The Origin of the Coconut

What transformed the fruits of the common date palm into large, nutritious coconuts? “Brainpower…

A widely enjoyed oral tradition shared among the medieval inhabitants of the Indian Ocean said that the coconut, which to the people of the Maldives resembled a human head with its wispy hair fibers and meaty brain-like insides, was in fact sprouted when a human head was once planted in the ground.

There was, as it goes, in ancient times an Indian king who kept by his side two aides. One was his childhood friend who had become a philosopher. The other was a vizier, a very intelligent and high-ranking political adviser.

The philosopher was well respected and had long held the entrusted esteem of the king, but the vizier began to usurp his position as the king’s right-hand man. So, the philosopher created a ploy to preserve his position in the royal court. He told the king that should the vizier’s head be cut off and buried, India and all its earth shall become extremely fertile and reap a bountiful harvest. To give the king assurance and confidence in this claim, he offered his own head to be cut off should he turn out wrong. Having faith in his lifelong confidant, the king took the philosopher’s advice and ordered the vizier’s head.

The deed was soon done. The lopped off head was delivered to the philosopher who then placed the seed of a date palm inside the vizier’s brain cavity and buried the head as if planting a seed. And from that spot there grew a palm tree that, rather than bearing bunches of the common date fruit, sprouted out giant nuts that looked just like the vizier’s head! Brown and hairy with juicy meat inside: the coconut!

Coconut Grove in Wakenaam By Marco Farouk Basir, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Coconut Grove in Wakenaam, Guyana / Marco Farouk Basir / CC BY-SA 3.0

Source: Ibn, Batuta, and Tim Mackintosh-Smith. The Travels of Ibn Battutah. London: Picador, 2002. Print.

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