Coconut Palms – A Balinese Life Source
To the western eye the mature coconut palm is the epitome of the tropics, but to the Balinese it merely represents a source of life. Every component of the palm – from its leaves, trunk and fruit is utilized on a daily basis.
Although coconut palms grow in most area of Bali, they particularly flourish in coastal regions where the soil has high salinity levels. The palms are generally profitable for at least 50 years and can produce up to 100 nuts annually. Coconut harvesting is a skilled profession that requires a lithe body to clamber up the trunk with bare feet and no proper safety equipment. With a swift chop of a sharpened machete the nuts fall to the ground with a thud. Many hotels and resorts employ the services of a coconut collector to remove all nuts from their decorative garden palms in an effort to avoid any nasty accidents.
The water from a young coconut makes a delicious thirst-quenching iced drink and the creamy white flesh is equally as tasty. Coconut water is actually sterile and is often consumed to neutralize upset stomachs and minor poisonings.
Grated flesh from the mature coconut is commonly used in Indonesian cooking. It is also soaked in water and squeezed repeatedly to produce coconut milk that is an ingredient for spicy curries and traditional sweet puddings. The inner meat from the nut is boiled at high temperature to produce the natural oil that the Balinese like to cook with. Dried coconut meat is also manufactured into a bi-product called copra that is an internationally known base for soaps, margarine and cosmetics.
The entire coconut is used and nothing is discarded or goes to waste. The outer fibre of the husk makes an excellent source of fuel and is the ideal fire starter for a BBQ. Meat and fish prepared over a coconut husk grill has a delicious smoky flavour. Pieces of the husk are also set aside to be used as an abrasive scourer to clean particularly dirty pots and pans. Other uses for the husk are in the production of mats, brooms and rope.
The hard flecked shell of the coconut has traditionally been shaped into kitchen utensils such as bowls and scoops. However, in recent years Balinese artisans used it as yet another natural resource to craft into trinkets for the tourist trade as well as buttons for the fashion industry. Coconut wood has always been used by the Balinese in construction as it is incredible strong and decay resistant. When polished this wood shows a stunning combination of dark and light grains that mottle with age and is popular for furniture design.
Most importantly for the Balinese, the coconut palm provides essential raw materials, in the form of frond, to make all sorts of offerings to appease the Gods. Daily offerings and elaborate temple decorations are created from young coconut leaf and carefully pinned together with pieces of leaf spine. The immature yellow nut from the coconut palm also features prominently in certain Hindu rituals. It is often used as a container for holy water and is a vital component in the tooth filing ceremony that marks the rite of passage for young Balinese adults.
There is even an auspicious day on the Balinese lunar calendar that occurs every 210 days to pay homage to the coconut tree and recognize the prosperity that his humble palm brings to many. Offerings are presented, prayers expressed and holy water is sprinkled around the base of the palm.