The king had just named himself emperor. He had just vanquished his neighbour in battle, annexed a portion of his territory, so why ever not? Emperor!! He wore a cloak of immortality, nevertheless there was this vast emptiness in his soul and gradually he was horrified to discover that he was bored. One morning, the king ordered, “Amuse me, I am the king of the land of coconuts.”

The assembled courtiers looked at each other, their minds working furiously.

A ‘firangi’, a Frenchman and general in the king’s army was the first to speak “Coconuts were named thus by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadores sire. Far from, apparently, the brown and fibrous surface of mature Coconuts reminded them of a bogeyman from their childhood fear. An Iberian bogeyman colloquially referred to as ‘El Coco’, a hairy monster that hid beneath the beds of children and ate those who misbehaved.“

“Very interesting general. I grant you a hundred gold sovereigns. We are pleased.” Said the king.

The Vizier, not one to let a firangi upstage him, said “You are the master of all the coconut trees in the realm sire. The coconut tree is found in most regions of your kingdom and it is a Kalpavriksha, referred to as the tree of life because every bit of the coconut is used. Every part useful to us in one way or another. Also a wish-fulfilling tree. Durvasa and Adi Shankaracharya meditated under a Kalpavriksha. Ashokasundari, the daughter of Shiva and Parvati, was born beneath a Kalpavriksha tree. Another daughter Aranyani was also gifted to a Kalpavriksha. Your wish is my command sir.”

Even though the king was often suspicious of his Vazir’s intentions, he was pleased enough by his erudition to offer him a hundred sovereigns as well.

“Only a monarch such as your exalted highness could possess such a bounteous fruit. The coconut water inside the nut is a delicious drink. In dried form, from its copra oil is extracted. The husk, named coir, is used to make rope. Leaves are used to make roofs of huts, fans, mats. Palm sugar is made from budding flowers. The dried midrib is used to make boats.” Said another fawning courtier.
The king was visibly pleased. Yes, indeed, how many other monarchs could boast of such wealth? “I would tone down the flattery if I were you. We are however very pleased. We gift you a handsome white horse.”

“Coconuts are a source of health and nourishment.” Said the court physician “We can produce the drink, food, fuel, utensils and the uses for the coconut tree seems almost endless. There are so many health benefits of using coconut from the coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut water, coconut flour. Let that a look at some of the health benefits that you can gain from using coconut.”

“Thank you, I have learnt much today Vaidyar. We grant you two handsome horses.”

A courtesan, currently out of favour with the king seized her opportunity now “I use coconut oil daily on my skin as a moisturizer, I use it to bake, and cook, I use it for oral health.” She said, in a husky seductive voice.

“You will visit me in my chamber tonight.”

The court philosopher who was prone to bouts of melancholy, especially when listening to fawning courtiers, had by now a dark cloud of morbid thoughts hovering over his head. Circumspection gave way to impulse and he burst out “ Your Highness, what use your wealth and pomp, your territory, your soldiers, all these fawning sycophants when a single coconut dropping from a tree your head could kill you?”

A collective gasp filled the court and voices buzzed, some wailed.

“Take his head off!” screamed the monarch. “How dare you!”

Terrified, the philosopher looked at the assembled congregation for a glimmer of hope and only saw hatred and resentment. The king’s bodyguard put quickly put the philosopher in chains and threw him into a dungeon.

At dawn, a few days later, at a time deemed appropriate by the court astrologer, the king spat into a gold spittoon and the philosopher was beheaded.

Carpeted by seemingly never-ending expanses of coconut trees, Kerala (Keralam in Malayalam) takes its name from the tree – ‘Kera’ meaning coconut and ‘alam’ meaning ‘Land of Coconut Trees”. Copra and Coir are also words derived from Malayalam. A finally, the inimitable flavours of Kerala cuisine draw sustenance from being cooked in coconut oil and milk.

São Pedro and Pêro de Ataíde were friends, almost brothers and comrades in arms, having braved unknown terrors on three oceans, having served on Vasco Da Gama’s expedition around the Cape Of Good Hope to India. And now they were once again on Pedro Alvares Cabral’s expedition, clerks on a 70t carrack, a square-rigged, 2ooft. Caravel commanded by El Rei Sancho de Tovar, Vice-admiral, nick named Inferno. Together, they had braved uncertain tides, winds, scurvy, dysentery and adventures in the many ports that they had docked.

Cabral sailed to four continents – Europe to Africa, America, and Asia and his fleet of thirteen ships. Effectively commanded by Tovar, first made landfall on what he initially assumed to be a large island. Dropping anchor at the mouth of the Frade river, Cabral noticed that a group of natives had assembled on the beach. He dispatched a landingcontingent, headed by Nicolau Coelho. The men learned that the natives belonged to the Tupiniquim tribe. Coelho tossed them his hat and in return received a feathered headdress from their chieftain.

Strong overnight winds prompt the ships to lift anchor and sail north, finding shelter behind a reef at Cabráli Bay. A pilot named Afonso Lopes led a scouting party ashore and encounter a native canoe being rowed downstream. The Portuguese sailors confined a pair of surprised Indians and returned to Cabral’s ship. Unable communicate with the Indians, the Portuguese nevertheless fed the Indians cake and honey that they promptly spat out, unable to bear the taste. They were also visibly distressed at the sight of a chicken. After the rather awkward meal, the Indians were gifted cloth and beads and slept on board the ship that night.

The next day a group of sailors led by Nicolau Coelho and Bartolomeu Dias came ashore, accompanied by the two natives and watched warily by a band of Tupiniquims armed with bows and poisoned arrows. On a sign implying peaceful intent from the accompanying Indians two natives, Cabral’s sailors were allowed collect fresh water from the river.

The fleet lay anchored for a week, and in the interim, through a combination of signs and learning words from each other’s languages, the Portuguese and Tupiniquim gradually began a tenuous relationship – iron nails, cloth, beads and crucifixes were bartered for amulets, spears, parrots and monkeys. Portuguese ‘degredados’ (With the introduction of the penal transportation system, the term degredado became synonymous with convict exiles) and many of the sailors were assigned to spend nights in the village, while the rest of the crews remained on board their ships.

That night São Pedro and Pêro de Ataíde, sharing a meal with an Indian family, discovered Tapioca. Tapioca is derived from the word tipi’óka, its name in the Tupí language, referring to the process by which the cassava starch is made edible. The mashed cassava was mixed with native peppers, herbs and fish caught in the river. The next morning Pedro and Ataide and many of the other sailors who had relished the cassava were gifted sacks full of the tuber.

The fleet provisioned and then turned eastward to resume its journey to India. The objective of this expedition was to procure valuable spices and establish trade relations in India, competing the monopoly that the Moors, Turks and Italians possessed over the trade of spices to Europe and West Asia.

In spite of the loss of ships to a storm in the southern Atlantic and accidents of the coast of Africa, six remaining ships regrouped off Mozambique, eventually arriving at Calicut. Maintaining their ledgers and journals daily São Pedro and Pêro de Ataíde ventured into the grog houses and opium dens around the port, sometimes carousing with ebony skinned women. It was on one such foray that Sao Pedro carried a cloth bag filled with some of the cassava that they had so assiduously saved over the course of their arduous voyage and gifted it to a lady, then the object of his affections. Later that night, he taught her to cook the casava.

In Kerala, boiled and mashed tapioca is often paired with meats or fish, especially sardines. Mashed tapioca with dried salted sardines, covered in green chilly paste is cooked on charcoal.

Tapioca also contains numerous health benefits, aids in weight gain, helps increase circulation and red blood cell count, protects against birth defects, improves digestion, prevents diabetes and lowers cholesterol level. Tapioca also enhances metabolism, maintains bone mineral density and fluid balance within the body.