Eight Years' Wanderings in Ceylon.

by Samuel White Baker

CHAPTER I (extract)

I traversed the environs of Colombo. Through the winding fort gateway, across the flat Galle Face (the race-course), freshened by the sea-breeze as the waves break upon its western side; through the Colpettytopes of cocoanut trees shading the road . . .

Wherever the cocoa-nut trees are still existing, the ruin of the village must have been comparatively recent, as the wild elephants generally overturn them in a few years after the disappearance of the inhabitants, browsing upon the succulent tops, and destroying every trace of a former habitation.

For upward of a hundred and twenty miles along the western and southern coasts of Ceylon, one continuous line of cocoa-nut groves wave their green leaves to the sea-breeze, without a single break, except where some broad clear river cleaves the line of verdure as it meets the sea.

CHAPTER X (extract)

Ceylon is rich in palms, including the following varieties: The Cocoa-nut. The Palmyra. The Kittool. The Areca. The Date. The Sago. The Talipot.

The wonderful productions of this tribe can only be appreciated by those who thoroughly understand the habits and necessities of the natives; and, upon examination, it will be seen that Nature has opened wide her bountiful hand, and in the midst of a barren soil she has still remembered and supplied the wants of the inhabitants.

As the stream issued from the rock in the wilderness, so the cocoa-nut tree yields a pure draught from a dry and barren land; a cup of water to the temperate and thirsty traveler; a cup of cream from the pressed kernel; a cup of refreshing and sparkling toddy to the early riser; a cup of arrack to the hardened spirit-drinker, and a cup of oil, by the light of which I now extol its merits-five separate and distinct liquids from the same tree!

A green or unripe cocoa-nut contains about a pint of a sweetish water. In the hottest weather this is deliciously cool, in comparison to the heat of the atmosphere.

The ripe nut, when scraped into a pulp by a little serrated, semi-circular iron instrument, is squeezed in a cloth by the hand, and about a quarter of a pint of delicious thick cream, highly flavored by cocoa-nut, is then expressed. This forms the chief ingredient in a Cingalese curry, from which it entirely derives its richness and fine flavor.

The toddy is the sap which would nourish and fructify the blossom and young nuts, were it allowed to accomplish its duties. The toddy-drawer binds into one rod the numerous shoots, which are garnished with embryo nuts, and he then cuts off the ends, leaving an abrupt and brush-like termination. Beneath this he secures an earthen chatty, which will hold about a gallon. This remains undisturbed for twenty-four hours, from sunrise to sunrise on the following morning; the toddy-drawer then reascends the tree, and lowers he chatty by a line to an assistant below, who empties the contents into a larger vessel, and the chatty is replaced under the productive branch, which continues to yield for about a month.

When first drawn the toddy has the appearance of thin milk and water, with a combined flavor of milk and soda-water, with a tinge of cocoa-nut. It is then very pleasant and refreshing, but in a few hours after sunrise a great charts takes place, and the rapidity of the transition from the vinous to the acetous fermentation is so great that by midday it resembles a poor and rather acid cider. It now possesses intoxicating properties, and the natives accordingly indulge in it to some extent; but from its flavor and decided acidity I should have thought the stomach would be affected some time before the head.

From this fermented toddy the arrack is procured by simple distillation.

This spirit, to my taste, is more palatable than most distilled liquors, having a very decided and peculiar flavor. It is a little fiery when new, but as water soon quenches fire, it is not spared by the native retailers, whose arrack would be of a most innocent character were it not for their infamous addition of stupefying drugs and hot peppers.

The toddy contains a large proportion of saccharine, without which the vinous fermentation could not take place. This is procured by evaporation in boiling, on the same principle that sugar is produced from cane-juice. The syrup is then poured into small saucers to cool, and it shortly assumes the consistence of hardened sugar. This is known in Ceylon as "jaggery," and is manufactured exclusively by the natives.

Cocoa-nut oil is now one of the greatest exports of Ceylon, and within the last few years the trade has increased to an unprecedented extent. In the two years of 1849 and 1850, the exports of cocoa-nut oil did not exceed four hundred and forty-three thousand six hundred gallons, while in the year 1853 they had increased to one million thirty-three thousand nine hundred gallons; the trade being more than quadrupled in three years.

The manufacture of the oil is most simple. The kernel is taken from the nut, and being divided, it is exposed to the sun until all the watery particles are evaporated. The kernel thus dried is known as "copperah." This is then pressed in a mill, and the oil flows into a reservoir.

This oil, although clear and limpid in the tropics, hardens to the consistence of lard at any temperature below 72 Fahrenheit. Thus it requires a second preparation on its arrival in England. There it is spread upon mats (formed of coir) to the thickness of an inch, and then covered by a similar protection. These fat sandwiches are two feet square, and being piled one upon the other to a height of about six feet in an hydraulic press, are subjected to a pressure of some hundred tons. This disengages the pure oleaginous parts from the more insoluble portions, and the fat residue, being increased in hardness by its extra density, is mixed with stearine, and by a variety of preparations is converted into candles. The pure oil thus expressed is that known in the shops as cocoa-nut oil.

The cultivation of the cocoa-nut tree is now carried to a great extent, both by natives and Europeans; by the former it is grown for a variety of purposes, but by the latter its profits are confined to oil, coir and poonac. The latter is the refuse Of the nut after the oil has been expressed, and corresponds in its uses to the linseed-oil cake of England, being chiefly employed for fattening cattle, pigs and poultry.

The preparation of coir is a dirty and offensive occupation. The husk of the cocoa-nut is thrown into tanks of water, until the woody or pithy matter is loosened by fermentation from the coir fibre. The stench of putrid vegetable matter arising from these heaps must be highly deleterious. Subsequently the husks are beaten and the fibre is separated and dried. Coir rope is useful on account of its durability and power of resisting decay during long immersion. In the year 1853, twenty-three hundred and eighty tons of coir were exported from Ceylon.

The great drawback to the commencement of a cocoa-nut plantation is the total uncertainty of the probable alteration in the price of oil during the interval of eleven years which must elapse before the estate comes into bearing. In this era of invention, when improvements in every branch of science follow each other with such rapid strides, it is always a dangerous speculation to make any outlay that will remain so long invested without producing a return. Who can be so presumptuous as to predict the changes of future years? Oil may have ceased to be the common medium of light - our rooms may be illumined by electricity, or from fifty other sources which now are never dreamed of. In the mean time, the annual outlay during eleven years is an additional incubus upon the prime cost of the plantation, which, at the expiration of this term, may be reduced to one-tenth of its present value.

The cocoa-nut tree requires a sandy and well-drained soil; and although it flourishes where no other tree will grow, it welcomes a soil of a richer quality and produces fruit in proportion. Eighty nuts per annum are about the average income from a healthy tree in full bearing, but this, of course, depends much upon the locality. This palm delights in the sea-breeze, and never attains the same perfection inland that it does in the vicinity of the coast. There are several varieties, and that which is considered superior is the yellow species, called the "king cocoanut." I have seen this on the Maldive Islands in great perfection. There it is the prevailing description.