The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Early Spanish explorers called it coco, which means “monkey face” because the three indentations (eyes) on the hairy nut resembles the head and face of a monkey. Nucifera means “nut-bearing.”
The Coconut Palm is integral part of tropical life where it serves food, water, nutrition, shelter and medicine needs. In many areas of south east Asia coconut is considered as auspicious and people break coconut before starting new ventures (new home, new factory etc.) as it is considered to bring good luck.
In Maldives, the tall graceful coconut palm grows by the seaside or on dry sandy soil. Islands used to be valued based on the amount of coconuts on the islands, houses couldn’t be built higher than the tallest coconut palm – they are everywhere and fully encompassed into the life of any islander.
The dried leaves provide roofing and none cooler or used as torches to light the way in the dark. The fresh leaves are used as cattle fodder or buried in the soil as leaf meal. The fine stems in the middle of the leaf called ekels make strong garden brooms and miscellaneous items. The hardy center of the branch is used for fence posts or yokes to carry heavy objects on the shoulders of travelling pedestrians. The stem also makes flexible fishing rods. The fibrous wrapper round the young branch makes handicrafts like purses, toys, dockets.
The young green nut provides a thirst quenching drink. The mature nut also has juice which is added to flour to make a batter for various native dishes, particularly for desserts. The golden variety of the coconut has delicious juice which can be used intravenously as a saline substitute – it is one of the only natural liquids available that is compatible with our blood plasma.
The white sweetish kernel inside the nut is scaped and/or liquidised to prepare curries. The grated version is mixed with fish and served with roti’s for the breakfast staple in the Maldives. Leftovers also make excellent feed for livestock and poultry.
The oil of the Coconut is made and exported around the world for its use in edible oils, margarine, detergents and brake oil out of dried kernel known as copra. In recent years, Coconut Oil has risen in popularity for its consumption and cosmetic uses alike all around the world.
The outer husk of the coconut can be turn into coir fiber and used for ropes, cables, canvas, fishing nets, floor mats, matting and stuffed mattresses. The shell is used as fuel in home cooking and in village laundries to heat the smoothing iron as they do not have electricity. Activated carbon from coconut shell charcoal is exported for purification, filtering of air conditioners. The shells also make spoons and ornamental items.
The flower is large and pretty like a sheath of waxed corn and is in the tropics during ceremonial occasions especially weddings, as a symbol of fertility. The flower is tied and a small slit made in the spathe so that the sap tickles out slowly draining into a container tied to the tree to make a refreshing drink called toddy. Juice from the spathe is boiled to make palm syrup or boiled further down to make delicious Jaggery.
The powerful trunk is used for rafers, beams, lathes boat troughs and furniture. Roots are medicinal, used for stomach upsets. The new plant grows from the germinating nut. Piles of coir dust clogging the wayside are processed and used as a fertilizer mixture, and exported to Japan and Europe as a horticulture material and even fuel locomotives.
Coconut Oil may be a phenomenon that the western world is just discovering, but the miracle that is a Coconut Palm, is a miracle island people have sworn by for more than a millennium.