Driving through Ethiopia’s western highlands, we pass Asgory town; the name means “come here.” We see bright yellow Zander bee hives on the roadside for sale. A small woman walks down the road carrying a Zander slung on her back in a blanket. My host, Guta, driver, Jotte, and I stop briefly for coffee and bread in Ambo, a town known for its highly independent citizens. We continue driving. A large wild bee flies into our truck, striking both Jotte and me in the face, but not stinging either of us. The bee, twice the size of a honey bee worker and considerably larger than a drone is colored half black and half orange. We stop for me to get a close-up view of traditional bee hives hanging from limbs of a tree next to a niger seed field. Niger, Guizotia abyssinica, a seed grown for cooking oil, is native to Ethiopia’s western highlands. The niger plant requires fertilization by honey bees to produce the seed which is exported to the United States as bird food for finches.
We arrive at the farm of beekeeper, Teshome, who proudly shows me his bee hives. The thatch-covered structure in today’s photo holds traditional hives, long cylinders of cane and banana leaves. Traditional hives are often hung high in trees, but they are also mounted on the walls of houses under the roof eaves and inside houses under beds. Trapezoid-shaped transitional hives, or top bar hives, are constructed of cane covered with mud and dung. Other hives are clay pots similar to water jugs. Elsewhere, Teshome shows me transitional bee hives mounted in trees and modern Zander hives mounted on poles. To protect the hives from ants, Ethiopia’s greatest bee hive pest, the hive stands are painted with burned engine oil. Teshome and other highland beekeepers also harvest medicinal honey from underground stingless bees. Guard bees from the traditional hive on the upper right back me away from their hive entrance.