800px-Mandalay_Palace

The Burmese Coconut Tree

 

A friend of mine is married to a chef. He was recently invited to do a cooking presentation in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar).  I would love to know what he is preparing for them. Perhaps it includes coconut.

 

The Origin of the Coconut

Many hundreds of years ago a raft with three people on it reached a city on the Burmese coast. The three strangers were taken before the king. In answer to the king’s questions, the strangers said that they had been set adrift on a raft on the orders of the king of their own country across the sea, because they were found guilty of certain crimes. One of the strangers was a thief, another a witch, and the third a mischief-maker who harmed people by his tittle-tattle.

The king gave a house and one thousand silver coins to the thief, and allowed him to settle in Burma. “He was a thief only because he was poor,” explained the king, “and now that he is no longer poor, he will make a good subject.” To the witch also the king gave a house and a thousand silver coins and allowed her to settle in Burma. “She bewitched people merely out of jealousy,” explained the king, “and she was jealous of others only because she was poor and unhappy. Now that she is rich, she will no longer be jealous of other people’s happiness.” But the king ordered the mischief-maker to be executed at once. “For,” said the king, “once a mischief-maker, always a mischief-maker.” So the mischief-maker was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off.

The next day one of the king’s officers passed by the place, and to his surprise he found the head of the mischief-maker rolling about on the ground. He was the more surprised when the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said repeatedly, “Tell your king to come and kneel to me here. Otherwise I will come and knock off his head.” The officer ran back to the palace and reported the matter. But nobody believed him and the king was angry, thinking that the officer was trying to make fun of him. “Your Majesty can send another person along with me,” suggested the officer, “and he will surely bear me out.” So another officer was sent along with the first officer to the place of execution.

When they reached there, however, the head lay still and remained silent. The second officer made his repot, and the king in anger ordered the first officer to be excutied at once as a teller of lies. So the unfortunate officer was taken to the place of execution, and his head was cut off in the presence of his fellow officers. When the execution was over, the head of the mischief-maker opened its mouth and said, “Ha,ha, I can still make mischief by my tittle-tattle, although I am dead.” The officers, realizing that a gross injustice has been done to the dead officer, reported what they had seen and heard and the king was full of grief an remorse.

The king, realizing that the head of the mischief-maker would make further mischief by his tittle-tattle if it was to remain unburied, ordered that a deep pit be dug and the head buried inside it. His orders were obeyed and the head was duly buried. But the next morning, a strange tree was seen growing from the place where the head had been buried. The strange tree had even stranger fruit, for the latter resembled the head of the mischief-maker. The tree is the coconut tree. It was originally call ‘gon-bin’, which in Burmese means ‘Mischief-maker tree’, but during the course of centuries, the pronunciation of the name has deteriorated, and it is now called ‘on-bin’ or ‘coconut tree’. And, if you shake a coconut and then put it against your ear, you will hear a gurgling noise for, you see, although now a fruit, the head of the mischief-maker still wants to make tittle-tattle.

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Maung Htin Aung was born on 18 May 1909. He was the great grandson of a military officer who fought in the first war against the British in 1826. There were two more wars against the British and eventually Burma was completely overtaken in 1885.

Maung Htin Aung was part of an aristocratic family and received a Bachelor of Laws from Cambridge Univiersity, a Bachelor of Civil Law from Oxford University, a Master of Laws from the University of London and doctorates in Anthropology and Literature from Trinity College, Dublin.

He wrote books on Burmese history and culture. The above is an excerpt from his book Selections from Burmese Folk-Tales published in 1952 by Oxford University Press.

A later edition: Burmese Folk Tales is available at Amazon.com

 

Burmese Coconut Rice

Serves 8

Ingredients
5 cups rice
3 coconuts
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
2 onions

Grate the flesh of 3 coconuts. Pour some hot water and squeeze the milk through thin muslin. Repeat till all the milk is extracted. Wash rice thoroughly. Put rice into pot. Add this milk until it stands ¾ inch above the rice. Peel, quarter and wash the onions. Add to the rice, oil, sugar, salt and onions. Stir till well mixed. Cook till the milk is evaporated and the rice tender.

 

4 comments

  1. Gorgeous story about the coconut – but my dear, does that mean you didn’t read where coconuts (really) come from (http://thewanderlustgene.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/where-baby-coconuts-come-from/)? :)

    Now, that’s a big batch of coconut rice! Are we preparing for a special gathering? In Sri Lanka ‘milk’ rice is a must for any auspicious occasion, from a wedding to the opening of a new shop/building/business, moving into a new house, or simply a family get-together! Flavoured only by the milk, and the faintest whisper of cinnamon, it’s delicious with shaved jaggery but even better with a little gravy-rich red beef curry, or a firey fresh onion symbol, it’s traditional accompaniment. Oh yum …

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