Feature Story

Rolling on coconuts

Baby coconut
Coconut kiosk-on-bike, a couple on the road to market - Narial bicycle wala
New car Puja -  Tamil Hindu iyer breaks a coconut Prasad
Coconut thread stitched Chundan Vallam river boat
Broom and rope, locally handmade coconut products
Coconut shells fuel a Dhaba stove / oven for Tamil Parotta and Dosa flat breads
Coconut grinder
Little boy with a machete carves a coconut palm into a Cricket bat
Wedding coconut and banana canopy. Tamil Nadu, India
Coconut trees along Tamil foothills village, India
Hindu & Muslim under one coconut roof

First and foremost, it's an honor to split open a coconut. For a god or a guest ('guest is god', as Indian say and do).

In the Hindu temples, near a newly bought car or climbing a tall tree to cut one and split it green and fresh for a home guest to drink up.

In Sabrimalai mountain temple in Kerala, all those cracked in the various small temples are piled up and burned. I pulled one out, like other pilgrims do, and had my first roasted, fresh coconut flesh. Yummy.

Kerala is definitely the coconuts' own country. I can hardly remember a meal or even a dish skipping this ingredient. It was changing for me after the lean and spicy Tamil food or even north Indian.

Malayalam cuisine (of Kerala state) even brought the creativity to great heights by inventing special pot with horns that is the steamer for the Puttu, a rice flour based dish layered with coconut flakes.

But coconut is not only sitting pretty. Not only for the delight of god and the senses. It pulls the village energy and locally made tool wagon.

In my first months in India back in 2007, between two villages I found the road lined with brown fur. A closer look and it was the outer shell of coconuts, the dry fiber. It is left there for the passing cars and trucks to crush it with their wheels. Then it is woven into ropes of various thickness. These are used all the way from wrapping take away 'parcels' from Dhaba (local diner) to fishing and race boat construction.

In construction, the full palms (leafs) are weaved into light deviders/paneling which lines the celings on traditional mud houses, under the rice-straw roofs. Small sheds for kiosks are entirely made of these breezy sheets.

In the housework, the stems are split into thin, flexible slivers which are bunched up with a string to make a wet/dry broom.

Neighborhood family ceremonies also see the creation of canopies with fresh green palms over the door front section of the road.

The inner shell, which is thin, tough, brittle (and maybe rich in oil) is used for feeding the cooking stoves. South Indian roast the Parotta and Dosa flat breads over this hotplate while in the north it's the Roti/chapatti.

Coconut oil is used for much of the frying. In the rainy states it's much more affordable then the sesame oil. The last is kept for lighting temple lamps only.

However, for getting these cocos off the tree you do have to be a little nuts... or just used to it from childhood.

Climbing a tree has a special technique and it is all by manpower, a single man. No motors, weights or lifts. And these trees grow to over 30 feet with a stripped narrow trunk as a challenge.

Many call a professional nowadays, but on the other hand villages I've visited always got a fresh one off for me. So someone in the family is usually the climber - at least for the younger/shorter trees.

Kids use the stems of the palm for home made cricket bats. One sunrise I stepped outside the village mud house we slept to find a 5 year old boy already busy sculpting one such with a huge machete. I jumped in, got my Flip camcorder and captured it all on video. The clip is up here

Click any photo on this story to read more about them.

Other feature stories of my 2 years backpacking villages and towns across India on www.myindiaexperience.com - Enjoy...

5 responses

  • Michele Wambaugh

    Michele Wambaugh (Deleted) said (1 Feb 2013):

    Wonderful story & images!

  • JamesHarmon McQuilkin

    JamesHarmon McQuilkin   gave props (1 Feb 2013):

    well written

  • Etan Doronne

    Etan Doronne said (2 Feb 2013):

    Thanks friends.

  • Geoff Plant

    Geoff Plant   gave props (11 Feb 2013):

    Great story plenty of information great pictures too

  • Frances DeMartino

    Frances DeMartino said (13 Sep 2013):

    Sounds like everyone is loco for coco ;)

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