Note: The interviewee is noted by initials, the interviewer by [Q].
The Many Parts of Coconut and How to Use Them
[JK] We know that the immature coconuts did not drift to these islands. There was nothing like this except the mature coconuts. The young coconuts come from the mature ones. The first piece of flotsam that came to these islands were the mature coconuts; there were no trees in these islands in the past. When coconuts first came, it was the mature coconuts which came by sea and landed on these islands.
And now for the story about the mature coconuts. The mature coconut when it first landed on these islands, was discovered by a woman. And that was the time they named it waini [mature coconut]. You will notice on the coconut shell that it has a face: two eyes and a mouth. And this old woman considered this mature coconut her son.
A waini has lots of features, inside is the coconut meat. There is the immature meat which is gel-like and edible.
[Q] Umm, and when it has thickened?
[JK] And when it has thickened, it becomes the meat we call waini. At the end of the waini stage, the things inside the coconut change until the coconut water is gone along with the meat, and now it has become iu [a sprouting coconut]. The iu is a good food that is very delicious. When we eat it, we can just simply crack it open and eat the seedling. From there, we can make lukkor [mashed coconut seedling] and mix it with coconut sap and so on. And there are many, many other dishes you can make from coconut seedling.
When mixed with imported foods like flour, you can make coconut pudding. You can make it with rice as well. There are many, many foods you can make with a coconut seedling. You can also eat it raw.
[Q] How do you do that?
[JK] Well you have to throw out the oily surface of the seedling. Pop the shell open, part the seedling and pick it out of the shell with knife. It is almost like rice, but a little different. You peel off the yellow thing off the seedling and it is very delicious.
[Q] So it is not cooked?
[JK] It is not cooked. No, it is cooked! I apologize, you can cook it. It can be cooked with starch or flour. Well, flour just arrived today [implying that it is a new food] but we often cook it with starch. Fresh starch from the plants here in the Marshalls. Well, that is very delicious. When it is mixed with coconut sap, it is even more delicious, but with coconut syrup…. because the coconut sap can only be mixed with the seedling. When mixed with the sap it is very sweet and far more nutritious than sugar.
[Q] So it is not the sap it also comes from the coconut tree, but what else?
[JK] Well, the coconut sap too, yes, yes it we take it from the coconut tree. Now we will proceed. The ni [immature coconut] is the…. And after that comes the fallen coconut that can make another tree. When it has produced all its parts then it has many parts, the seedling, the coconut rope, the leaf sheath. The trunk you can use it for any kind of….
Now we come to the part that tells the significance of the coconut tree. The coconut now has changed from a fallen coconut into a new coconut tree.
However, it also produces the coconut sap, called jokaro. To make that you will need a container to store the sap. Then you cut the stalk on which the new coconuts will grow, hang the container and let it stay out for three to four days to create the local alcohol called jemanun... From the jokaro, you can boil it to make yourself jokmai, the coconut syrup. Well, after three to four days, it turns into alcohol. If you fill a gallon and let it brew itself for three days, it will eventually turn into alcohol. And, it is far more delicious and nutritious than beer. That is made from the coconut sap.
Onto the other parts, like the trunk, it can be used for huts; along with any other house parts, they can be made out of the tree trunk because it is harder and stronger and can last for a while. As to the coconut frond, it is far more important. You can make mats, hand fans, belts, and so on from it.
As to the utak [stalk where the new coconuts will grow], you can make fire out of it. Once you have a fire, you can make pancakes, doughnuts, and so forth. To start a fire, you will need the utak. As to the frond-midrib, from which the kimej [leaflets] grow like a spine out of the mid-rib, the mid-rib [pap] is as important as the frond. You can use this to tie a coconut bag shut, making it easier to carry it. Also, you can make handicrafts out of it and sell them for a good price. You see, it is the most important tree here. There are lots of things that can be made out of it.
The Story of Tobolar
[Q] If I can clearly recall, there was a legend about a young man that was born a coconut and his father planted him just outside his house... What was the name of this legend?
[JK] Well I can’t clearly recall the legend, but I only know it was about Tobolaar [the first coconut]. Tobolaar right?
[Q] Exactly. Tobolaar.
[JK] Well, that is a legend, and it is true we had that legend. It is basically about the first coconut that drifted here, and a woman cared for it and buried it. The coconut, you see, is almost like a person, but it only differs in its physical appearance. As it grows, it’s almost like a person developing, but the only thing is that it has no arms. However, it has a face on the coconut shell. If you look carefully at the shell, you will find three circle marks representing the face of person: the eyes and the mouth [the nose is a pip in the center]...
The woman cared for it as if it were her child. When she finally buried it, it turned into a palm tree. But in the story itself, it is called Tobolaar. It gives us lots of benefits. We make profit from it. When I think of the story of Tobolaar, I recall our migration story. I don’t know Newton if you have heard or knew about the story of our first migration. Do you know the story?
[Q] Which story?
[JK] That all Pacific Islanders originated from Southeast Asia? They migrated... It all begun when the people on Southeast Asia had no more space there on Bluma so they migrated to the Pacific. They all came from the Bay of Bengal, and tried to find settlement here. You see, on the Bay of Bengal, you will find the same kinds of plants and trees there that you see here. They encountered hunger and set out to find food.
They started their journey searching for food and islands to settle on. And, they drifted and landed on these islands. Today, we can tell by the same physical appearances we have and the color of our skin-tone. I think we are alike. We are like the people from Southeast Asia. Anyway, that is where we originated, from Southeast Asia.
That is when the legend of Tobolaar also started. Tobolaar was buried at that time. Today, we profit from his death, from the first coconut called Tobolaar. As it matures, it develops the sweet meat inside the shell. Not only that, but it can also produce the coconut drink, coconut syrup, etc. Anyone here can make money off of it: gather fallen coconuts, husk them, and then bag them, and then weigh them for selling. The same goes to the coconut syrup.
[Q] Jokaro (coconut sap).
[JK] Exactly. Jokaro, too!
[Q] Coconut shell.
[JK] Exactly! Yes, you’re right. We can also sell it... Though I must say the coconut shell can be used as charcoal.
[Q] Malle [charcoal]?
[JK] Yes. Charcoal. It is the best island charcoal that burns long and holds heat. It is made out of charred coconut shell. Not only that but fertilizers, as well. It is a far more nutritive kind of a fertilizer that helps plants and trees develop faster consuming energy from it... Well today, the palm tree is the most important tree...
[Q] The coconut tree...
[JK] Today, we take advantage of it. It is the most important tree throughout the Marshall Islands. I don’t what other things that can be produced from it, but the legend...
[Q] It is very good. Thank you very, and yes, you are definitely right. The palm tree is very important because we can also weave thatch from it, too. Say we’re staying on an island that has no pandanus tree, we obtain the coconut frond and can make thatch as well as posts...
[JK] Exactly! I forgot to mention those things, but those are also very important. Thatch can be produced from the coconut frond, you’re right... Especially when we are stranded on islets that have no pandanus trees...
[Q] There are not tin sheets, no plywood...
[JK] Yes! No tin sheets, no plywood...
[Q] No nails...
[JK] No nails and those things... Yes, you’re right!...
[Q] Not only that but you can use the coconut sennit to replace the nail...
[JK] Oh my! That too! The coconut sennit is also important... The coconut sennit holds the hut from falling apart, if there is no nail... Well, there are lots of things... Well, the first thing you do is you soak it underwater, the coconut husk... Then you bring it, dry it for a while and then pound it—to extract the bad smell. Then you will have the coconut fibre... Then you twist it to make the sennit.
[JK] Yes. That is when you braid the strings together to make one thick rope. And, from that you can use it to tie the coconut sap container to the utak.
[Q] And the sennit used for ekonaak [a type of fishing that consists of more than ten men, and the men stay in the water beyond the barrier reef], is that a sennit?
[JK] That, too! It is also made from the coconut husk.
[Q] From the coconut husk?
[JK] The husk.
[Q] Have you seen the dip net [ok in jabuk]?
[JK] That net is braided using the sennit. Then, you attach a long, wooden handle. And then, you bring a coconut frond and take its midrib to be used... along with the pandanus root called liok. Once you’re done, when you put it in the water, it attracts as many fish as possible. The fish will circle it because it attracts them... However, you can use it to catch fish when the tide is about to go out. You can use it also in a type of fishing called le mwio [fishing gear is made from coconut fronds tied together to form a long string of fronds]. Also, you can make your own kitchen wares from the coconut shell, like a cup, etc. Also, those holes on the palm tree trunk are important...
[JK] Yes. The hole you will see on the trunk of a palm tree to catch water, well that’s emmak. Also, you can make your own cup out of the coconut shell, that cup is called jimanko [coconut cup]. When you fill it with water or coconut juice, and drink you feel like you’ve forgotten your nationality; you feel like you’ve forgotten your relatives, etc.
[Q] Evidently, the palm tree is very important.
[JK] It is very important.
[Q] This is a very good story. We will try to translate it clearly.
[JK] Well, the palm tree is important to be documented, too because, it is very, very important to us and the islands. We make our living from it...
[JK] It is better and more nutritious than sodas and other soft drinks...
[Q] Medicines as well...
[JK] Absolutely. You see this green coconut that points east, well you can make medicine out of that coconut. Well... there are various types of coconut. There is one called konauwe [particular variety of coconut]—when you chew on the green skin of the husk, the skin degrades because you’re chewing on it for a while; other types, well they are clear. Anyway, that is one of the types, konauwe.
[JK] Yes, konauwe.
[Q] Very good story. We will start our translation soon because it is much easier to translate than the story.