When the nut outshines the kernel

coconut craft

When the nut outshines the kernel

All forms of art and craft are a manifestation of the lifestyle, culture and beliefs of the people of a particular region.

It is also a result of the raw materials available in a region. The coconut palm is no exception. The coconut shell, husk, wood and frond can all be used to either express creativity or create utility items.

Art and craft from the coconut palm abound in coconut growing regions like Kerala, Goa, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, parts of Bengal, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu. This craft is also prevalent in other countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines, Java, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

The coconut palm craft begins with the simplest of raw materials — the coconut shell, which is called the poor man’s bowl. It is also used for making serving spoons with simple bamboo joinery. Coconut shell craft is eco-friendly, natural and non-toxic. For simple craftwork, at the cottage industry level, ordinary tools like hacksaw blade and sand paper are enough. A small production unit would require lathe and vertical drilling machines.

With the improvement in tools and technology, artisans have started making various utility and decorative articles by cutting coconut shells or by carving coconut wood. At a higher level of art, beautiful paintings can be done on the smoothened surface of the shell.

Bommai, that ward off evil spirits, are often painted on the smoothened surface of the coconut shell. The various shapes and sizes of the shells lend themselves to various animal forms. These coconut shells are generally bought from coconut growers, and from farmers who scoop out the coconut for sale in the market and sell the dried shell.

Coconut wood is known for its spotted grain which varies from one portion to the other, and this irregularity makes it unique and beautiful. Coconut wood is obtained from 60- to 70-year-old trees which no longer yield fruit.

The tree is selected by an experienced person who can gauge the texture of the wood by looking at the tree. The grains in the wood are determined by the soil quality and the geographical location. The timber is seasoned for two to three months. The seasoned timber is then cut to size as per the product requirement.

Coconut shell products include jewellery such as ear rings, ear drops, pendants and necklaces, as also key rings, bowls, ice cream cups, spoons with a coconut wood handle, car seat covers, pen holders, coasters, place mats and buttons.

Coconut wood products include desk-top accessories and small lifestyle products: photo frames in different sizes, candle stands, paper knives, paper weights, visiting card holders, mobile stands, napkin rings, toothpick holders, salt and pepper sprinklers, chop sticks, spoons and forks, serving bowls, walking sticks and batons.

Coconut shell and wood articles are mostly sold in the domestic market while some of the articles are exported to the US, Europe, Australia and the Middle East. Brass-inlaid coconut wood products like hookahs, snuff boxes and nut bowls are popular with the Arabs.

Over a period of time, though this craft has grown from being merely decorative to utilitarian, the look and beauty of the product still depends on the skill of  the artisan.

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