The word ‘coconut’ is derived from the Portuguese ‘coco,’ which means ‘grinning face,’ due to the fact that the three indentations (eyes) on the nut resemble the face of a monkey.
According to the Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage, coconut trees have been in the West Indies since the 17th century. It became a commercial crop in the mid-19th century when the first plantation was established at Palisadoes, which is now home to the Norman Manley International Airport. The meat of the mature coconut, called copra, was an important export crop up until World War 2. The industry has been greatly affected by hurricanes – which have been known to obliterate entire plantations, and diseases such as lethal yellowing, which wiped out the indigenous Jamaica Tall variety of coconut trees that uses to grow profusely along our shorelines.
Over the years, the nut has become a staple in Jamaican life, used in several different ways:
- food preparation – coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut water
- home furnishings – coir from the husks were used to stuff mattresses, sofa cushions, etc.
- house cleaning – brushes made from dried husk of the coconut were used to shine floors
- jewellery and decor items – the dried shell can be used to make trinkets
- beauty – the cold-pressed oil is used in various hair and skin lotions and creams, or used as is