Coconuts: A Staple in Fiji

By: Abby Binion,

Senior, Majoring in Human Development and Family Science

Purpose: The purpose of this blog is to explain how thoroughly and sustainably Fijians use coconuts.

Coconuts: A Staple in FijiThis summer, I spent about 4 weeks living in a traditional village on a small, remote island in Fiji called Vorovoro. Having very limited fresh water and electricity was a huge adjustment to my life in America. It is very easy to see the direct impact my actions had on the environment. With smaller amounts of land, people, livestock, resources, etc., it became necessary to take care of those things in order to continue living on the island. As a result of these limited resources, sustainability isn’t an afterthought, but one of the most important aspects of island life.

One of the many lessons I learned was in how to make use of the resources available to me. And that is what the Fijians did! We had an opportunity to learn so many ways to use an abundant resource on Vorovoro, the coconut tree, in a workshop led by two Fijian natives, Api and Mosese.

Our workshop began with Mosese demonstrating how to climb a coconut tree. He did so effortlessly, with Api explaining the body positioning and techniques that make climbing up easier. If you have never seen someone shimmy up a tree with a machete in tow, it is quite amazing! When Mosese got to the top, he cut down some of the vibrant green fruit and several huge leaves. They began with showing us how to prepare and use the entire young coconut fruit.

Api showed us how to cut the top of the fruit open in a way that conserves the water inside, which is the first use of the coconut. Coconut water is an excellent drink, because it contains many vitamins and electrolytes, few calories, and no fat. No to mention, it tastes yummy and refreshing! After drinking the water, there is jelly attached to the fresh meat inside. The Fijians cut a spoon off of the outside, and use it to scrape the jelly and meat. It tastes sweet and has the texture of jelly. This meat of a young coconut tastes a little different than the mature ones, as it contains more moisture and is still growing. The outside can be dried out and used as fuel for a fire.

Coconuts: A Staple in FijiNext, they showed us the ways they used the ripe, brown coconuts. These will have fallen from the tree, so we all walked around and gathered them from the ground. The ones they look for contain water that you can hear when you shake it. First, Api showed us how they husk the coconuts with a long, sharp stake. When it was my turn, I found it was tricky to hit the coconut in the correct spot; it must be around the edge as to not hit the hard fruit inside, but not too far on the outside where it would slip and I would fall on top of the stake. Stab, twist, stab, twist, until it is ready to peel off. The brown, husked coconut is all I knew as a coconut before the trip! Next, Api held out the fruit in one hand and chopped it in half with a machete in the other. We didn’t try this part on our own. It looked dangerous for the Americans to try! Water is also found on the inside of the ripe coconuts, so we could collect and drink this as well. Finally, we scraped the meat from the inside of the coconut halves. They sit on top of a board with a metal scraper attached to the end, cup their hands around the back of the coconut, and scrape the meat into a bowl. Api watched us closely to be sure we wouldn’t scrape the heels of our hands. This kind of meet is sweeter, nuttier, drier, and is what I always thought coconut tasted like. The Fijians take the halves of the outer shell that is left, sand them and smooth them out to make “bilos” (a cup they use to drink kava, a traditional and ceremonial drink, out of), beads, bracelets, and other small crafts. If they don’t wish to craft anything, they can use this as fuel for fires, as well.

The last thing we had time to see a full demonstration of was how to use coconut leaves to make a broom. Many of us gathered in a circle, and Api and Mosese sat next to one another and showed us what to do. I found this to be pretty simple and relaxing. One by one, we took one of the individual leaves and cut the green leafy part off of the center stem. If it didn’t come off altogether, we were to take the knife and run it along the stem until all the little pieces were shaved off. What is left is a long, smooth bristle. Once enough of these are cut, they are bundled together, wrapped, and fastened around a handle to use as a broom. Again, the green that we cut off could be used as fire fuel. We had a great time sitting together, socializing with the guys, and working on the broom bristles.

There were even more ways the Fijians use coconuts that weren’t shown to us! They told us about coconut milk they use to cook with, and we had the chance to buy coconut oil and coconut soap that a couple on the island made. They use coconut leaves to wrap around food that they cook.

It was during this coconut workshop that I realized how little the Fijians waste. They use their resources completely, which is something I definitely needed a lesson in. The people of Vorovoro are lucky to have a natural resource that can serve so many purposes, and the island is lucky to have people that use its resources so efficiently. I learned so much on this trip. This is one of many ways that Vorovoro is, in my opinion, one of the world’s best classrooms!

For more information about the Fiji/New Zealand Study Abroad program, come by the Office of Global Education located in Spidle Hall room 232, or e-mail Kate Thornton.

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