On an island that is as long as three football fields, and the width of one, the soil is sandy and saturated with the ocean. Not much will grow there, except mangroves, grass, and coconut trees. The islanders, therefore, put nothing to waste. Almost everything is used, and during our stay there, I found that the most used plant on the island was the coconut tree. Here is a list of its uses, starting with the roots:
1. The roots, which grow outward and upward, mound and dry out as they die and are replaced by new growth. They are dense and woody, and produce a thick, blinding smoke when burned. The islanders harvest them in chunks the size of cinder blocks to burn during the rainy season to keep the mosquitoes away. When the monsoons come to the island, clouds of mosquitoes come with them, mounding behind you as you walk or sit like a corporeal manifestation of the island's ghosts. Smoke keeps them at bay, and when the rains come, it hangs over the village, trapped to the houses and people by the humidity and moisture and dripping trees.
2. The trunks of coconut trees provide the support for the village houses. They also make great platforms to jump out into the ocean from.
3. Where the trunk meets the leaves of the tree, there is white, juicy flesh that is sweet and packed full of nutrients. The villagers eat this substance when a tree is cut down, as a special treat. They also tap it in live trees, much like we tap maples for the syrup, and turn the liquid into a potent, fiery coconut toddy. They call this liquor, 'kaleve', and on any given night you can find, somewhere in the village, a circle of men sitting on mats, passing around a mug of the toxic stuff and slamming it as the reggae music gets louder and louder.
4. The leaves of the coconut tree are harvested and dried to weave into mats. These mats are sat upon, slept on, eaten from, and form walls on the huts. The leaves can also be woven into baskets, fans, hats, little balls, pinwheels, and I'm sure other things that I have forgotten by now. The slender ribs of the leaves are stripped and gathered together to make brooms, which the women use to sweep the floors of their huts, and the dirt expanses outside. They also make excellent toothpicks.
5. The coconut itself is used in all its forms. When a coconut falls to the ground and sprouts, the milk inside of it curdles into a spongy substance. This is packed with nutrients, as well, and the villagers gather these 'grow coconuts' to munch on as treats. I've also seen them given to babies to suck on, like we use pacifiers. The sprouts of the 'grow coconuts' can also be eaten.
A dead, dry, brown coconut is harvested for its many parts. The husks are collected and stored to use as fuel for the village fires. They also make excellent, smoldering smoke to keep the bugs away. The shells form hot coals when burnt, and entire huts are filled with the little brown cups against the time when a fire is needed (which is every day, several times a day). Children also thread strings through them and walk on the upended coconut shells like stilts.
The meat of a dry coconut is harvested and set out in the sun to harden. This forms copra, which the islanders sell to the Japanese for pennies on the dollar as their primary source of income. The copra finds its way into many of the expensive lotions and foods that Western consumers are so fond of.
Dry coconut meat can also be grated, then wrung in a mesh of shredded vines to release the creamy milk, which sweetens the island's cooking pots.
Green coconuts (fresh from the tree), are harvested to drink. The soft meat inside can be eaten. Some trees produce green coconuts with sweet husks, and the kids chew on them like candy.