On Scraping Coconuts in Papua New Guinea (PNG)

GUEST ARTICLE: One of the joys of living in a different country is learning new skills. Mastering them is an entirely different matter…

Coconut scrapers are small wooden stools with a protruding razor-edged knife. In the hands of the competent they are an essential part of the preparations for every meal in Papua New Guinea. Local women seem to be able to sit and shred coconuts in minutes, nurse babies and hold multiple conversations simultaneously.

Obviously this meant that fresh coconut cream for vegetable soup was always going to be a distinct possibility after my arrival in Papua New Guinea (even in my unqualified hands)

Having borrowed one from a neighbor (a process that involved considerable and potentially alarming hand gestures on my part due to the mangled nature of my local language skills), I proudly set it up on the balcony of my house

Rule 1 for novice coconut scrapers: Don’t set it up in public view if you want to preserve any shreds of credibility with the locals as a functioning, adult human being.

I began by chasing the coconut around the tiles of the verandah with a massive cleaver. While the lead-up to each cut was impressive (think two-handed sword grip from a standing position), it served only to send it skittering in random directions.

Entreaties to my temporary house guest to “just hold it for me so it doesn’t keep toppling” were strangely refused.

Much later (after the coconut had died the death of a thousand cuts) I had managed to splash most of the juice onto the floor. Undaunted, and sure that temporary setbacks aside, I was about to bring the enterprise to a swift and satisfying halt, I proudly straddled the scraper.

Minutes of tendon-straining effort at a time produced only a thin frosting of coconut on the scrapers blade

Rule 2: Truth in advertising laws for novice coconut scrapers require a new word to be selected – coconut rubbing, dabbing or tickling are all current candidates.

No matter how I arranged it at the bottom of the saucepan (of an unreasonably optimistic size in retrospect), the prospects of dinner were becoming increasingly more remote.

I tried straddling it, standing in front of it, leaning on it, cursing it, manhandling the scraper and using it in reverse.

That’s when I heard the smirking …

To cut a long story short – the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” could quite equally be altered to “it takes a village (including kids and a posse of elderly Papua New Guinean women) to help the expatriate scrape his coconut (while mocking him mercilessly in the process)”

This guest article has been written by Dylan Tovey. Dylan is in Papua New Guinea (PNG) doing volunteer work with a local medical charity. He is supported by Australian Volunteers and Brilliant Prints.

If you’ve travelled somewhere off the beaten track, can write well and have good quality photos I encourage you to contact me and I’ll consider publishing your travel diary here including generous attribution and links back to your website as thanks for your contribution

3 thoughts on “On Scraping Coconuts in Papua New Guinea (PNG)”

  1. Hey Dylan- thanks for the honest description of your cocont scraping experience. Good that you still have 10 fingers.

  2. I’ve always thought of myself as an functioning, adult, human being.

    It is amazing how stepping even a little outside your comfort zone can change that assumption…

  3. if it wouldn’t have been for living in other countries and with people I knew absolutely nothing about and my willingness to travel. I would not be anywhere near where i am at today in my life. I am so thankful i have had the opportunity. even just stepping out of my comfort zone a little is a major improvement.

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