Fiddlin' AroundNancy Buchan


hammock under a coconut palmBy Nancy Buchan

The humble coconut is truly a wondrous gift to those of us who dwell in the tropics.  Sometimes when I’m ‘reading’ in my hammock, I’ll be awakened, oops I mean startled, by the shwoosh sound and solid thump of a coconut falling to the ground nearby. Good thing though if you hear that thump, ‘cause at least it means you’re not dead by coconut….

Considering a 5 or 6 pound coconut falling from the equivalent of a 5 story building will be traveling at about 46 miles per hour, it can definitely hurt if it bonks you on the head. There are no facts about how many people are hit or killed by falling coconuts, but there are plenty of opinions coming from scientists to the village idiot. One doctor named Peter Barss (who appears to have been both idiot and scientist) had worked in the rainforest of New Guinea and published a medical paper on dangers in the tropics. In his paranoia he just made up the figure of 150 people being killed per year globally from getting hit on the head by a coconut. He just made it up, I’m tellin’ ya. Pretty soon other ‘authorities’ were quoting him without questioning his data, and another incorrect myth was perpetrated.

He was later given the “Ig Nobel” prize by Harvard in recognition of research that “cannot or should not be replicated”. Another bunch of guys with too much time on their hands had an elaborate way they calculated the probable number of injuries by figuring out how many trees taking up how much room with a certain amount of population…. They decided, through this completely unreliable and stupid method, that there were probably 400 deaths per year by coconut. The truth is no one collects or evaluates relevant data about this – there’s no guy in Figi or Dominical or anywhere who rushes to send the latest coconut info to some huge computer. Now, I do know one guy who was pushing a hand mower under a tree, heard the swoosh sound and put his hand over his head, and the coconut hit him and broke his wrist. But he wasn’t dead by coconut….

Ben Orton has a song about this very problem which is going to be on his upcoming cd – here’s the first verse and chorus:

You traveled a ways right to this spot – the sea is cool and the sand is hot,
Take a look around see what you got – mucho fiesta, yeah, we party a lot,
Where else would you rather be?   What else do you want to do?
But when you’re under the coconut tree, don’t let them fall down on you….


In ancient Indian Sanskrit the name for coconut is ‘Kalpa Vriksha’, and means “the tree that supplies all that is necessary to live”. Medical types (ha – like we can trust them!) say a person can live for 2 years on nothing but coconuts without any ill effects. They contain lots of fiber, vitamins, iron, electrolytes, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, proteins and lauric acid which fights bacteria. They help kidney and bladder and thyroid function, help maintain cholesterol levels, reduce epileptic seizures, dissolve kidney stones and are generally great for stomach and digestive problems. If you see a beach dog eating or drinking from a fallen coconut, it’s because they somehow know that it will get rid of their parasites. It’s good for stress, your hair and skin, teeth and gums, and was used in WWII for transfusions when battlefield injuries couldn’t be treated at a hospital. And coconut water is an excellent cure for goma….the dog that bit you….. hangovers. Truly a ‘Wonder Food’.

Harry Nilsson obviously knew about its healing properties when he wrote the song “She Put the Lime in the Coconut”. Here’s some of the memorable lines from that song:

Brother bought a coconut – he bought it for a dime,
His sister had another one – she trade it for a lime,
She put the lime in the coconut she drank them both up,
She put the lime in the coconut she called the doctor, woke him up,
and said Doctor, ain’t there nothing I can take?
I said Doctor, to relieve this bellyache?
You put the lime in the coconut, you drink them both together,
put the lime in the coconut and drink them both up,
put the lime in the coconut and call me in the morning…..


But just as important, you can make cool drums out of them. Just crack or saw a coconut in half, with one side being slightly larger, clean it out, get a couple of balloons and cut off the part you blow through and stretch the balloons over the two halves and play them like bongo drums, or get some chopsticks or a wooden spoon and tap on them for a great sound.  Another tip – if you are trying to get the meat out of a coconut heat it up first in an oven or stove and it will be easier to scrape or cut out. I’ve seen old folks here use a tool made from an old machete that is cut somewhat like a fork on one side to scrape out the meat. Drummers from Belize make a whole drum kit out of different size turtle shells and coconuts, then hang the rather bulky contraption around their neck so they can join the parade. In Hawaii they make a drum called a Puniu – same kind of preparation except they use the skin of a scale-less fish for the drum head and mount the coconut on a wooden ring for cushioning and play it between their knees. Or put some different length metal tines over a sound hole carved into the coconut, and you’ve got an African thumb piano, or kalimba. 

coconut bra
Coconut fashion statement

Coconuts can also provide the inspiration for fashion accessories. There are coconut purses, coconut fiber hats, coconut jewelry and of course the ever favorite coconut bras.  For those who saw the Dominical Little Theatre’s production of Dames and Dudes, you no doubt remember Richard Abraham (my favorite local drummer), who came onstage for his big number with a yellow mop on his head, a grass skirt and a lovely coconut bra. It is certainly a visual I’ve never gotten over….

Unabashed self-promotion time – come hear Ben Orton, Richard Abraham and myself playing most Friday nights at the beautiful Roca Verde Restaurant, just south of Dominical.   Support live music in all its forms and don’t hang your hammock under a coconut tree.

I drink a lot of coconut water. It balances out all the other toxic stuff I put into my body. – Rihanna

The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk. -Dustin Hoffman

He who plants a coconut tree plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a home for himself and a heritage for his children. -South Seas saying

I like coconuts – you can break them open – they smell like ladies lying in the sun. -Widespread Panic song  ‘Coconuts’

Lifelong professional musician Nancy Buchan and her husband Charley built a house in Dominical 20 years ago, and moved there full time after Hurricane Katrina swept them out of their beloved New Orleans.  Nancy plays her 5 string violin in a variety of situations – from rock and roll with Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers to jazz with C.R. pianist Manuel Obregon to Bach at beach weddings.  She has been featured on over 50 cds and teaches violin at the Escuela de Musica Sinfonica in San Isidro.  Contact her at [email protected]