Stories From Kiribati
|Posted by Amota Eromanga on June 11, 2013 at 6:30 AM|
The coconut tree is known to be growing well in the tropical islands of the Pacific. Here in Kiribati, they do grow well and are indeed making the islands easier to being spotted and seen away in the horizon. Without these trees, no doubt, the islands of Kiribati - which are no more than two meters above sea level – won’t be seen so easily from the distance. In fact and as many may not aware of, the leaves of the coconut wave the first welcome as well as the last farewell to visitors coming and leaving the islands via the open sea.
It’s a striking tree with a tall (if not dwarf) and slender trunk. It begins with small and close leaves (bud) shooting out from the nut (husk, shell, meat and water). Over months and years, its round trunk gradually develops. The leaves are located at the top of the trunk. They are compound leaves which are long and stick out around the trunk. The tree does not have branches, though few may have had trunks split into two – lighting could be one of the causes. A fully grown trunk can go up to as high as 30 meters depending on the condition they live in (location, health and age). Believe it or not, the tree can live up to 80 to 90 years. The trunk is covered with marks (lines) left behind by falling leaves. It is also hard, strong and water resistant therefore people have been using it as primary wood in building canoes, walls, bridges, clubs, houses and more.
Leaves are found at the top of the tree. They are long feather shaped leaves that can grow up to more than 7 meters with over 250 leaflets. The leaflets are attached onto the frond or midrib. Each leaflet is composed of a vein running along the center and holding two lines of green leaves together. At the very top and right in the middle of the leaves, a new, young and white leaf called ‘kakoko’ shoots up. This white leaf is the growing point of the tree. The bases of the leaves are attached to the trunk by the fiber locally called ‘ing’. Old brown leaves falling off the tree at times is a sign of growing.
Tall coconut trees normally sway in windy days. During calm days with nice gentle breeze, the leaflets of both tall and low trees shake or vibrate slowly producing a unique rustling sound. The sound is just lovely that can easily cause somebody who lies or sits in close by huts or hammock to fall asleep. This may explain why many people tend to tie their hammocks between two trees (one of them is a coconut).
Fruits - coconuts
The spathe or flower bag (‘ari’ as an I-Kiribati calls it) shoots out from the trunk through space in front of every leaf. It’s one of the signs that the tree is mature (maturity) and ready to produce (productivity) fruits. After several days, the flower bag mildly opens - stretching out sharp branchy stems which small nuts stick onto. The nuts progressively grow - first into ‘nimoimoi’ (small green nuts) then into ‘moimoto’ (tender nuts) and lastly into ‘ben’ (brown mature nuts). From what I understand about coconuts, the time span of this process normally takes around 6 months though this may vary depending on several factors such as conditions and types. The juice (popularly known as toddy) and which Kiribati people call ‘karewe’ can only be obtained from this flower bag. To obtain toddy, the flower bag is wrapped around with string then shaved delicately with a sharp knife. Toddy is commonly used in sweetening drinks though it has other uses as well.
The coconut is a versatile tree with plenty of important uses. Its leaves and woods are excellent house building materials. The leaves can be woven into mats, thatches, shutters, dresses, fans and hats or used in making domestic items including brooms, decorations, toys and so forth. People really depend on its fruits and milk as part of their main diet - food and drink. Dried meat of the coconut known as copra is one of the main sources of income earning for people and of course one of the main exports of the country. The husk is vital in making string, door mat, firewood or medicine. People use the juice (toddy) as sugar and sweetener for their foods and drinks. Candies, wine and vinegar are other products made from toddy. The fiber is best when used as a filter and funnel.
Categories: Culture & Custom