Artist ZINAIDA presented in London a video about the wildlife traditions of Ukraine – honey hunting
From October 10 to December 30 at the London gallery "Proposition Studios" is opened the exhibition "TERRA NEXUS" questioning the role of the human as part of ecology. The exhibition includes works by 25 artists from different countries all over the world.

Ukraine was represented by ZINAIDA with her video "Wildlife traditions", where the artist explored the ancient tradition of beekeeping – honey extraction of forest bees.
Honey hunting is one of the most archaic forms of traditional farming, where a person takes care of bees in their natural environment – in the forest. The system of knowledge and beliefs about caring for bees has been passed down through generations, and it is still preserved in the forests of Polissia (an ethnographic region with a wooded and swampy landscape in Northern Ukraine).

By the end of the twentieth century, the last centre of honey hunting consisted of the areas affected by the Chornobyl accident in 1986. People have since moved away, but in the forests, hundreds of wild hives remained, with few people to care for them. Beekeeping generally is endangered from the mass evacuation after the Chornobyl disaster, deforestation, the treatment of fields with chemicals, and the numerous forest fires of recent times, but we cannot forget its oldest form – the culture of honey hunting, with its unusual beliefs, customs, and technologies.

The environment-friendly nature of honey hunting is multidimensional
  • The trade itself is harmonious with nature. The wild bees that settled in the tree hollows received care, and they thanked man and nature for it.
  • It is a humane approach – a small amount of honey is taken, but only during a certain period when the bees can bring themselves more and survive the winter.
  • If the family did not bring enough honey, then none was taken, "… so that they could survive". (Volodymyr)
  • It is believed that cutting a tree down with a wild hive is a great sin. As a result, wild-hive beekeepers save trees from being cut down. During the expedition, we met a wild-hive beekeeper who was hanging the wild-hives on old oaks in the forest that were supposed to be cut down.
  • Wild-hive beekeepers have a special attitude to nature, to the whole world – especially to the surrounding forests. The lands of different wild-hive beekeepers were tacitly allocated according to the location of the wild hives in the forest common to the community.
  • Wild-hive beekeepers do not consider each other as competitors. They make friends with each other and share experience. They can take care of each other's wild hive when necessary, or present it upon request.
The locality of the tradition
  • The last living centre of the trade remains with the wild-hive beekeepers of Polissia.
  • The wild-hive beekeepers impress with their kindness and optimism: "Everyone is moving somewhere; the village is dying out – the wild-hive beekeepers are dying out. But the genes are not lice. Anyway, even in ten generations, their grandchildren will be engaged. It can't be that everything dies out." (Stepan)
The longevity of the tradition and its heredity
  • The mastery of the trade has been passed down through generations. This trade contains a deep layer of knowledge about the material and spiritual aspects of beekeeping.
The mythologized figure of the beekeeper and his special status
  • The lack of fear of heights proves the naturalness of the beekeeping tradition: "Grandfather did this, and so do I."
  • The wild-hive beekeeper has always been a significant, respected figure in society. People sang a special Christmas carol for the wild-hive beekeepers as a spell and a wish for a good year for them and their bees.
The relationships between the wild-hive beekeepers and bees
  • "I did not steal honey from them" (Stepan) – according to popular belief, if the bees did not gather enough honey for the winter, or if a long winter is expected, taking even a small amount of honey is considered theft.
  • A bee sting for a wild-hive beekeeper is like a kiss. However, there were cases where beekeepers were stung by a few dozen at a time.
  • Bees are not said to die, but to pass away, which emphasizes their special status.
  • Honey hunting is a seasonal trade. The beekeepers create the hives in spring before the settlement of swarms and in autumn before winter. During these periods, the wild-hive beekeeper goes around his grounds and takes care of the wild-hives, cleaning them, lubricating cracks, and checking for water leaks. Fragrant herbs, including wild rosemary, are placed on the bottom of the wild hive.
  • If the beekeeper died, often the bees would "follow" him, meaning that they also died. There were rituals so that the one who was to inherit the wild hives could save the bees.
The material world of the beekeeper
  • The beekeepers used unique signs to mark the wild hives and the equipment, with a system for marking the number of wild hives. The information about the system of wild hive signs is generally lost, but the signs are mysterious and beautiful.
  • The way a beekeeper approaches a wild hive using a blade on a tree is reminiscent of a ritual dance.
  • Wild hives were inherited from the great-great-grandfather. They witnessed the history of the family, saw the great-grandfather, grandfather, father, son, and maybe they see a grandson. They could serve for at least three generations, or even more.
  • A wild hive was a special present for a wedding.
  • People were afraid to steal honey, because they believed that the beekeeper could send trouble to the thief, or have the thief bring the stolen honey back.
The sacred world of the beekeeper
  • The bee was considered to be "God's fly", and it was forbidden to kill them. And the beekeeper was "a man pleasing to God", while at the same time, the figure of the beekeeper was somewhat demonological in the minds of fellow villagers.
  • The beekeeper would sit under a tree with a wild hive on a blade "so that the bees settled down".
  • Beekeeping products were not given or sold to everyone, since the bees could disappear because of evil people. If the beekeeper's bee families die, the same will happen to his own family.
  • Honey hunting was a male subculture, a layer of knowledge that was passed from father to son. The knowledge was preferably given to children who did not have reactions to bee stings.