Dylan “Cobe” Francis is a photographer, Videographer and writer based out of Chester County, Pennsylvania with an emphasis on Amazonian research and sustainability. His work has been shown at a large variety of venues and journals including Longwood Gardens, Peru’s ministry of culture, and the Delaware history museum. He is excited to continue his work with amazonian indigenous cultures and hopes to play a part in sharing the magic of the rainforest to a global audience.
For updates about his work and travels, or for inquiries, reach out to him on his instagram @dylanfrancistgm or check out his website at www.tgmexperience.com.
Learn more about Dylan Francis
February 4, 2023
“Ha! Careful, they’ll try and go up your nose!” I turn and see Jospeh See, an ACEER conservation fellow, covered in bees. As they’re latching onto his hair and covering his macro camera, I can see he is beaming, perfectly in his element.
We were in the midst of opening a tree trunk hive to show its inner workings for our documentary and educational film about stingless beekeeping in the Peruvian Amazon. Our current hosts, Hildar and Magnolia, are a Maijuna couple happy to share their knowledge. The sale of honey and bee by-products has provided them with a sustainable way to supplement their family income in an area of the Amazon Rainforest where there is such little opportunity.
The stingless bees of the Amazon rainforest are a unique wonder to those of us that hail from areas of the world where honey bees are fully armed. These bees, known locally by their Latin genus Melipona, are a small, beautiful, and diverse on the species level. The honey varies from nearly transparent to dark brown and the flavors can be otherworldly: Some floral and relaxing, others sour enough to leave you smiling, some as uniquely indescribable as a color you’ve never seen. The bees have managed an incredible mutualistic relationship with the happy and humble people of the Maijuna.
The beauty of this relationship is tied to the forest, and without it intact, the bees could not gather enough pollen to produce honey. Without the bees, the Maijuna would have a difficult time acquiring the funds to protect their land from various threats thrust upon it by the outside world. Bonds like this provide hope.
A four hour boat trip from the nearest city of Iquitos brought us up the Sucusari River to a town of the same name. We set up camp in a small house near the river that acted as our teams’ home-base and siesta headquarters. We introduced ourselves and formulated a plan with the Maijuna elders and beekeeping families we would be working with. Our plan was to document the story of the beekeeping efforts and the possibility of the program to provide financial autonomy to the villagers.
The Next Generation of Conservation Leaders
While we talk about life, survival, and tactics, the children play around us. They hang from rafters, hug their mothers, and roll lazily on the floor, dreamily gazing into the surrounding forest. They whisper and giggle at us, the foreigners. When they get bored, they decide to swim. Walking a hundred feet, their tiny feet skip across the seats of an anchored boat. Lined up above the Sucusari, one goes plunging in with a push from behind. Their laughter is almost drowned out by their exuberant splashing.
Watching the children play and interact taught me more about the Maijuna culture than reading a textbook ever could. They will follow their parents’ example as they learn about and from the forest as they grow into adults. This is why practices like beekeeping are so important: it allows generations of indigenous people to live and work within in the Amazon Rainforest in a nondestructive way and have a symbiotic relationship with their environment. They will be able to help generate income for their village while playing a larger role in conserving the Amazon ecosystem.
Filming a project like this gives you an intimate look into a lifestyle where people rely on the land, ingenuity, and each other. Being behind the camera, seeing it all in real time, is a privilege that I will never take for granted. Though, I always feel the pull to drop all of my fancy camera gear and ideas of grandeur and career, and join in their community efforts. The calling is more natural than one can put to words.
Watch a clip from our Beekeeping Video