He went to great depths to enlighten on the dangers posed by bees. He said bees were dangerous insects that should always be kept away from people and livestock. Of course, I already knew that bees, especially the worker bees, were nononsense insects that attacked intruders in earnest.
But Kimbo’s father had five hives lodged in musisi trees only a few metres from his compound. I very nearly mentioned this to my old man but the leer in his eyes warned me against any clever retort. Children are not expected to challenge the reasoning of their parents.
I told Kimbo, a friend and age mate of mine, that my father sees beehives as dangerous objects that should be kept a discreet distance away from homes. Kimbo gave me a hard stare and then said; “I have seen bees living in a pot right inside the house without harm to anyone.”
He was right. His uncle, Magoto, kept a huge cluster of bees in an old cupboard close to his bed and his brother, Marwa enjoyed the company of nesting bees that lived in a large pot a few paces from his bed. Kimbo said bees remain friendly until you provoke them. I remained skeptical.
My father was in a friendly mood the following evening, so as I poked the fire with a splinter of wood to stoke it, I told him that I had seen a cluster of bees in Magoto’s house. “I know,” he said. “Magoto keeps a lot of bees in his house. But those are bewitched bees,” he said.
“They are a bequest from his own father who was a dreaded oracle and miracle maker,” my old man said as he swatted a firefly that strayed into his face. “Never borrow a leaf from the world of miracle makers. It is a dangerous, uncanny world. It is a mad world,” he said.
My father warned me against telling anyone what he had revealed to me. “These people live in an underworld of intrigue and wouldn’t want to share their knowledge with anyone from the more rational world,” he said. “Many of them are dangerous characters.” Two moons elapsed without incident but I kept watching the beehives that Kimbo’s father had placed in the crotches of musisi trees.
Worker bees kept shunting in more and more nectar although the honey-harvesting season was round the corner. Worker bees become highly dangerous at this time. It is their duty to defend the colony. Children are advised to stay away from hives at this time.
However, I knew that bees were completely harmless and incapable of flight when it is bitterly cold. My mind wandered back to the day I conquered a very dangerous snake - a puff adder. Kimbo and I were out to harvest honey from a hive that we had seen in the forest. It had rained in sheets the previous night. The morning was bitterly cold, an ideal condition for harvesting honey. We arrived at the foot the massive morogwe tree in the canopy of which the hive was.
I climbed the tree with difficulty but finally reached the crotch in which the hive lodged. I slipped my right hand into a soft but tough cowhide glove that stretched to the elbow. Kimbo watched me from the foot of the tree shouting instructions in didn’t need. The hive was full of bees. The insects were so cold that they could hardly walk. They were completely incapable of flight.
But I knew they could sting. They glared at me angrily but hardly did anything to repel me. I sunk my gloved hand into the mass of bees and scooped them out. They fell to the ground helplessly. I dug deep into the hive scooping out clusters of desperate bees. I finally reached the honeycombs.
I brought out a couple of the combs and studied them in utter amazement. The combs were a thrilling work of art. All cells were astoundingly identical hexagons that, incredibly, were made by insects without calibrated mathematical tools. I was, however, baffled by the crude hole in the lower half of the combs. Obviously, the bees could not have made the hole. I extracted more combs from the hive.
Each bore the hole that kept increasing in size. I knew bees as vicious insects that could not have invited any other creature to venture into the hive - or so I thought. I finally caught a stiff object. I hauled it out thinking it was a mass of combs. Alas! It was a puff Adder. It had never crossed my mind that bees can host a reptile that big. I held it tightly as it struggled vigorously, flicking its jet-black forked tongue in and out.
The reptile was a menacing sight but I did not lose my head. My old man had told me to remain calm in the face of danger. “Be brave in the face of a life threatening situation. Some people wind up in graves because of fright. Fight back bravely and always aim to defeat your enemy.”
That was the advice from my old man. The reptile wriggled out of the hive and coiled menacingly around my right hand. It even threw several tail-end coils around my neck. I told Kimbo that I had captured a snake and that I was climbing down to the ground with it. “Get ready to crush its head with a rungu,” I told him.
Kimbo clucked like an old hen in disbelief as I set foot on the ground but he managed to pound the reptile’s head to pulp. My father was over the moon in delight when I showed him the snake and narrated my ordeal to him later that evening. He gave me gift, a cow, for marshalling survival skills to the fullest.
Two years rolled by before another bee tragedy struck. I was leading my father’s cattle to a watering hole when I saw Kimbo, his father and mother running like maniacs. Kimbo headed for the lake. His mother sprinted towards the forest and his father cantered towards Isarwa hills. They all vanished behind the shrubbery.
I later learned that a housecat that belonged to Kimbo had taken led into the compound a large swarm of bees that it had disturbed. The bees pursued the cat into the compound went on to sting people in the compound. The cat dived into a pot and saved its bacon. Once again, my father’s advice rang back in my mind: “Bees are dangerous insects that should always be kept away from people and livestock.” Good grief! Kimbo’s father, who kept beehives near his compound, must have learned his lesson.