The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) represents the last survivor of its genus. No one knows exactly where it comes from, but civilized people found it along tropical shore lines for centuries before the old world collapsed.
Coconut trees provide humans with food, fuel, cosmetics, medicine, building materials, and more. They spread the coconut tree around the world and far deeper inland than it likely would have gotten on its own. They eat the meat, sometimes drying strips of it to eat while on hunting or sailing trips. They also drink the water and milk, sometimes mixing the milk with other beverages such as coffee or cocoa. Like many other palms, people tap coconut trees to make palm wine, a popular beverage. They also ferment coconut water to make coconut wine.
The husks and shells of coconuts provide an excellent source for charcoal, or used for convenient bowls, and, when shredded, comes in handy as gardening mulch. People use the fronds for thatching, weaving, and basket-making. And, of course, the wood itself makes for excellent building material for houses, bridges, and boats. In some parts of the world, people prepare the roots as a treatment for diarrhea, while others use the oils secreted by the shell when heated to treat toothaches.
Communities that focus on their relationship with the coconut tree often call it the “tree of life” for all of the gifts it offers. A community’s relationship with coconut can shape it in profound ways. Some examples include:
- A coastal community might focus on coconuts, using its sturdy, salt-resistant wood to build canoes or larger boats. Additionally, many sailors rely on coconuts for both water and food on long sea voyages. A coastal community that focuses on coconuts can develop a proud and strong boat-building tradition and trade coconuts with sailors for an almost endless supply of exotic trade goods from far-off lands. The members of such a community often become known as worldly and cosmopolitan people. Even those who never travel far will have an endless stream of news and stories from the sailors who pass through, but their own boat-building traditions and constant contact with other travelers will encourage many to go out and have their own adventures. They’ll learn new languages and perfect the diplomatic skills needed to travel the world. In such a community, you might find that most people have visited another continent, and the especially impressive travelers have been to all of them.
- A gardening village might grow coconut guilds, using swidden cultivation. They often plant these coconuts with banana, papaya, cocoa, and/or coffee trees below them; annual crops below that; and occasionally vanilla vines snaking up the coconut palms themselves. Such communities can find great meaning in the relationship between these plants and how they support one another. This can provide a template for society, with sodalities dedicated to coconut and the other plants involved in the guild.
- Communities that focus on coconuts often value climbing ability quite highly. Talented climbers in such communities win great prestige and status. They might use climbing competitions as an alternative to violence for settling disputes. Like most alternatives to violence, though, this activity carries its own risks, and the medical tradition of such a community will likely emphasize how to set bones and treat the sorts of injuries that one might suffer from a fall. The neighbors of such a community will often seek them out when one of their own suffers a terrible fall.
- Some communities strike an alliance with monkeys, offering them some of the meat gathered in return for their help fetching coconuts from the tall trees. Such communities value greatly an understanding of the society and customs of the local monkeys and the ability to communicate and negotiate with them. Such communities will often raise orphaned monkeys like their own children and live in close contact with them every day. They may have an oral tradition that harkens back to a distant common ancestor, or even consider themselves a single community first, and humans or monkeys second.
- Long before the collapse, coconuts held deep significance in Hinduism. After climate change flooded much of coastal India, Hindu climate refugees settled widely all over the world (especially in recently-uncovered land in Greenland and Antarctica), taking their beliefs with them. A community focusing on relationship with coconuts may practice an animist-inflected variety of Hinduism, or trace their descent from Hindus and retain the tradition of breaking a coconut in offering to gods or spirits.