The importance of the coconut
I have friends who swear to the healing powers of coconut water
after a long night of drinking. Coconut as a cure for hangovers? It’s feasible, what with all the electrolytes and potassium that it contains. As useful as we (or marketing companies) have found coconut to be today, coconuts have been appreciated by civilizations hundreds of years ago.
Ibn Battutah encounters coconut trees and finds it important enough to talk about their features and uses. Coconut trees have often been called trees of life in many civilizations so it isn’t surprising that he finds them important enough to talk in depth about. He spends a good amount of time going in depth about the tree explaining:
The coco-palm is one of the strangest of trees, and looks exactly like a date-palm. The nut resembles a man's head, for it has marks like eyes and a mouth, and the contents, when it is green, are like the brain. It has fibre like hair, out of which they make ropes, which they use instead of nails to bind their ships together and also as cables. Amongst its properties are that it strengthens the body, fattens, and adds redness to the face. If it is cut open when it is green it gives a liquid deliciously sweet and fresh. After drinking this one takes a piece of the rind as a spoon and scoops out the pulp inside the nut. This tastes like an egg that has been broiled but not quite cooked, and is nourishing. I lived on it for a year and a half when I was in the Maldive islands.
His comparison of a man’s head to the coconut is an interesting touch and adds a very humanistic quality to his writing. Interestingly enough, the Coconut Research Center
reveals that early Spanish explorers identified the nut as “coco” because “coco” means monkey face because they felt the three indentions on the nut resembled the eyes and face of a monkey.
The medicinal qualities that Battutah ascribes to the coconut may not actually be accurate. Instead of fattening, coconuts actually are “utilized by the body to produce energy in preference to being stored as body fat like other dietary fats” (Coconut Research website). It has been said that coconut oil does reduce redness when applied to the skin, so Battutah was correct in that statement.
The tradition of breaking a piece of the rind off to scoop the pulp out is still practiced today all over the world. I visited Brazil this winter break and coconuts were everywhere. The coconut stands always had a machete ,which they used to slice a portion of the rind off to use to scoop out the cut-in-half nut.