25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Our Island's "National Tree"
Idid something last week that made me say, “Gosh! Things have really changed!” First I bought a gallon of coconut water and paid ten dollars for it and secondly I purchased a can of coconut water imported from some Caribbean country and paid $2.50 for it. Now that would never have happened 25 years ago. Let us look at the famous “national tree” of Ambergris Caye, La Isla Bonita.
First of all, no one in his right mind would ever think of paying even ten cents for a coconut. Coconut water was readily available at anytime because most people had a couple of coconut palms in their yards. Furthermore, they were abundant all along the coast for 26 miles and you could pull a few anywhere along the beach. Any tree within 60 feet of the beach was considered public property, but to tell the truth you could enter any “cocal” or coconut plantation and pull coconuts with no one bothering. So the price of coconut water was zero.
The tender chopped meat of the coconut was used very much to make a candy called “cocobrut”. Then if you grated the coconut you made another candy called “tableta”. In Placencia, not San Pedro, they made another candy using the coconut water called “stretch me guts”.
The milk extracted from the grated coconut was used to make journey cakes or Johnny cakes, as well as white rice or rice and beans. Also the milk was used in the fish soup called “chechac” as well as in boil up. My grandmother and then my father taught us to make coconut paletas called Popsicle. With the same mild the villagers made ice cream very much like the delicious ice cream at Manelly’s.
The coconut water was used as refreshment at lunchtime very much like you would drink cool aid or a soda. On Sundays as the boys and girls walked down the beach, they would park by a shady area and enjoy a few coconuts, making sure they got the ones with a very thing meat layer, which is absolutely delicious and nutritious. We had heard a story that some man on a deserted island had lived for about two months eating only coconut meat, so we were not afraid to eat coconut meat very generously. Everyone knew back than also that the coconut water flushed and cleaned the kidneys, so most people had it as often as possible for that reason.
When someone had loose bowels, the young or small coconuts were boiled in a pot and the water would be drunk to stop the “cagalera” or loose bowels. Now there is a cloth-like material looking like crocus sack that grows around the base of the palms, just below the bunches of coconuts. Now I will not tell you what the men and boys working in the bush used this material for because it is a bit embarrassing, but if you ask around someone will tell you. If no one tells you, then call me and I’ll tell you personally. For the visit of some dignitary, coconut palms were used to decorate the place. For a dance, coconut palms were placed at the dance hall also for decorations. And to make a shade, whole coconut palms were used as roofing material. Back in the 1950’s the coconut meat was dried over a fire and exported as “copra”, which was used as a base in the manufacture of soap, oils and perfumes. Of course coconut oil was made locally and used to fry the most delicious fish you can ever dream about.
Lamentably, today we still used the coconut but at a lesser scale for it is scarce and also very expensive. Perhaps the famous Cholo’s Bar drink named “coco loco” is the most popular use. I say, let us all plant some more coconuts in our yards and all over the island and we can go back to 25 years ago.