Akamba Acacia Honey

Ark of taste
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Uki wa Nzuki wa Kithiia

Uki wa nzuki wa kithiia is a special kind of honey among the Akamba people preferably in Makueni County. The Akamba are a bantu speaking group, they live in the semi-arid formerly Eastern Province of Kenya, stretching east from Nairobi to Tsavo, and north up to Embu. This land is called Ukambani and is constituted of the Makueni, Kitui and Machakos counties.

Akamba were originally hunters and gatherers, and became long distance traders because of their knowledge of the expansive area they inhabited, their good relations with neighbouring communities as well as excellent communication skills. It is only later that they adopted subsistence farming, pastoralism and bee keeping as a way of life, due to the availability of the new lands that they came to occupy.

Honey bees source nectar from different acacia trees, sisal and maize plant among others. The Akamba people believe that Acacia mellifera honey is always the best and is their favourite, though rare. Acacia mellifera is a tall rounded shrub, reaching occasionally 9 m in height, whose branches are covered with very sharp curved thorns. The Akamba community has this proverb that clearly describes the tree: kithiia kyumanasya nthi na miw’a ya kyo’ (the direct English translation is “A.mellifera plant sprouts from the ground with its thorns”) meaning, “bravery starts from a very young age.”

Acacia mellifera honey is known to be almost transparent and viscous but once it crystallizes, it becomes white or pale yellow (the color is believed to originate from the creamy white flowers of the Acacia mellifera). This honey is known to crystallize slowly due to a high amount of fructose. Honey from Acacia mellifera white flowers is available in the dry seasons around January to March, September to December.

Among the Akamba, honey is also a crucial component in the gifts exchanges by families for a wedding, which could not be substituted with cash. It is also used to preserve meat, making local brew locally known as kaluvu (in other areas in Ukambani is called kimee), to treat hoof and mouth disease in cattle. The wax is thrown away and the brood (eggs, larvae and pupa) eaten by men because it is believed to improve libido.

Beekeeping knowledge has been passed on from generation to generation, and some family lineages are named after their beekeeping practices. Traditional hives are generally made from mature, hardwood trees and are known to withstand hot tropical temperatures and rains for twenty years or more. The log is hollowed out and made a “good” thickness to insulate the hive during hot dry season. Propolis resin is used as bait to attract swarm.

A number of factors have contributed to loss of traditional knowledge and practices of beekeeping. One is Christianity: Christian missionaries deemed the customs of brewing beer from honey and using honey to pay the bride price unacceptable. For this reasons, the Kenyans who converted to Christianity align to this opinion. Deforestation is yet another factor; because people are cutting trees in an unsustainable way to burn charcoal. This has reduced the number of Acacia mellifera trees (that is known to have a slow growth) making it rare and thus even more rare to find this kind of honey.

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Production area:Makueni

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Indigenous community:Akamba
Nominated by:Priscilla Nzamalu