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

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