Climbing coconut tree

Harvesting coconuts

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We have always had to hire people for harvesting coconuts -an increasingly difficult task. We have those native coconut palms which go up about two stories high or sometimes even higher. A lot of people have those stunted, probably genetically modified hybrid trees, which are easy to harvest with a sharpened sickle attached to a bamboo pole. I have always wanted to climb them, but there has been stiff opposition from my aunts and uncles. This is understandable that unlike on the beach, there is no sand to break your fall (not that it helps much) and the trees more or less grow up vertically rather than inclined like at the beach. Additionally a coconut palm has no branches to grab onto on the way down if you did slip and fall. 

From wikipedia, a man in Kerala using a modern tool for climbing a coconut oalm
From wikipedia, a man in Kerala using a modern tool for climbing a coconut palm

The circular pit (see last pic) around the coconut tree is also the nemesis of those climbing coconut trees and I have often heard of climbers who have fallen from the tree and have broken their backs and now lie paralyzed in bed. The harvesters back home still use traditional coconut coir rope to help them climb the trees. Sometimes these ropes -due to their negligence fray and break, or sometimes the tree itself snaps due to the palm rotting on the inside which is not often visible from outside.

I took some pics when our trees were being harvested in a traditional manner. My mother however says that the climber in the pic is relatively unskilled as he comes from the interior of north Karnataka and has learned more or less on the job. I wish I could have seen some of the local experts at work to immortalize the technique on this post. However, better late than never or before everyone shifts to using something like the pic to the right and people forget that there was a time when people climbed coconut trees assisted only with ropes made of coconut coir. So here goes!

The tools, a loop of strong rope made of coconut coir, a length rope of the same kind, and a katti -a sickle embedded under the lungi at the lower back
The tools -a loop or several loops of strong rope made of coconut coir which can safely take the weight of the climber, a length rope of the same kind, and a katti -a sickle embedded under the mundu (what the climber is wearing) of the climber at the lower back

Both the ropes are customized to fit the climber. They are soaked in water for several minutes to improve its grip on the tree and re-soaked between climbs if required.

A close up of the ends of the length of rope for the hand shows how it is finished to prevent the hands slipping off
A close up of the ends of the length of rope for the hand shows how it is finished to prevent the wet rope slipping off the hands of the climber. The other end of the rope is identical
Note how the loop of rope and the length of rope is used to begin the ascent
Note how the loop of rope and the length of rope is used to begin the ascent. The loop is used as a brace and also for additionally gripping the tree
Basically the climber inches up the tree like an inchworm. Pulling himself up with the rope and then drawing up his legs and gripping the tree. Here the distance between his hands is too large, that is because this shot was taken when he was descending as I was unable to get a clear shot on his way up.
Basically the climber inches up the tree like an inchworm. Pulling himself up with the rope and then drawing up his legs and gripping the tree. Here the distance between his hands and feet is too large, that is because this shot was taken when he was descending as I was unable to get a clear shot on his way up.
On reaching the top, they can support themselves on the base of the palm leaves
On reaching the top, they support themselves on the base of the palm frond, sometimes even standing of on them!

 

Once on top, the required coconuts -either mature or tender are lopped off in bunches. It is also possible to twist the coconuts till they break off. They are usually dropped into the soft trough around the coconut tree
Once on top, the required coconuts -either mature or tender are lopped off in bunches. It is also possible to twist the coconuts individually till they break off. They are usually dropped into the soft trough around the coconut tree. Palm fronds on request by the owner are also lopped off, if they are too close to the house or required for other purposes.

If tender coconuts for water are to be harvested, a whole bunch of them are gently lowered from the tree with a rope to prevent them from breaking as the hard shell has not yet formed inside them.

It is not impossible to climb the coconut tree with your bare hands, but it is relatively more dangerous and you need to have a lot of strength as a kid I’d always give up half way up the tree. It is also extremely dangerous and foolhardy to climb a coconut tree during the monsoons as the trunk becomes slimy.

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