu’s grandchildren.