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  • Writer's pictureSandra Cesca

Coconut History and Folklore

Who hasn’t had coconut in some form or another? Here in Mexico it is part of the regular diet. During the 16th century, Pacific coconuts were introduced to Mexico from the Spanish East Indies via ships coming from the Philippines.

Cold coconuts can be found on many local street corners and at the beach especially on a hot day. These vendors wield a machete the likes of which I have never seen before. Off comes the outer husk to reveal a small green or brown globe with three eyes that remind me of a monkey face or ghost. The myth of the Coco, or Cucuy, originated in Portugal and is a mythical ghost-monster, equivalent to the bogeyman. The word coco is used in colloquial speech to refer to the human head or skull.

Next the top of the globe is cut off and a straw inserted for sipping the cool clear liquid as you hold the coco in your hands. When done be sure to ask for the carne or meat of the coconut to be scooped out and handed to you in a bag for snacking. The older coconut meat is dry and crunchy. Meat from the younger coconuts is slimy and not so much to my liking. You can ask for young or old when buying yours. Many locals drink coconut water regularly to ward off parasites. The nutritious value and health benefits of the water and the milk, which is pressed from the meat, is well known as is coconut oil.

So how do these coconuts make it to the local vendors? Well, the coconut palm grows almost anywhere in this tropical climate. They are known to produce from 30-70 fruits (nuts) per year for up to 70 years. The harvesting is done by agile young men who climb up these 90-foot trees, often barefoot, using simple ropes to hoist themselves up. They carry a machete which they use to cut the nut clusters down. Beware falling nuts. They have been known to kill people!

Candy stores or dulcerias around town offer many products made of coconut. Coco con leche is popular…shredded coconut, milk, and some sugar rolled into various sizes. You can also find these with fruit flavors such as strawberry, mango, and tamarind or with alcohol such as tequila, rum, and whiskey. Coconut cones made of toasted shredded coconut and honey are also delicious. Some have pineapple juice added. These cocadas you will find in dulcerias and from street vendors wheeling their carts along the Malecón or in neighboring plazas.

Other parts of the coconut palm are also used. Some artists have taken the spathe which holds the flowers and made them into lovely painted art pieces. The dried stems of the nut groups make attractive floral decorations. The fronds can be used for palapa thatch and for weaving various items such hats and bags. The husks have been used as mattress stuffing and to fuel fires. From the hard shells, artisans create jewelry and other artistic forms including those famous bikini top souvenirs! The roots contain medicinal properties believed to help in treating kidney problems, heartburn and eczema.

If you want to read more about art and culture from my travels, go here. If you are ever in Vallarta and would like to take a walking tour with me, go to my Walking Tours website for more information and photos.

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