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Sunday, 23 January 2011

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The romance of the coconut

The price of coconuts contributes significantly to the cost of living which is everyone's concern today. Specially people of the lesser income groups find that buying coconuts for daily consumption is tough. While the coconut is indispensable in the daily cooking of all Sri Lankan households the average Sri Lankan household finds it difficult to prepare the traditional pol sambol because the price of coconuts is high.

The reasons for the high price of coconuts are many, the most important being the wanton destruction of a large number of productive coconut trees for buildings and development purposes, a shortfall of the coconut crops due to poor manuring and the continued neglect of some large extends of coconut plantations.

On the other hand due to the lack of proper transport facilities and the high cost of transport specially the coconut smallholders are denied a fair opportunity to directly transport their coconuts to the towns for marketing. As a result wholesale traders or their carefully chosen middlemen visit the villagers and buy their coconuts at a comparatively low price and sell them at very exorbitant rates in the towns and thereby make huge profits virtually fleecing the helpless consumers.

Population

It is common knowledge that as the country's population increases we need more and more coconuts for domestic consumption. However, the land suitable for coconut cultivation in Sri Lanka is limited. Therefore, action should be taken to see that the production of the already available coconut lands is stepped up to get the maximum production. In no way should we allow the destruction of healthy coconut palms.

For instance, some of the large scale industries, massive housing projects and the drawing of over-head main wires for the supply of electricity have resulted in the destruction of thousands of healthy and productivity coconut tress. In this connection the Government's recent directive to ban the cutting down of coconut trees throughout the country is really admirable.

Another very important reason why there is an acute shortage of coconuts is because of the trade in young coconuts (kurumbas) / Plucking these young coconuts means the prevention of these nuts from maturing into coconuts.

It is common knowledge that daily throughout the country thousands of young coconuts are virtually stripped off our coconut palms mainly to quench our thirst which can be easily realised by having any other cool drink or even water. In this connection specially with the current coconut crisis it seems timely that the selling of young coconuts be completely banned at least for some time.

Another thing which we should discourage people doing is the use of coconuts in religious, decorative and other festive occasions. Specially because of the present crisis no right thinking person should use coconut flowers on any occasion as this surely means the destruction of many nuts which will reach full maturity if left on the trees.

Another very sensible thing our housewives should do is to use suitable alternatives for cooking instead of using coconut milk. Particularly the large scale coconut producers in the country should be given enough incentives by the state to step up their production by fertilizing their plantations well and they should also be encouraged to use modern planting methods.

Another very effective method would be to aim at making all households in the country self-sufficient in their coconut requirements. Where space is available households should be encouraged to grow a few high yielding coconut palms which would eventually help our households to become self-sufficient in their coconut requirements and this should be done immediately.

Sri Lanka has a unique reputation as being a coconut producing country and we must strive hard to maintain this reputation. Also it's time we banned the export of coconuts and coconut products until the domestic requirement of this precious nut can be met satisfactorily.

Legend

The romance or the story of the coconut is quite interesting and it is shrouded in history and legend. The coconut is one of the commonest fruits (if I may call so) or nuts in Sri Lanka and today it is one of the most talked of subjects in this country. Besides using coconuts for milk in our daily cooking there are various other uses to which it is put.

In fact there is no other plant which is as widely used as the coconut tree and all its parts are used for some utility purpose or the other.

A large number of articles are made from its trunk and its leaves are also used in building purposes. Rope made out of its specially cured fibre is put to many uses and even the charcoal obtained from burning coconut shells is put to good use by man.

From time immemorial the coconut palm is a plant that has drawn the interest and curiosity of both the kings and commoners of this country and there are several fascinating legends and folklore associated with its origin and most of these legends are essentially eastern in character.

The commonest belief is that the coconut, specially the king coconut or the thembili, is one of the luckiest trees to be grown in the vicinity of homes and there is another common belief that the coconut tree thrives best within the range of the human voice. There are also several superstitious beliefs about the coconut that it is a favourite nut of the gods and specially its flowers are used in certain religious and cultural activities in the country.

Origin

Though there are many legends associated with the origin of the coconut tree no one is certain of its origin. The Mahavamsa too mentions about the coconut tree and its cultural and historical significance in Sri Lanka from the time of the very early Sinhala kings who ruled this island.

Water of the king coconut is said to have been used to prepare the plaster for the world famous Ruwanweliseya in historic Anuradhapura.

The Chinese traveller, Fa Hien found coconuts flourishing in Sri Lanka as early as the 5th century and the Arab travellers are believed to have introduced the art of making rope using coconut fibre. Marco Polo in his travels in the orient speaks of the coconut as "The Indian nut grown in northern Sumatra and along the western coasts and eastern coasts of Southern India." Robert Knox says: "Here are also Indian fruits, coconuts." The coconut palm is a unique tree whose majestic appearance no person can ever forget and its nuts have captured the respect and regard of the entire humanity.

It is the sacred responsibility of the present generation to preserve this tree for the next generation.

 

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