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Do Not Underestimate the Coconut Tree.

Cover Image: Masthead of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa published on December 15, 1866.

Aloha Nūhou Monday!

Dear Reader,

Here is yet another example of a call-to-action from the Hawaiian language newspapers that is still relevant 157 years later. In 1866, one man longs for the coconut groves of his childhood, highlighting the value of the coconut tree for far more than its tropical ornamentation.

If you have not used the coconut tree for water, oil, food, shelter, mats, bowls, utensils, instruments, canoes, cordage (the list goes on), you may simply see a tall, thin-trunked tree, iconized as a symbol of white sandy beaches and island vacation homes. But have you ever carved a drum from the base of its trunk? You will never look at coconut tree the same way again. Have you used its husk as cordage for lashing? How many meals have you made with its fresh meat? Did you drink the coconut water or pour it down the drain? Often times, when a tree is trimmed, its leaves, nuts, and trunk are discarded. The true value of this tree is lost on many. Let’s change that, together.

Image: Coconut sprout. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 93911.

Image: Kanu Niu. Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, December 15, 1866, p. 4.

Plant Coconuts.

My fellow farmers, let us plant coconuts. Before, when our ancient chiefs were living all of our beaches were made beautiful by the coconut groves.

But we are the new generation who have grown tired of coconut trees and let them fall. These beautiful groves which made Hawaii proud are vanishing. In my opinion, this tree of ours is prettier than the foreign trees that the whites have introduced here. Some of these foreign trees are good but the prettiest Hawaiian tree is the coconut.

This Hawaiian wishes to see again in my old age the coconut groves that I saw in my boyhood, but with a greater increase of coconut trees.

At this time, all the land belonged to the chiefs and coconut trees grew on them. Now we have our kuleanas, each man owning his own place. Coconuts could be planted close to the house. The trees will grow up and one will see the nuts hanging nicely on them.

Where are you my companions! The nuts of the coconut are of value. Three or four are being sold for an eighth of a dollar. If you plant a coconut that is a prolific bearer, it will bear a hundred fold in a year. (You can get) ten dollars or more for each tree every year.

The profit is greater than that of sugar cultivation. Everything grown by the coconut is of value. The leaves are good for covering houses; the fibers are good for making strong ropes.

I admire the captains of ships who praise coconut fiber ropes that they have obtained on other islands and scold us for being too lazy to grow coconuts and make strong coconut fiber ropes for sale.

That is true and we should be ashamed of ourselves. I have planted ten trees when I received my kuleana and they are bearing many nuts. Because I know that my ten trees have beene profitable, I am planting more this winter. Shall we all do it? After a few years, three, four or five, we shall again see the coconut leaves on every beach of Hawaii nei, swaying in the breeze.


(Translation from the Hawaiian Ethnological Notes (HEN) Newspapers of the Bishop Museum Archives, Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, December 15, 1866, p. 4. Most of the translations in the HEN collection can be credited to the work of Mary Kawena Pukui. No reproduction without written permission.)

Image: Coconut sheath at the base of the fronds. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 93921.

Image: Coconut tree with nuts outside of a house. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 215971.

Image: Coconut grove. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 215970.

Plant coconut trees, sell the nuts, and make cordage – Line our shores and houses with these majestic palms so that we may once again gaze upon the beauty of their leaves fluttering in the wind.

This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

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