Histories of Honey: Material Practices of Beekeeping in the Cherangani Hills, Kenya

By Nik Petek-Sargeant | 15 October 2019

This project aims to document the dwindling practice of beekeeping amongst the Sengwer communities living in the Embobut Forest, western Kenya, in order to comprehend how it has been integral to the structuring of indigenous life ways and local forms of traditional ecological knowledge. Such research is particularly important given recent reports of the depletion of honey production across Kenya due a complex array of factors. In Embobut, this decline has been influenced by the spread of agriculture over the course of the twentieth century, resulting in a depletion of forest vegetation and a coterminous decrease in beekeeping, with individuals instead choosing to invest time and resources into activities orientated around cultivation. The reduction of apiculture has been further exasperated by repeated attempts to forcefully evict local communities from the highland forests as a part of the Kenya Forest Service’s conservation policy. Thus, the ability for elders to continue beekeeping and pass down inherited forms of practice and knowledge has become increasingly difficult. In this vein, I intend to document historical practices of honey production amongst the Sengwer by collecting oral histories and videoing and photographing contemporary practices. This will include recording the construction of beehives and honey pots as well as investigating local forms of ecological knowledge. When situated against archival work of historical apiculture in East Africa, this research will contribute more broadly to a reimagining of the diversity and fluidity of indigenous lifeways between foragers, herders and farmers.

PI: Samuel Lunn-Rockliffe, University of Oxford in the UK
Collaborators: Timothy Kipkeu Kiprutto, Joseph Kimutai