The family is usually sitting outside their small bungalow working on something or other. The visitor comes around the side of the house calling “afta-NOON” along with the last name of their host. Before the visitor has ambled his way slowly around to the back of the house (because nobody walks fast), the man of the house appears with a large machete and an armload of tender coconuts.
The family nods at the visitors and pauses in their work. The visitors nod at the family and accepts a coconut from their host. He has deftly drilled two small holes in the coconut from which the visitors are now obligated to drink the coconut water (technically known as “liquid endosperm”). The coconuts are passed around among the assembled group until they’re relatively dry.
Then the host hacks each coconut in half so swiftly and cleanly with that giant machete, that it makes the back of your neck tingle. The host slices small wedges from the outer green skin of the coconut (the exocarp) and hands everyone half a coconut. The wedges are used as spoons from which the visitor is now obligated to eat the coconut jelly (aka “endosperm”).
The endosperm is the stuff that later turns hard and crusty so people can grate it and use it to spoil perfectly good baked goods and other confections.
I was never quite sure if this Passing of the Coconut ritual was actually supposed to be a welcoming gesture or if it was meant to discourage visitors. Because, while it’s an interesting novelty to eat a coconut like this once; once is really more than enough.
None of this stuff has any flavour to speak of. It looks very much like that for which it is named and boasts a rather gaggy texture. However, it’s impossible to refuse to take part in this ritual or say you’ve already visited 4 other people that day and are full up with endosperm.
On the up side, coconuts are very nutritious and have been so revered for their nutritious and healing properties by cultures all over the world that the coconut tree is nicknamed the Tree of Life. Every bit of the coconut tree is used and usable from its roots to its trunk to its bark to its leaves to its seed.
In traditional medicine around the world, coconut is used to treat a wide variety of medical problems including; syphilis, tuberculosis, asthma, typhoid, bleeding gums and even dropsy! Modern medicine, likewise, has a long list of the beneficial properties of coconut and coconut oil, in particular.
Still, my favourite uses of the coconut is the coconut bra.
And coconut monkeys.
Have you ever wondered why coconuts are called coconuts (Cocos nucifera) when they clearly contain no delicious coco? Well, it’s because “coquo” means “monkey face” in Portuguese. Portuguese explorers named them this because of the indentations on the shells that make them look like monkeys — though not like any monkeys I would like to meet.
Some interesting coconut facts:
- Coconut oil was the world’s leading vegetable oil until soybean oil took over in the 1960s.
- There are more than 20 billion coconuts produced each year.
- Coconut juice or coconut water is the liquid inside a coconut. Coconut milk is produced by steeping grated coconut in hot water then straining; coconut cream is coconut milk cooked down until it thickens, or grated coconut steeped in hot milk instead of water.
- Falling coconuts kill 150 people every year – 10 times the number of people killed by sharks.
Many songs have been written about coconuts including:
- I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts (written by Fred Heatherton)
- Coconut Woman – Harry Bellafonte
- Coconut Rum – Ron Bertrand
- Coconut Skins – Damien Rice; and,
- Does anyone remember Harry Nilsson’s Coconut song (1971)? Have you ever wondered what “put the lime in the coconut” means? There’s been a great deal of speculation on this over the decades.