x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A brief look at Ali Al Dhahani, a beekeeper from Dibba

Ali al Dhanhani, manufacturer of local honey from Fujairah. Ravindranath K / The National
Ali al Dhanhani, manufacturer of local honey from Fujairah. Ravindranath K / The National

Ali Al Dhahani is a self-proclaimed guardian of the bees. Honey is his sole source of income, but his relationship with the insects is much more than financial.

“I play with these bees like I play with my children,” says Al Dhahani. “It’s not just for work. The bees themselves, they make a song. When the queen comes they dance and they make their music.”

Al Dhahani, 38, established an informal bee sanctuary in the Muhlab area of the Dibba Mountains in the 1980s when he noticed their numbers dwindling. “It’s not government-run but they support what I do,” he says. “It’s known that it’s the only bee sanctuary.”

During honey season in April, June and October, he rises at dawn in search of honeycomb guarded by swarming bees who build nests on the edge of cliffs.

In addition to the 400 indigenous nests that he cares for, Al Dhahani keeps between 3,000 to 4,000 imported bees.

Natural honey costs from Dh1,000 per kilogram and so it is with good reason that he is so fiercely protective of his bees. Nests are marked to show family ownership, and he has taken people to court. At least one man was jailed for taking his honey.

Al Dhahani sells honey from home and at exhibitions. Sweet tooths across the Gulf order his samr and sidr tree honey, which some use to treat ailments.

It is perilous work and not unheard of for elders to need helicopter evacuation after falling on a honey hunt. “Then there’s the heat, dehydration, snakes, scorpions,” he says. “It’s very difficult work, but it’s our heritage and we want to preserve it.”

To ensure this, he always puts bee eggs between rocks so nests can regrow after honeycomb extraction.

He attributes the decline of bee populations to a decrease in rainfall and is reluctant to comment on the effect of crushers that work into the mountains where the bees live. “We need schools and houses so we have to cope with this.”