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Ibn Battuta on the Coconut
From the English translation by Dr. Mahdi Husain
The Rehla of Ibn Battuta - India, Maldive Islands and Ceylon - translation and commentary
Oriental Institute, Baroda, India 1976

The coconut tree is one of the most wonderful trees. It is similar to the date tree and there is no difference between the two except that the former produces coconuts while the latter produces dates.

The coconut resembles the human head. There is a semblance of the eyes and mouth on the shell. And, when it is green, its interior is like the brain and the fibres on the shell are hair-shaped. These are woven into cords which are used in joining up the ship's planks instead of the iron nails and are also used in making the ship's rope.

The Indian coconut and particularly that which grows in the Maldive islands rise to the dimension of the human head. It is said that in the remote past, one of the Indian physicians was near and dear to a king who had a vezir. The vezir had an enmity with the said physician. The physician said to the king, 'Should the head of this vezir be cut and buried, it would produce a tree bearing a large fruit which would benefit the Indians as well as the world at large.'
The king inquired, 'And if the vezir's head does not produce the result you foretell?'
'In that case,' replied the physician, 'you may do with my head the same that you did with his.'

Thereupon the king ordered, and the vezir's head was cut off. The physician took it, sowed a date stone in its brain and 'treated' it until it became a tree which produced the Indian coconut.
But this story is false; we have mentioned it because it is very well-known among the Indians.

Among the properties of this coconut are the following: it strengthens the body, conduces to plumpness, adds to the ruddiness of the face and acts wonderfully in toning up the sexual powers. One of the marvels about it is that if cut while yet green, one could drink its highly delicious and cool water which generates heat and acts as an aphrodisiac.

After the water is drunk a piece of its crust is made into a kind of spoon by which the kernel is extracted, and this kernel tastes like a half-boiled egg and is nutritious. This formed my principal diet during my stay in the Maldive islands for a period of one year and a half.

coconuts in various stages of growth at Fares-matoda, Huvadu atoll (Gaaf Daal) Maldives 2010
Coconuts in various stages of growth at Faresmatoda island, Huvadu atoll (Gaaf Daal), Maldives 2010

Another marvel about the coconut is that they make out of it oil, milk and honey. And the process for making honey out of it is this: the coconut cultivators called al-fazaniya climb the tree morning and evening and extract the juice which is subsequently turned into honey and named atwaq. They cut out a fruit-bearing branch leaving the rump of it to the extent of two finger-breadths and suspend to it a small pot in which drips the juice from the cut-up branch. Were the pot suspended in the morning, it would be attended to in the evening when the cultivator comes with two bowls of the said coconut shell - the first filled with water. And in the second bowl he throws the juice collected from the said branch and washes the branch with the water contained in the first. Then the branch is cut into more deeply and the pot is suspended to it again, and what was done in the evening is repeated in the morning.

After a large quantity of the juice is collected, it is cooked in the manner the grape juice is cooked, and when it turns into a thick juice it becomes an elegant honey of very great utility. Then it is purchased by the merchants of India, Yemen and China, and they carry it to other countries and make halwa out of it.

The process of extracting milk from the coconut is this: there is in the house something like a chair in which sits a woman holding in her hand a stick with a sharp iron end. The coconut is opened to the extent that the iron end should enter it scraping the inner parts which drop into a dish until nothing remains of the kernel of the coconut. Then the grounded stuff is dissolved into water which becomes white and tasty like milk, and people grease their food with it.

The process of making oil from the coconut is this: the ripened coconut having fallen from the tree is picked up. Then its shell is removed and it is cut into pieces and placed in the sun. When it is nearly dried, it is cooked in the pots and its oil is extracted. This oil is used for lighting purposes and for greasing the food, and women apply it to their hair and it proves highly useful.

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