Birds Lead African Tribesmen To Trees Holding Bee Hives – and Honey



 Orlando Yassene harvesting honeycombs from a wild bees’ nest in the Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique.  Credit: Claire Spottiswoode

For an undetermined period of time – probably measured in tens of thousands of years – certain traditional cultures in Africa have regularly communicated with birds who, when they trust the humans, lead them to honey-packed bee hives. The birds’ motivation is to be able to feast on insects and beeswax the bee hunters leave behind for them.

The birds, called ‘honeyguides’, indicator birds, or honey birds, “have an Old World tropical distribution, with the greatest number of species in Africa and two in Asia”, according to Wikipedia.


One species has recently been studied in Mozambique by researchers from Cambridge University. Their findings, published this month (July) in the journal Science, are said to be the most extensive ever reported on this cross-species working relationship. There are, however, two videos on YouTube (one immediately after the other) which show Africans in action communicating via special sounds with honeyguides – with the latter leading tghen the honey hunters right to trees containing hives. As they approach the ‘target’ tree, one video says, the birds vary their calls to indicated the hunters “are getting hotter” – closer to the hive-bearing tree.

This is thought to be the only instance of a species of wild birds communicating with humans, and vice versa.  (A New York Times report on the Science article called this “one of only a few known examples of cooperation between humans and free-living wild animals, a partnership that many well predate the love affair between people and their domesticated dogs by hundreds of thousands of years.”)

Claire N. Spottiswoode, a behavioral ecologist at Cambridge, acting as spokesperson for the honeyguides research team,  told The Times that the birds “advertise their scout readiness to the Yao people of northern Mozambique, a major Bantu ethnic and linguistic group, by flying up close while emitting a loud chattering cry.

“For their part, the Yao seek to recruit and retain honeyguides with a distinctive vocalization, a firmly trilled “brrr” followed by a grunted “hmm.” In a series of careful experiments, the researchers then showed that honeyguides take the meaning of the familiar ahoy seriously.

“The birds were twice as likely to offer sustained help to Yao foragers who walked along while playing recordings of the proper brrr-hmm signal than they were to participants with recordings of normal Yao words or the sounds of other animals,” The Times’ article said.

“The fact that the honeyguides were responding more to the specialized sound implies they recognize the specific information content in the signal,” Dr. Spottiswoode said. “It’s not simply a cue to human presence. It’s a signal that the person will be a good collaborator.”

John N. Thompson, a distinguished professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said: “I think it’s an absolutely terrific paper. This is one of those ‘just-so’ natural history stories we’ve known for years, and now we’ve got some hard-won data to show it really is so.”

The report describes in detail the trans-species collusion to enjoy the fruits of bee labor. Bees transform gathered nectar and pollen into honey for food and wax for honeycomb housing. As honey is among the most energy-rich foods in nature, it is not surprising that bees guard it with their lives.

African bees are particularly aggressive and will swarm any intruder that so much as jiggles an adjoining branch. Even our closest relatives are loath to disturb a beehive.

The Yao know what to do to subdue bee defenses. They wedge a bundle of dry wood wrapped in palm fronds onto a long pole, set the bundle on fire, hoist it up and rest it against a beehive in a tree. When most of the bees have been smoked out, the Yao chop down the tree, tolerate the stings of any bees that remain and scoop out the liquid gold within.

Much harder for the Yao is finding the hives. That’s where the honeyguides come in. Not only can they easily flit from tree to towering tree; they have unusually large olfactory bulbs, and they are good at smelling wax, which makes up a good part of their diet.

“It’s decidedly odd to eat wax, but if you’ve got the metabolism to break it down, it’s a good source of calories,” Dr. Spottiswoode said.

They Call Themselves ‘Human Beings’; Their History Dates Back 65,000 Years



There were sporadic reports more than half a century ago (but few since then) of indigenous tribes in deepest, darkest Africa or even South America that had, until someone ‘just’ stumbled upon them, had no contact with modern-day humans. While it is possible that more such usually-tiny groups may be found, it’s increasingly less likely as surveying the world from far above gets easier and easier.

Meanwhile, within an archipelago (a string of islands) in the Bay of Bengal, off northeast India stretching east toward Myanmar, there are several small-and-fading groups of people whose genetic history extends back some 65,000 years, to when their ancestors were among the first – if not the first – homo sapiens to migrate thousands of miles from Africa to this area.

For the most part, these tribal groups – the Jarawas, the Sentinelese, the Onges – continue to live as those ancient relatives did: As hunter-gatherers, depending solely on food sources nature provides. Items such as wild boar, turtles and their eggs, crabs, fruit, and honey. On the two islands they seldom stray from, they are nomadic, moving from area to area as the seasons, and their needs, dictate.

Until fairly recently, when outsiders came into their territories in the Andaman Islands either out of curiosity or as exploiters, these people remained unclothed, but did wear ornaments of various kinds and clay-based decorations on their skin. More recently, some have taken to wearing items of clothing obtained, no doubt obtained through doing ‘favors’, to/for outsiders.

The most-documented of these groups are those known to outsiders as Jarawas (“strangers)” and to themselves as “Yan-eng-nga,” which translates as ‘human being’.

They have a strong belief in monogamy, in forces of nature, and in ‘living lessons’ from their ancestors that, somehow, seem to outweigh many of the ‘values’ of outsiders’ beliefs and religions: [1] While there is little documentation of how these groups interact with each other, to the degree they do, reports on inter-group disagreements or ‘wars’ are noticeably absent; [2] A tsunami in 2004 that killed thousands in that part of the world apparently caused no harm to these indigenous people, who claim their ancestors gave them warning, causing them to flee to areas well above the coast.

There have been battles with outsiders, who for a while were allowed to occupy part of the natives’ land to cultivate it – a concept that’s foreign to the indigenous folk. But access to their ancestral lands has relatively recently been limited to the point that, with few exceptions, outsiders are not allowed to either go there or make contact with those with a history-given-right to peacefully live as they choose to.

That includes living free of diseases and other ailments of modern man.

Separate clinics have been set up for them, for when they choose to take advantage of ‘our’ medical advances, and government laws protect both their territories and their choice to remain isolated from the modern world.

Still, there are those who would invade their land, poach the animals they depend on for food, and even go so far as to take sexual advantage of their women.

Because these people so strongly believe in not mixing with outsiders, it is not unknown for them to kill a child born of a relationship between one of their women and someone from beyond their group, or tribe.

Beyond that, they don’t seem to practice (or to have ever practiced) forms of human sacrifice more ‘modern’ people have.

One senses, in reading about them, that they are, and live their lives, more nearly aligned with biblical depictions of ‘ideal’ people than any other people ever have. And they do so without a written language, with only oral history – with only the history of their own people, as its been passed along other the centuries. And they appear to survive with no ‘weapons’ beyond stone-age-era ones they need to kill the animals they depend on for life.

Theirs undoubtedly is a hard life, but it’s also a life free of the complications modern day man struggles to deal with on a daily basis.

I would never choose to live as they do, but I would love to know more about how they have managed, over literally tens of thousands of years, to remain ‘true’ to a lifestyle that seemingly suits them very well – as ours too often doesn’t!

I will be very appreciative if you will encourage your friends, family and colleagues to check out what my two blogs – Food and – do in the interest of providing information you might, otherwise, never become aware of. You never know: Some of my research could prove useful, or possibly amusing, to you (and/or them).

I also encourage you to check out the blogs of people I am following and Commotion In The Pews, a blog I stumbled upon a year or so ago. The author of the latter is a fascinating guy who cultivates the appearance of the character he plays through a good part of December each year: Santa Claus.


Trump, Sanders Similarities Explain Poll Standings

U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds up a signed pledge during a press availability at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York
U.S. presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds up a signed pledge during a press availability at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York September 3, 2015. The pledge is an agreement with the RNC to not to run as an independent candidate if he loses the Republican Party nomination, a party official said, despite Trump’s earlier refusals to rule out a third-party bid. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson – RTX1QZ9K

Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and New York’s Donald Trump may not seem to have a lot in common – not least because they actually don’t, except for one thing: As long-shot outsiders when they declared themselves to be candidates for president, both have done surprisingly well in crowd-pulling and fund-raising. Bernie’s has been the amazingly simple matter of raising relatively small sums – compared to what major, vested-interest donors provide – from individuals. Fund-raising by Trump – still, surprisingly often ID’d as “The Donald”, a pet name or faux epithet bestowed by a while-back wife –has been, as you’d expect of someone totally oriented toward tugging dollars out of hidden crevices, via the sale of the likes of hats bearing his likeness or a campaign phrase.

Sanders redefines – or harks back to – how politics is supposed to be: Oriented toward actually serving the people as a ‘public servant’ president is sworn to be. The (or just plain) Donald defines the opposite extreme – serve the candidate and his opinions, anticipating the ‘great unwashed masses’ will follow.

[Please see the link for an interesting history of the cited phrase, leading as well to the acknowledged originator of the phrases “the pen is mightier than the sword” and, of all things, what’s been described as “a literary tragedy”: as the worst novel launch ever: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Most times, references don’t get more interesting than this!]

Donald Trump’s best qualification for being president seems, so far, to be his status as “I’m very rich.” That he’s opinionated – very opinionated – is a given. It’s amazing that more than 90 percent of the all-too-numerous photos of him exhibit his mouth in an open, opinion-spewing mode!

Bernie Sanders has a relatively long, quite distinguished history as one of two senators of a small, up-against-the-wall-please Conservative state – where seldom is heard a discouraging word . . . and practically never is someone ordered up-against-the-wall.

Vermont is a pleasant place. A peaceful place. A place where neighbors get along. Where visitors marvel at the local cheese, and opportunities – as I once took, in the mid ‘60’s – to enjoy same with a nice bottle of wine alongside a country byway. Very much like a wine/cheese picnic my then wife and I enjoyed on a few years later on a Swiss hillside. Much as I love Vermont, I’d far rather be, and reside, in Switzerland! So close to Italy, and to France, and to Monaco, where I once actually won at the casino. (Well, not actually in the casino, but in the entranceway, where there were a couple of slot machines. My wife and I agreed to dedicate one franc to ‘the game’. Hers failed to score. Mine hit for two – putting us in the ‘break-even’ column – a  ‘plus’, given that we could have been two francs down!)

Vermonters don’t, for the most part, have significant political differences. Theirs is a ‘live and let live’ environment.

Sanders’ appeal to voters primarily is his appearance of honestly, his straight-forwardness toward goals he (rightly) sees as necessary to right a lot of the wrongs several recent congresses have foist upon us.

Trump, well, he’s something else again: A non-politician who expresses in sometimes excessively strong ways, opposition to things – such as immigration reform – the country needs, collectively, to address.

He is, as the head of a ministry said to me a couple of days ago, “divisive”.  He talks of a 100-foot wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and banning all Muslims who might want to come here from doing so.

He says “look at that face” about one of his Republican competitors, and degrades others in assorted other ways. He takes ‘outspoken’ to an entirely new, rude level!

Were the eventual ‘real’ race – in which, of course, no vote will be cast for roughly eleven months – to boil down to a race between Sanders and Trump, all bets would be off: Trump has a huge and apparently growing following, and he can personally support any spending he feels he needs to do – beyond benefiting from all the ‘free’ coverage the national media is providing.

Sanders, too, has a strong following, largely comprising people with views diametrically opposed to Trump’s, but Sanders isn’t independently wealthy, and no matter how many small contributions he get, he’d have a tough time competing in the ludicrous, and criminally expensive national advertising ‘race’. (THAT, cost-wise, is this country’s main ‘race problem’).

Neither would have fun trying to win legislative victories in Congress, thanks to the hold the Republicans are likely to still hold – despite defeats they’re likely to suffer – a year from now.

But then there’s this: A Trump opposer crashed a Trump focus group a couple of days ago, intending to be both a disrupting factor and to learn what is driving people into Trump’s camp. He succeeded on both counts – and came away hoping, in an odd but understandable twist of logic, that Trump will win the Republican nomination . . . and be soundly beaten in the general election.

“I want him to get the nomination to get completely destroyed in the general. The older generation in my party needs to understand we can’t have this pro-war, anti-immigrant nonsense anymore… we need to lose this [election] in order to ever win again,” said Michael Wille, a former Romney campaign staffer.

Not that I’d ever want to see Republicans with the mindset of the current ‘leaders’ of the party or their supporters win even a single election, but Wille has a point: His party is close to a breaking – as in breaking-up – point, because the extreme right wing goals it is pursuing really, are truly not what the majority of Americans want.

If old Abe, credited as the founder of the current Republican party, can roll enough in his grave to wish up for his present-day successors a sensible candidate, one who actually pays attention to the wants of people not on the outer fringe of the party, there’s an outside chance the party could again win the White House – and win back all the Congressional seats they are otherwise likely to lose next November.

I once sent a note to Eric Cantor, one of the most extremely conservative members of that party until he was soundly beaten by an upstart in 2008. I said that I really wished I could move one voting district east, to be in his, so I could – as an actual Cantor constituent – fight his every action in Washington.

I couldn’t move, but it didn’t matter: His loss was surprisingly decisive: His constituents did not agree with his positions – meaning, he wasn’t fairly representing his district.

There isn’t, truly, one strong Republican candidate – one who might actually win the general election. The odds that Hillary Clinton will be the next president are increasing daily.

I don’t trust Clinton – her or her husband. But, more importantly, I don’t fear what she might do as president. I most definitely fear what any of the not-particularly-gifted Republican candidates might do if elected.

It’s a sad state of affairs when anyone in this country – including recent immigrants – truly has a lot to fear from a potential president from a party that’s clearly demonstrated, over the past seven or more years, how uninterested and unable it is to serve the best interests of this country’s citizens – existing and aspiring.

The new beard of that party’s new leader, House Speaker Paul Ryan, doesn’t make him appear more ‘Lincolnesque’, wiser or too busy with his newly expanded duties to shave. It makes him look like someone desperately anxious to capture the attention of a younger generation that, for whatever reason, considers either tended or untended facial foliage to be ‘cool’. Nothing that Paul Ryan, or any other leading member of his party, has or might do will ever make them look or appear to be ‘cool’.

From right now, that party has about two, maybe two and a half years, to rethink its strategy, find a couple of potential-candidate-like-people who can really who can live and breathe the ‘new message’ – or Hillary will be a shoe-in as a two-termer – the first of her gender to ever officially serve as something more powerful than First Lady. (In Reagan’s waning years, as Alzheimer’s snuck up on him, Nancy more than likely came pretty close, on many occasions, to acting in his stead.)

‘Odd that no one’s studied that!

How To Become A Chef? Let Me Count The Ways

flynn_mcgarryThere’s much to be said in favor of tradition, and traditional ways of doing things. But some people, including 16-year-old Flynn McGarry, who aims to have his own restaurant by age 19, say “why does [the traditional] kind of struggle –  having a terrible life, missing all of your family events, being treated like shit for ten years — why [does that have to be] the mark of being a chef?”

That comment, in a interview, was in response to David Santos, a chef who recently closed a restaurant called Louro in NYC’s West Village two and a half years after he opened it – and  (after a 70% rent hike. Santos, in an Istagram post, was adamant about McGarry not deserving – in his opinion – to be referred to as a chef:

“I’m sorry but I hope I’m not the only chef that’s offended by this. I shit this morning [with] more knowledge and life on the line then a 16 year old has. The fact the media even calls him a chef offends me to no end. Chef is something you earn through years of being beaten and shit on and taught by some of the greats.

“Not doing trails [a type pop-up restaurant, where food is prepared and offered in multiple ‘sampling-size courses by a specialist – a chef, by some reckonings – in a small environment, for a limited period of time, say, a night or three] that your family pays for. Because as a real chef I don’t treat people who trail the same way as people who sweat and bleed for me.

“If you go to this [‘chef’s table’ of McGarry’s, where he serves two rounds of 12 people on three successive nights] and fork over $160 plus then your [sic] a damn fool because I can name so many more actual chefs that actually deserve that money.

“Maybe one day he will indeed be a great chef I’m not saying that but earn it before you offend most of us that actually are.

“And any idiot that works 3 days a week can put together a couple great tasting dishes. If you can’t your [sic] fucking worthless. Try managing people and dealing with the ins and outs of an operation and still being creative and inspiring to the people that work under you and intrust [sic] their futures in the knowledge you will pass onto them. That’s a chef – that’s what a chef does. It’s not about playing dress up and plating a couple dishes.”

Well, yes, there is that – about managing people, and being prepared to pass your hard-earned knowledge on to a next generation. McGarry may not have acquired either of those skills yet, but hey, he is only 16 – and his focus, since his age was represented by a single digit, has been on the food: Studying it, learning how to mix-and-match ingredients in both traditional dishes and, more importantly, in dishes he creates himself.

(He’s also been quoted as saying, “I want to learn as much as possible, but I don’t want to wait too long.”)

And the fact that McGarry has, just recently, passed his high-school equivalency exam (he’s been home schooled through much of his school ‘career’) suggests it’s unfair to fault him for not having learned, yet, to “manage people and [deal] with the ins and outs of an operation and still [be] creative and inspiring to the people that [sic] work under you,” as David Santos included in his laundry list of McGarry’s shortcomings.

Santos, who also wanted to cook, professionally, from an early age, learned a lot about food through the good fortune of being part of an immigrant family from Portugal that regularly traveled to the old country to spend time with relatives – relatives who raised much of what they ate, and young David “loved every minute,” he’s quoted as saying, of helping an aunt build a fire for the bread-baking followed by ingredient-gathering for meals to come.

After high school (where he excelled in baseball), he went to cooking school – Johnson & Wales, in Rhode Island – then, somehow, moved fairly quickly into gaining experience at “New Jersey’s most acclaimed restaurants: Nicholas and The Ryland Inn,” according to a bio of him on Louro’s web site. He also picked up a lot of pointers traveling around Europe and South America, “soaking up the culinary heritage of the visited countries and their cuisines rooted in peak quality seasonal ingredients,” his bio says.

McGarry was fortunate in having connections – serious connections: His film-maker mom knows lots of food-loving important people in California, and she’s encouraged many of them, including Hollywood actors and producers, to experience her prodigy son’s culinary samplings (in the form of small-dish-size servings) at a dinner party at her home. His professional photographer father has busily performed his specialty as guests show obvious delight in the results of Flynn’s efforts.

And professional publicists make sure the activities of the young cook – Flynn doesn’t call himself a chef; even his twitter feed (@diningwithflynn) says, simply, “I cook” – are widely exposed.

Santos also has been fortunate to be able to work with Chef David Bouley (Bouley’s, in NYC’s TriBeCa area, described on the restaurant’s web site as “the most memorable dining experience in New York [that] set a new standard for fine dining in America”) and Per Se  (where a Chef’s [tasting] menu is priced at $310, at lunchtime). So, like McGarry, he clearly has friends in high places.

Thomas Keller, the 60-year-old cook book author and owner of Per Se (as well as a number of other restaurants and food-based operations) is, at 3.75 times McGarry’s age, exceptionally successful as a restaurateur who, as it happens, got his start working in a Palm Beach restaurant his mother managed. His route led him not to cooking school but, through meeting a French-born master chef in Rhode Island, to opportunities to work in several prominent U.S. restaurants, from which he traveled to France, where he apprenticed under several Michelin-ranked chefs before opening his first restaurant. T hen, in time, he returned to the U.S. where, in a good deal more time, he came to be the only American-born chef to have multiple restaurants with three-star Michelin Guide ratings. His efforts have enabled him to bank some $30 million.

Santos, who appears to be in his thirties, also appears to be a long way from accomplishing anything like what Keller has. And McGarry is still three years away from the year he anticipated, a while back, opening his first restaurant.

But, without formal training, he’s already done so – in a manner of speaking: Last month (Sept. 2015) he launched a three-day-a-week “Chef’s table”, as he calls it in a dining room that the owner – Creative Edge Parties – doesn’t make much use of on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. His 14-course offerings are, for each of 12 guests at each of two (sold out) nightly seatings, priced at $160, tax and gratuity included. He calls his Chef’s Table/restaurant Eureka –after a street he once lived on.

This is not the first time he’s used that name for a food-serving place: Flynn  launched his first dining club at age 11 in Los Angeles, where by the time he was 14 he was referring to it, mimicking its followers’ description, as a fine dining establishment.

It quickly outgrew its fixed location, initially in his and his mother’s home, at was reborn as a pop-up restaurant – a place where food could be prepared and served wherever the surroundings allowed. And it quickly became, in that guise, an L.A. staple.

Eureka’s web site says that, at age 16,

“Flynn became the youngest under-30 Zagat honoree for his Eureka pop-up in Los Angeles and was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential teens. As well as being self-taught from a young age, Flynn received his culinary training by staging and working at fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, among them Eleven Madison Park and Alma, and recently has returned from stages in [exceptionally well-known] Copenhagen and Oslo [restaurants].”

The site fails to mention that Flynn also was invited to participate in a staging – food prep and serving in special locations, or under special circumstances – at the White House for the benefit of guests at the 2013 version of the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

Three dramatically different paths toward careers as professional cooks – no path being better, or worse, than another. Two of the paths have proved their worth through the success of their followers. The third path, the one being diligently followed by a teen who, despite his age, already is invited to work alongside some of the best in the business, looks likely to succeed, as well.

As Vogue magazine

Flynn McGarry at Eureka, his pop-up restaurant. Photo: Cameron Yates, Grub Street
Flynn McGarry at Eureka, his pop-up restaurant.
Photo: Cameron Yates, Grub Street

said about him last month, “the one undeniable thing about McGarry is that he’s passionate about what he does. He’s . . . taking hold of the opportunities that have presented themselves and provocatively reinventing the way we experience fine dining” – adding, in Flynn’s words,

“I cook and the rest of it just sort of happens.”

Remember Flynn McGarry’s name, and his favorite name for a restaurant: Eureka. You’re likely to hear a lot more about it, in time.