Vamba, ‘King of the Bees’

Vamba, ‘King of the Bees’

July 21, 2023

Vamba 'King of the Bees': From Honey Hunter to Beekeeper

In the remote Barri Chiefdom of Sierra Leone, nestled on the fringes of the Gola Rainforest, lives a remarkable man known as the ‘King of the Bees’. His real name is Vamba, a honey hunter turned passionate beekeeper. The Barri Chiefdom is on the edge of the Gola rainforest, the largest remnants of Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest left in Sierra Leone. Covering approximately 1,070 square miles across the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia, Gola Rainforest is a hotspot of biodiversity and endemic species and provides habitat for species like the Western chimpanzee and pygmy hippopotamus.

Honey Hunting: A Risky Tradition

Honey hunting is an ancient practice as evidenced by cave paintings such as those found in Cueva de la Arana near Valencia, Spain, dating back to around 6,000 BC. In Sierra Leone and other countries, the tradition of honey hunting involves climbing tall trees or cutting them down, followed by the use of smoke to drive out the bee colonies. This process carries significant risks, including fires, injuries, and the destruction of bee colonies. The honey harvested from such methods tends to be of poor quality, filled with dead bees and burnt matter.

Image: Drawing of a painting from the caves of Cueva de la Araña. The “Man of Bicorp” holding onto lianas to gather honey from a beehive as depicted on an 8000-year-old cave painting near Valencia, Spain. Credit: Achillea, GPL, via Wikimedia Commons

Drawn of a painting from the caves of Cueva de la Araña

Redirecting Vamba's Passion for Bees

The Barri Chiefdom reached out to Bees Abroad for support and when the training was delivered Vamba was one of the individuals who enthusiastically attended. From the very beginning, Vamba demonstrated a keen interest in bees and bee farming. He eagerly embraced the techniques of beekeeping, finding it easier, safer, and more reliable than honey hunting. As Vamba honed his skills, he not only established thriving beehives but also became a vocal advocate for the benefits of beekeeping in his community.

Vamba’s transition to beekeeping not only transformed his life but also improved the livelihoods of his family. Supporting his wife, four children, and his own mother, beekeeping provided a stable and sustainable income. With the support of Bees Abroad, Vamba is now a trainer and ambassador for beekeeping; he visits neighbouring villages to share his knowledge and passion.

Protecting trees and pollinators

Vamba’s story is not just a personal success; it has become an important component of protecting the Gola Rainforest and its invaluable pollinators. By shifting from destructive honey hunting to sustainable beekeeping, Vamba and others like him have contributed to safeguarding the ecosystem. Recognizing the importance of bees, the chief of Vamba’s village, who also attended the training, has decreed that anyone harming bees will be held accountable in the village court. 

 Vamba’s journey from honey hunter to ‘King of the Bees’ stands as a testament to the power of education, passion, and sustainable practices.  

Path in Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone

Follow along and join in with your own beeswax stories in the comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

The Bee and The Bean

The Bee and The Bean

1st May, 2023

Striving for food security after much instability

Our Green Story continues with The Bee and The Beans. For this story we buzz across to West Africa, to a project in Sierra Leone involving 50 small villages on the Gola Rainforest fringes. This is an area that is recovering from a civil war, an epidemic (Ebola), a pandemic (COVID) and is battling with food security. This is a story about working to enable resilient communities to improve community welfare and livelihood, and support the environment.

The civil war in Sierra Leone lasted over a decade (1991-2002) and has lasting effects still felt today, not least the many people killed or permanently disabled through the conflict. The effects have been devastating to their livelihood, and together with our partner, Rory’s Well, the locals have taken up training on sustainable farming and beekeeping, which go hand in hand. This brings us to the beans… 

Beans glorious beans

One of the main inputs to industrial farming is fertilizers which deliver nitrogen to crops helping them to grow faster and stronger, but this practice has been linked to reduced soil quality and local water pollution. Not only that, but it’s also an additional costly input.

Beans are nitrogen fixers; they naturally take nitrogen from the air and make it bio-available in the soil. Beans are generous plants, the nitrogen they fix is made available to other nearby plants. The sustainable farming practices in this project include inter-cropping beans with other crops such as maize. This practice not only naturally increases yield up to six times in low nitrogen soils but helps stabilise soils and provides forage for pollinators, which brings us to the bees…

The Bee and The Bean!

Bees love the flowers of bean plants. The honeybees at these farms in have a ready supply of forage in the fields from the flowers of jackbeans, pigeon peas and cowpeas, and other legume varieties which are primarily pollinated by bees. The healthy, nitrogen-fixing beans in turn help other crops, but there’s also evidence that bees can help maize crops directly.

Healthy beans further help crops but there’s also evidence that bees can also help maize crops directly. Maize is a wind pollinated crop but when the bees go into the fields, they visit both the bean flowers and collect pollen from the maize, as they rummage around on the maize tassels, they release more pollen onto the wind.

Through their pollination service, bees help increase crop yields and hence help plants produce more produce. This is crucial to sustenance farmers as it is vital to securing their family’s meals. Similarly, should any farmers sell their produce, a higher crop yield will help with an increase in income and therefore a better livelihood.

A piece of the puzzle

This sustainable farming and beekeeping projects are on the fringes of Gola Rainforest National Park, the largest remaining remnant of the Upper Guinean Tropical Rainforest. 

Projects like this can help farmers naturally increase their yield and make additional income through honey and wax products, reducing the need to expand into the forest. The communities bee’s also venture into the forest to pollinate wildflowers and trees that in turn help the growth and enrichment of the Gola rainforest. 

Talking of the forest, that’s where we’ll be going next on the Green Story. Join us next time for the story of The Bee and The Tree. 

Next week, The Bee and The Tree. Stay tuned by following us on social media or signing up to our newsletter. Missed last weeks story of The Elephant and The Bee? You can read it here.

Follow along and join in with your own green themed bee stories in the comments on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!