Museum celebrates bonding by beekeeping

  • 2000-08-24
  • Darius James Ross
Lithuania is known for its eccentric collection of museums. Among others, Klaipeda has a clock and sundial museum, Kaunas has its Devil's museum and the tiny village of Stripeikiai near Lithuania's beautiful Aukstaitija National Park is home to the beekeeping museum.

The museum was created by Bronius Kazlas whose father and grandfather were both avid beekeepers. Hives and apiaries were not his first passion though.

"My first idea was to create a museum dedicated to the mysteries of the soul," said Kazlas.

Kazlas' guided tour of the beekeeping museum begins with a lengthy diatribe against materialism and positivism.

"We have strayed too far from Plato's interpretation of the eternal soul in our era," he said.

Kazlas has thoroughly studied the West's leading philosophers and has a particular interest in metaphysics and epistemology.

"Thought is not the product of our brain as if there were some mechanical type of relationship, it is the product of our soul, just like dreams," Kazlas said.

Kazlas believes that as the world enters the third millennium, it is time to focus on studying the soul rather than sinking time and money into technology, which, he believes, is responsible for war and conflict.

"I think this is particularly true for Lithuania. We are still unable to understand why we wanted our independence from the Soviet Union. All those American films are destroying our souls. Is that freedom?" he asked.

Kazlas is not anti-American; he simply dislikes the popular culture that originates there. "Shakespeare and Verdi nourish the soul, the television stifles it."

Kazlas' interest in religion and spirituality got him in trouble under the Soviets when he started giving lectures on these subjects.

"That's when I decided to change my approach and put my efforts into a beekeeping museum," he said.

Kazlas believes that the ancient art of gathering honey is a spiritually enriching experience.

In fact a Lithuanian word for a male friend is biciulis, which shares the same root as bite, the word for bee. People in ancient Lithuania would bond by sharing beekeeping duties.

Internationally famous scholar of semiotics Algirdas Greimas wrote: "People became friends - forming solid networks of friends - by raising this village fraternity the children of the lord and the children of the servants were equals. These ties linked the young people of a whole district and explains...the valiance of the Lithuanians and the terror their armed incursions inspired in neighboring lands."

Greimas also believed that ancient Lithuania was one of the most egalitarian and civilized cultures in history.

Kazlas' museum traces the history of beekeeping from the Iron Age to the present.

"Stone Age man didn't really understand bees and would simply find a hive, kill the bees and take the honey," he said.

Kazlas thinks this changed at some point in the early Middle Ages when people realized that by using smoke to subdue the bees, they could take some of their honey and leave enough so that the hive could make it through the winter. Later, people also realized that bees could be cultivated in hives, which eliminated the risky business of climbing up trees.

Kazlas' research puts him at odds with modern scholars. They believe beekeepers killed bees until 1851 when Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth discovered the principle of bee space. Bees leave spaces of about 0.6 cm between wax combs. In artificial hives, if this space is left between adjacent comb frames and between the end frames and the walls of the hive, each comb will remain unattached to neighboring combs.

Langstroth's discovery made it possible to remove individual frames from a beehive and to harvest honey and wax without destroying the colony.

Even if Kazlas is wrong, his museum is well worth the visit. He has gathered hives, beekeeping tools, photographs and folk art depicting Lithuanian beekeeping from around the country. The collection is housed in four recreated country homes built according to historical techniques and designs.