The Uses of the Coconut Palm in Sri Lanka
12 / 1993
In Sri Lanka, the tall graceful coconut palm grows by the seaside or on dry sandy soil. Few village homes are without a tree or two as it has so many uses.
The dried leaves provide roofing and none cooler or used as torches to light the villager’s way in the dark. The fresh leaves are used as cattle fodder or buried in the soil as leaf meal. The fine stems in the middle of the leaf, ekels make strong elel garden brooms and miscellaneous items. The hardy centre of the branch is used for fence posts or pingoes (yokes)to carry furniture on the shoulders of travelling pedestrian salesmen. The stem also makes flexible fishing rods. The fibrous wrapper round the young branch makes handicrafts like purses, toys, dockets.
The young green nut provides a thirst quenching drink. The mature nut also has juice which is added to flour to make a batter for various native dishes like hoppers. The golden variety of the coconut has delicious juice which is also intravenously as a saline substitute. The white sweetish kernel inside the nut is scaped, liquidised to prepare curries and leftovers make poonac and excellent feed for pigs and cattle. Coconut oil is made and exported to USA and europe for use in edible oils, margarine, detergents and brake oil out of dried kernel known as copra.
The outer husk can be turn into coir fibre and used for ropes, cables, canvas, fishing nets, floor mats, matting and stuffed mattresses. The shell is used as fuel in home cooking and in village laundries to heat the smoothing iron as they do not have electricity. Activated carbon from coconut shell charcoal is exported for purification, filtering of air conditioners. The shells also make spoons and ornemental items.
The flower is large and pretty like a sheath of waxed corn and is used on ceremonial occasions especially weddings as a symbol of fertility. Or else the flower is tied and a small slit made in the spathe so that the sap tickles out slowly draining into a clay pot tied to the tree to make a drink called toddy. Toddy is full of yeast and is drunk unfermented straight from the tree, or else onions and chillies are added for an extra kick. It is distilled to make arrack, the national spirit and is a popular hard liquor. Juice from the spathe is boiled to make palm syrup or boiled further down to make delicious jaggery.
The powerful trunk is used for rafers, beams, lathes boat troughs and furniture. Roots are medicinal, used for stomach upsets. The new plant grows from the germinating nut. Piles of coir dust clogging the wayside are processed and used as a fertiliser mixture, and exported to Japan and Europe as a horticulture material and even fuel locomotives. One of my most exciting moments was when the railway permitted my 16 year old son to steer an engine using briquettes on a narrow guage line from the capital Colombo to a town 26 miles away, an experience I will always remember.
The coconut tree grows in many other Asian and african countries. It would be interesting know to what uses it is put.
IRED GENERAL SECRETARIAT COLOMBO OFFICE
IRED Asie (Development Support Service) - 562/3 Nawala Road - Rajagiriya - Sri Lanka Tel : 94 1 695 481 - Fax : 94 1 - 688 368