Getting past the title of this post and accepting the fact that I honestly only realized the Swahili word for coconut is a word already well known to the world that comes with a very different meaning in the English language (give me a break, I have been speaking Kiswahili for far too long now), lets spend some time talking about coconuts! The coconut palm (cocos nucifera) is by the most commonly utilized tree in all of Zanzibar. By a wide margin. Despite its many uses in the entirety of Zanzibari culture, this post will focus on its uses in traditional Zanzibarian cuisine! Yummy I know.
The coconut is used in every common dish that each of us students have eaten more times than we could possibly count, thanks to our home stays. Only touching on the basics, coconut is used to cook: rice, beans, cassava, spinach, curry, bread, fish, and the much loved dish of sweet bananas and coconut sauce. These are staple foods in the diets of all Zanzibarians and comparatively taste nowhere near as delicious without the use of coconuts. However, outside of being used in cuisine, coconut trees have many other uses, the most frequently utilized and most destructive being cutting down the trees for timber. The trees cut are those really tall ones that you see in all stock photos of tropical paradises but these tall trees are often over 100 years old. The biggest issue with this entire situation is that hardly anyone is replanting trees after they cut them down. This is making the price of coconuts left on the remaining trees increase exponentially to such an extent that many local are becoming unable to purchase enough to cook with. The coconut culture is beginning to die out and no one seems to care enough to be doing anything about it. They still see trees on the horizon and simply figure this is an issue more easily dealt with by future generations. It is frustrating that many people seem to only think of the now and have difficulties understanding the real difference their small actions could make in the future. About a decade ago the average price of a single coconut was about 30 Tanzanian Shillings. The price has now increased to 300 Tanzanian Shillings per coconut and only continues to rise.
Here is a list I compiled on the most important ways in which coconuts are used in cuisine. They literally use the ENTIRE coconut. Nothing goes to waste and the process is extremely sustainable and environmentally friendly. However, this is only when people continue to let the trees grow and continuously produce fruit instead of cutting them down to use once for lumber. No trees = no fruit. You would think that is obvious but it is surprising how many people don’t seem to understand.
The Coconut as Food
Nazi (Coconut) *Both the whole fruit in its entirety (outside husk to water inside) and the raw untreated meat*
Maji ya Nazi (Coconut Water) *The pure, uncontaminated water found inside a coconut after it is cracked open*
Tui (Coconut Milk) *The end product from repeatedly adding water to freshly shredded coconut and squeezing out the liquid*
Chicha (Shredded, Squeezed Coconut) *After a coconut has been shredded and the milk has been squeezed out*
Mafuta ya Nazi (Coconut Oil) *Pure, natural coconut oil that comes from a process of boiling high quality coconut milk*
Tembo (Toddy) *Sap from the trunk of the tree used as sugar or fermented into alcohol*
Dafu (Young Coconut) *Any type of coconut while it is still young. Used primarily for drinking water*
Kitali (Inside of Young Coconut) *The cut off pieces of the inside of a young coconut. Eaten in chunks like chips*
The Coconut as Cooking Aids
Mnazi (Coconut Tree) *The entirety of the coconut tree*
Kumbi (Coconut Husk) *The most outer layer of each individual coconut*
Shushu (Coconut Fibers) *The rough, stringy fibers found inside the husk*
Kifuu (Coconut Shell) *The hard, protecting layer found outside the meat*
Karara (Dried Coconut Leaf Stem) *The thick, dried, inside steam of each leaf*
Mtaimbo (Iron Stick) *Stick a few feet tall, stuck in the ground and used to remove the husk*
Mbuzi (Coconut Grater) *Bench with a jagged, rounded, knife at the end. Used to shred coconuts*
Kinu (Mortar) *Large, lone standing bowl. Holds items to be ground and crushed. Works in conjunction with pestle*
Mchi (Pestle) *Large, heavy pole with a rounded end. Grinds items by forcefully hitting the inside bottom of the mortar in a downward motion*
Panga (Machete) *Large knife used to cut coconuts off the tree. Also used for chopping off the top of a coconut to open a space for drinking*
Kufua (To Husk) *The process of husking a coconut*
Kukuna (To Shred) *The process of shredding a coconut using an mbuzi*
Kutwanga (To Grind) *The process of grinding using a kinu and mchi*
Kupanda (To Climb) *The process of climbing a coconut tree*
Kuatika (To Germinate) *The process of germinating a coconut seed to prepare it for planting*
As you can see, the coconut is used in numerous ways and overall is a significant part of the Zanzibari culture in almost every aspect of their lives. The easy solution to the declining coconut population is to plant more trees! All that requires is taking an older coconut, germinating it, digging a hold, planting the nut, and going back briefly every day to give it some water. Although that last step is almost unnecessary in the rainy season (end of March to mid June) when it pours sporadic rain bullets. This seems easy enough, especially with how beneficial just one more palm could be for a community. But of course, people have difficulties thinking of the future. When asked why people don’t often plant palms one woman responded, “Planting doesn’t make you money. You could either spend your time planting a palm that you may never personally see, or you could spend your time doing something that actually makes you money”. The same woman said she is truly worried that her children will not have the opportunity to appreciate the coconut in the same way she does. It is sad that the connection cannot be made between these two thoughts.
SAVE THE COCONUT