There was a time when almost every rural family who kept bees followed a tradition. Whenever there was a death in the family, someone would go out to the hives and break the news to the bees of the terrible loss that had befallen them. Failing to do so resulted in further losses such as the bees leaving the hive, or not producing enough honey and even dying.
Traditionally, the bees were always kept abreast of not only deaths but all important family matters including births and marriages. If there was a wedding in the family, the hives were decorated and pieces of wedding cake left outside the hive so that the bees too could also partake in the festivities. Newly-wed couples always introduced themselves to the bees of the house, otherwise their entire married life was bound to be miserable. Even long absence due to journeys or sickness were always explained. If the bees were not told what was going on, all sorts of calamities were thought to happen. This peculiar custom is known as “telling the bees”.
Beekeepers also needed to talk to the bees in calm voices and never, ever used harsh words for fear of upsetting them. Quarrelling in earshot was not something that ever happened either. Marriages, new births and deaths were always marked by decorating the hive and telling the bees what had happened. A death always required black ribbon to be wrapped around the hive, to comfort the bees. Bees were involved in everything that mattered. Every aspect.
The death of their beekeeper required the new beekeeper to introduce themselves formally as their new owner and ask for their acceptance as their new master/mistress. It was said that not doing this would also encourage the bees to desert the hive or the queen would simply stop laying and the bees would all die off, one by one.