Why are so many Filipinos afraid of bees?

In the Philippines the mention of the word ‘bee’ often causes instant fear, whereas most other cultures think of bees as ‘friendly’ useful insects.  

Why?  Here are some quoted reasons….

  • A ‘bee’ stung them very painfully, or stung their friend.  It is almost 100% certain that they were stung by a wasp or hornet, since bees are only interested in visiting flowers (unless they are defending their colony from attack).
  • They have been told that bees are dangerous by their parents, friends or even teachers. This is false since bees only sting in defence of their colony – and a bee will only sting as a last resort since the bee will die after stinging (wasps and hornets are carnivorous and can sting without dying).
  • People can die from being stung. I have found no record of any person dying from bee stings in the Philippines, but some people are vulnerable to a severe allergic reaction to insect stings which include those from wasps and hornets. It is possible that Putyokan bees in defence of their colony can kill a person, but this would not happen if the colony was undisturbed.
  • Bees bother them when they are eating a meal. These insects are not bees but probably a mix of wasps, mosquitos and flies.
  • They did not understand pollination and the relationship between bees and flowers. It is a tragedy that so many Philippine adults have not gained at school or by some other means this fundamental insight into how nature works.

This post has been stimulated today by yet another discussion on this topic…

Mrs X is an intelligent and vibrant Philippine lady of 33 years with a high school and college education in the Philippines. She now lives in England with a good job and has a 7 year old son who goes to an English primary school.

At a dinner table conversation the topic of bees came up.  Mrs X’s reaction was immediate and instinctive – a small shriek of fear and a physical jerk back in her chair! It was amusing to the other dinner guests but showed graphically the nature of the social attitude amongst many in the Philippines.

Naturally we asked her what the problem was and in this case she mentioned at least two of the above reasons for fearing bees. I asked her the simple question “Why do flowers exist?” She said ‘Because they’re beautiful .. people like to have them in their gardens .. they smell nice ..’.  I asked “Why are they beautiful and smell nice?” After some amusing conversation she ran out of ideas and so I mentioned ‘pollination’ – this was something she was evidently unaware of.  Her 7 year old son then told his mother that bees did pollination by getting the pollen from flowers and taking the pollen to other flowers to make baby plants – he had learnt this at his primary school in England.

This light-hearted dinner table conversation does however demonstrate a problem for Philippine society. Why is it that even 7 year olds in England have an appreciation of the importance of bees and pollination, yet so many school, college and university graduates in the Philippines appear to have missed out on this understanding?  Sadly this situation is contributing to the decline of the Philippine agricultural economy.

Mrs X was genuinely amazed to realise the basic connection between flowers, bees and pollination giving rise to seeds and fruit, and cannot remember this topic being taught when she was at school. Sadly this comes as no surprise to me since similar conversations and revelations happen when talking with Philippine people of many ages. Another recent conversation was with a 26 year old college educated Philippine businessman who had inherited the 10 hectare family farm, and was truely astonished to realise the connection after it had been explained to him.

Meanwhile the destruction continues of the countries essential pollinators by honey hunters who quite understandably cannot be expected to appreciate the connection either – unless some change of attitude occurs in many schools and critically in the responsible government departments.

The negative and mistaken mindset towards bees amongst so many Filipinos appears to be a key underlying reason for the ‘pollination crisis’ that continues to tighten its grip on Philippine agriculture.  This cultural fearful attitude also inhibits sufficient recognition of the profound scientific reality contributing to dwindling crop yields, increasing unemployment and economic distress in many rural areas. Changing ‘hearts and minds’ so that the future can be improved will require decision makers in education and other sectors to actively engage with the issues.

So far, no Philippine government website appears to even mention the importance of pollination – even though this crucial factor is scientifically so well established. Without some appropriate lead by the responsible government departments to promote the role of bees and pollination it falls to concerned individuals to try their best to inform and educate the many millions of Philippine citizens dependant on the agricultural economy.

The British educational system generally places bees in a positive light as an important part of the environment and as essential pollinators for food crops. Honeybees are considered as friendly and beautiful ‘mini-beasts’, and many schools have colourful pictures of flowers and bees in classrooms.  In contrast no such policy is commonly evident in Philippine schools – the author is asking the Philippine Department of Education to consider the current situation in their schools and to make an effort to try and improve the teaching delivery of this critical topic.

About Julian

Julian Wright is a British agricultural scientist married to a Philippine teacher, who has a house and some land planted to coconuts and other crops near Dumaguete in the Philippines.
This entry was posted in Crop yields & pollination, Educational materials, General posts. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why are so many Filipinos afraid of bees?

  1. Anne says:

    Wow, I didn’t know this. I’m attending a beekeeping course this summer but my fear of bee sting is holding me back. I’m a college graduate, was good at school (I think), and believed that bees sting people for fun. What a shame! Wasps and bees look the same for me though. Gotta train my eyes.

    Thanks for sharing! That made me feel better ! 😀

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