Coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm tree. The term is derived from 16th-century Portuguese word coco meaning skull. Coconuts are used in a variety of products and they are known for their versatility. It is used in foods, cosmetics, and many other products. Coconut oil is used for cooking and also used as hair oil, coconut milk is used in various dishes, green coconuts are used to drink coconut water. Coconut water calms the body heat. Even the shells of coconut are used to make different types of crafts.
The art of making utility products and decorative items out of coconut shell and wood is called coconut crafting. This can be classified into two types,
a) Coconut shell craft, and
b) Coconut Woodcraft
This craftwork is mostly practiced in parts of India where coconuts are largely grown. Coconut shell craft can widely be found in Kerala, Goa, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar islands and in few parts of Bengal. Coconut crafting can also be found in other countries like Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Philippines and Maldives.
Traditionally this practice was followed by coconut farmers who scooped out the copra and used the shells to make cups, bowls, vases, boxes and many more. It is also believed that coconut crafting was experimented by the Vishwakarma community in Kerala in making of swords and other utility products.
Brass broidered coconut shell craft of Kerala is the most popular of coconut crafting. The brass broidered cups, snuff boxes, vases, spoons, glasses, powder boxes, nut bowls, etc is practiced only by the artisans of Kerala. Making crafts out of coconut shell requires great skills and energy as it is extremely hard to carve on coconut shells.
Chaya Nisarga, an NGO based in Bangalore has a small production unit with a lathe machine and a vertical drilling machine. Its vision is to promote coconut wood and shell craft.
For the making of coconut craft raw materials like coconut shell, wood, tools like chisels, files, pliers and bow cutter, hack-saws, vertical drilling machine, buffing head and sander disc are used.
a) Coconut Shell Craft :
- 1) The neatly scooped out and dried coconut shells are brought from the farmers or growers.
- 2) The right and suitable shell for that particular design are chosen.
- 3) The surface of the shell is scraped with files to make it smooth.
- 4) The shell is cut with a hack-saw according to the shape and size of the design.
- 5) The smaller details of the design are drawn on the inside of the shell for cutting work.
- 6) After obtaining the required shape the edges are made smooth with files or sandpaper.
- 7) After the required design is obtained and edges are made smooth the piece is polished with beeswax to give it the shine required.
- 8) The piece is dried in the sun and ready for sale.
b) Coconut Woodcraft :
- 1) Coconut wood is obtained from coconut trees which are of 60-70 year old and no longer yield fruit.
- 2) The design is first sketched on paper with proper measurements.
- 3) Wood is placed in the turning machine to scoop out and make the hollow shape inside according to the design.
- 4) The measurements of the design are marked against the rotating wood.
- 5) The artisans hold chisels and sandpaper to crave out the wood to give it the shape required.
- 6) At each stage, sanding is done to make the surface smooth.
- 7) The small pores are fixed with fevicol and sawdust and sanded.
- 8) For making hollow products like pen stands the inside wood is scooped out whereas to make photo frames the wood is sanded.
- 9) Varnish is applied and dried in the sun. The product is ready for the sale.
Products like necklaces, ear drops, pendants, key chains, bowls, cups, spoons, car seat covers, pen holders, etc are made using coconut shells. Products like photo frames, stands, paperweight, mobile stands, chopsticks, spoons, bowls, forks, furniture like cupboards, chairs, etc are made using coconut wood. These products are usually available in exhibitions, domestic markets and online sites.
Over time these products have become part of our lifestyle. Handmade products like coconut craft have a lot of value and require skilled labor to make them. The machines have been helping and making the work easier yet it still takes artisans creativity and works to make the products look attractive and versatile.