Updated: Jun 2
Mamasan Tulay arrived at the honey house in Voinjama, Lofa County on strong callused feet, with a baby strapped to her back and a jug of sweet-smelling honey in hand. Mamasan is one of those people that you immediately feel drawn to with her easy smile and warm brown eyes. She introduced me to her child as a honey baby and with a bit of coaxing I found out the story behind the name.
When Mamasan was eight months pregnant, she was busy tending to her hives in the oppressive heat that falls on Liberia mid-day. The people working with her were farming in the morning and could only go at that time, so although she knew the heat would be difficult, she agreed. As the bees swarmed around her and the sweat dripped off her brow, she began to feel faint. In the thick of harvesting, she walked away, cleared a spot in the forest and laid down. “When they called my name, I knew they wanted me to come back, but I didn’t answer, I didn’t want to go back.” Masasan didn’t go beekeeping again until her honey baby was born.
She’s back at it now though, in full force. Mamasan started beekeeping after her husband died from Ebola in 2019. Universal Outreach in partnership with Samaritans Purse trained her and others who lost a spouse to Ebola. She got a start-up beekeeping kit with 10 hives and since that time has increased her hives to 18. She’s also trained her oldest daughters as beekeepers and they can now independently manage the colonies, set catcher hives and harvest honey.
When Mamasan told me she sold 12 gallons of honey this year, that radiant smile crossed her face and I couldn’t help but smile back. “Honey is my bank account”, she explained, “It comes in force when school fees are due, if it wasn’t for that money my daughter wouldn’t have graduated from high school.”
$227 USD may not sound like a lot of money, but for Mamasan it’s the bulk cash payment that is key. With her other income generating activities the money comes in small-small; it puts food on the table each day but doesn’t give her the lump sum to make major improvements in her life like honey money does.
“I never knew beekeeping before, but when the people came to me with the idea, I knew there would be something inside it for me. They did well for me and I will keep working with my family and increasing my hives."*
*My interview with Mamasan was done through a translator who translated from Mandingo to Liberian English. Since some of the Liberian phrases could be challenging for readers to understand, I took the liberty to translate what she was saying into standard English while doing my best to keep her meaning intact.