Mandaçaia is an indigenous word that means "beautiful guard,” because if you look in the entrance to the hive there is always a bee there, on guard duty. Melipona quadrifasciata quadrifasciata is a Brazilian social bee, with a black head and thorax, an abdomen with yellow stripes that are wider than in other subspecies, and rust-colored wings. It is also known as amanaçaí, amanaçaia, manaçaia and mandaçaia-grande. These bees measure between 10 and 11 millimeters in length and make their hives in hollow trees. The entrance to the hive is made from geopropolis, a mixture of mud with resins extracted from plants. The honey is liquid due to the high moisture content, which means it has to be stored in a refrigerator to prevent it from fermenting.
Honey from mandaçaia bees is produced sporadically in some local communities of the São Francisco area, in the semi-arid region of Bahia, for their own consumption or as an additional source of income. This activity is carried out by women in particular, occasionally also in urban areas. In the municipality of Remanso, a women’s network includes 12 honey producer groups, with 380 women from Remanso and another producer in Juazeiro. In a good blooming season each hive of mandaçaia bees can produce 1 to 1.5 liters of honey per year, which is used both as honey and also as medicine to treat flu, coughs and breathing problems. Melipona mandacaia honey is currently produced for consumption at home and/or sold to order.
With the expansion of agriculture and the use of insecticides on fruit crops in the same areas as this honey is produced, the available areas for natural bee nesting have become increasingly scarce. Droughts in the 2010s have seriously affected local biodiversity and, consequently, honey production. Another factor that is bringing about the extinction of bees native to the Caatinga has been the practice of destroying hives just to consume the honey, by meleiros. This is the name given to people who are only interested in honey as a product and who do not use sustainable practices and techniques to harvest the honey. Furthermore, the umburana, a tree used by the mandaçaia for nesting, is much sought-after in the region for timber, for artisanal use, for use in St. John’s bonfires and, recently, even for making hives for stingless bees. This plant species is at risk of extinction in several areas of the semi-arid region of Bahia.Back to the archive >