Coconut History

  • Yussuf Hassan

    For thirteen years I grew up in the Island of Zanzibar where the staple food is coconut in almost every food you can think of. As a child together with others, we used to climb a coconut trees anytime after school for every after second or third day in a week. You need to be strong in the mind and body. It takes concentration, you have to plan every move and anticipate: The tree can fall and the wind can twist and swing it like a bucking bronco. Rats bite, you catch them sometimes in the top eating coconuts. You can tire and lose a grip, a foot can slip, the tree can be smooth with no grip. Sometimes we do fall and get hurt, trees fall too.

    Ever slide I asked, thinking of the time I got 15 feet up a tree and decided to come down by sliding: Sliding, never, never slide, sliding is lazy man. You may tear the skin off of your body because you cannot stop sliding down if started. Come down with the same strength and concentration that took you up. Place the feet, grip hard and think of every move.

    In Zanzibar diabetes is unheard of among those people who eat traditional diets.  But when they abandon their native foods and adapt Western ways, disease of all types surface.  One of these new diseases is diabetes. For centuries the people, subsisted on a diet composed primarily of bananas, yams and coconuts, lived totally free from diabetes.  Tourist on the island brought changes in lifestyle.  The islanders replaced the coconut, cassava, banana and yams they had eaten for centuries with foods made from refined flour, sugar and processed vegetable oils.  The result was the emergence of a never before seen diseases such as blood pressure, cancer and diabetes.  Currently up to 70% urbanized Zanzibar population age 30 - 64 are now diabetic.

    Coconut is a food and cash crop in Zanzibar as it is on the coast of the mainland of East Africa and elsewhere in the humid tropics. It became the second most important foreign exchange earner in Zanzibar, after cloves, and it held this position for a long time. The coconut palm is the tree of Life, because of its many different uses. These include: coconut sap (toddy) as a source of sugar, vinegar as alcohol; coconut water as a delicious, non-alcoholic beverage or vinegar and substitute for blood plasma in emergency surgical operations; coconut oil for cooking, as milk and cream, and for making soap, as diesel fuel, for lighting, for making candles; coir fibre for ropes and mats, cocopeat for horticulture; shell for buttons, decorative carving, burnt as a fuel and for charcoal; wood from the coconut stem for furniture and construction purposes; leaves for decoration and as a thatching material; finally the heart of the palm as vegetable salad (millionaire's salad).

    The coconut palm has long been an integral part of the social and cultural life of the people of Zanzibar. Coconut palms identify property land boundaries. In many rural parts of Zanzibar the tradition continues to this day to plant a coconut seedling over the placenta when a child is born. The coconut palm has the same life expectancy as a human being and thus accompanies the new individual from the cradle to the grave. This is one reason why it is very difficult to persuade farmers to cut down under-productive, over-aged coconut palms.
    The value of coconuts is known and appreciated in Zanzibar. Many rulers and governments in Zanzibar and East Africa tried to foster its development. The most recent project is the National Coconut Development Programme (NCDP). It is a development programme run in the coastal areas of the Tanzanian mainland and on Zanzibar. It focuses on producing improved coconut planting material, controlling pests and diseases, testing and adapting husbandry techniques, and advising coconut farmers.

    I started Cocopure Manufacturing and Distributors in 2007, to allow myself to do more research and development on coconuts.
    I specialized on Food science and Technology and I have obtained reasonable work experience from local and many international food companies