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sugarbag and sugarbag bees

egng ubanyj
egng alko
mayi wi'a
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh

Sugarbag, near Oriners Station, February 1996

Sugarbag is the honey of wild Australian stingless bees (Trigona spp., belonging to the family Apidae). The bees are called sugarbag bees.

The words above are used as the generic for any sugarbag and sugarbag bee species in each language.

There were few sweet foods available to Aboriginal people in traditional times and so sugarbag was highly prized.

sugarbag entrance, "nose"

egng ew
egng ulbmul
mayi mee'e
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh

Sugarbag entrance, near Oriners Station

Different sugarbag bees make different types of entrances for their hives. Some are thick, some are fine and pointed. The entrance for this sugarbag was inside the rotted out knot of a tree.

The sugarbg entrance is important because sugarbags are classified by the shape and size of the entrace. Sugarbags are also categorized by the size and colour of the bee.

Hunting for sugarbag involves following the movements of the bees. Bees may be followed by sight flying from a nectar source to the hive. When the bees are observed entering a tree, you can tap on the outside of the trunk to find out where it is hollow.

batumen plug

egng od
egng oto or egng ulginb
mayi mangka
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh


egng orch
egng ojo or egng olgngg
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola

Sugarbag honey and wax inside a billycan.

Sugarbag honey is very sweet and tastes good!

After harvesting a sugarbag, the honey and wax is put into a container such as a billycan, coolamon, bark dish or shell to carry it back to camp.

sugarbag wax before squeezing it

egng ongor in Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola

sugarbag wax after squeezing it

egng ayogol or egng oyogol
egng akamar
mayi wama
in Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh

Sugarbag wax ball, Kowanyama Land and Natural Resources Management Office, March 1996

The wax inside a sugarbag is saturated with honey. It needs to be processed by chewing and squeezing it to remove the honey. It may then be used much as other traditional waxes, to fasten together the parts of various implements.

Sugarbag wax is very important in traditional material culture. Its uses include the following:

Sugarbag wax is softened by heating it over a fire or by chewing it. It may then be applied in the desired way, smoothed out and/or flattened with a resin pallet, and left to harden.

When being stored it is normally rolled into a ball, as shown in the accompanying image.

sugarbag wax net

egng onyen in Uw Oykangand and Uw Olkola

sugarbag pollen store

egng ubanyj
egng upanyj
mayi thupan
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh


egng adn
egng adna
mayi kuna
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola
in Pakanh

sugarbag grass

ug ewen in Uw Olkola

cut sugarbag

egng enychem
mayi muula
in Uw Oykangand
in Pakanh

Cut sugarbag

After harvesting a sugarbag, a portion of it may be left in place. In this case we placed the pieces of the tree trunk back in place. The bees will return, fasten the loose pieces of wood in place, and continue to build the hive and produce honey. A sugarbag may be harvested regularly in this way.

drink made from sugarbag

egng og
egng oko
in Uw Oykangand
in Uw Olkola

e-mail: Philip Hamilton.