PUTTING THE LIME IN JFK COCONUT
This past summer I spent much of my time researching and writing about the Solomon Islands during WWII and JFK's tour of duty there and how now Communist China is taking over.
*JFK SOLOMONS PROTEST RED CHINA
*KUMANA SON JFK's LETTER TO CAROLINE
*JFK'S CAROLINE VISITING SOLOMON ISLANDS
*JFK SAY KEVU SPOKE BRIT ENGLISH
*KUMANA FAMILY KEEP JFK ALIVE IN MEMORY
*RED CHINA INVADING JFK'S SOLOMONS
During that deep dive into the Solomons, describing JFK's life and death experiences there, the coconut JFK wrote the message on played a huge role. Here's the story of how it came to be:
watch THE JFK COCONUT Ripley's
During his tenure as president, John F Kennedy kept a strange collection of desk ornaments and paperweights. Among the scrimshaw whale teeth and model ships was the dried husk of a coconut. That coconut helped save the life of Kennedy and the crew under his command in World War II.
During the war in the Pacific with the Japnese Empire, Kennedy served as the commander of a Torpedo Patrol Boat (PT Boat) in the Solomon Islands. In command of PT 109, he led 30 successful missions before disaster struck. During a night patrol mission, Kennedy's boat was struck by the Amigiri, a Japanese naval destroyer. The crash resulted in an explosion, killing two crewmembers. The remaining ten managed to grab on to a floating piece of wreckage, but they were left stranded in the open ocean. Drifting south, they spotted land and managed to swim 3.5 miles to the shore. Kennedy himself towed a badly injured soldier while grasping a life-vest with his teeth. A competitive swimmer in school, Kennedy volunteered to swim from the first island - which had no food or water - to another. He eventually found an island with coconuts and water, and the whole team swam for it. This whole time, the crew had to be careful. Japanese patrols and secret outposts could be anywhere. Eventually, the group spotted a pair of natives in a canoe. Hailing the boatmen, Kennedy carved a message into a coconut husk indicating how many crewmen were alive, and that they needed help.
NATIVE KNOWS POSIT
HE CAN PILOT 11 ALIVE NEED SMALL BOAT
The natives that found Kennedy, Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, took great risk transporting this message to allied forces. Native spies had been captured and tortured by the Japanese Navy before. Kennedy even warned them to scratch out the message if they were caught. The pair traveled 35 miles, and delivered the message, bringing back help for the stranded crew. Kennedy didn't keep the coconut, but it was recovered years later and returned to him. He had it encased in resin, and JFK kept the coconut on his desk for the duration of his presidency. Now, it's on display at the John F Kennedy Library at the Boston Museum.
~ end quoting ~
I hadn't realized, until coming across that Believe It or Not article during my Solomons research, that the coconut JFK had on his desk in the Oval Office is on display in the JFK Library & Museum. I went to their website and sure enough it's there with a photo and plaque:
Four days after they had been given up as lost, JFK and his crew were discovered by two native scouts in a canoe, who carried this message carved coconut shell to a nearby Australian coast watcher. JFK's message read: NAURO ISL...COMMANDER...NATIVE KNOWS POSIT...HE CAN PILOT...11 ALIVE...NEED SMALL BOAT...KENNEDY
It looked somewhat different from the photo I'd posted, years ago, of the coconut on JFK's desk -- but it was shot from above and from a different angle so that is probably why.
Another thing I recently learned is that a replica of JFK's coconut has been made and manufactured into a paperweight. When Caroline visited the Solomon Islands in August -- to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 79th anniversary of the sinking of PT-109 -- she gave coconut replicas to descendents of the native scouts who'd saved her father's life.
As can be seen in the photo above from the news coverage, the replica looks different from the real thing in JFK's office and on display in the museum. It's obviously plastic, seems larger, and the colours are redishy-brown and yellowish. To me it didn't look like a coconut and this was confusing. To satisfy my curiousity -- and to reward myself for completing the Solomon Islands articles -- I ordered a replica on-line from the JFK Library & Museum gift shop.
In very quick time the package arrived and I excitedly opened it up. As always, with gifts I receive, I displayed the coconut on the blessing table in front of the frame of rose petals I'd taken from Orwell's grave placed on a photo of Princess Diana's grave at her ancestral home of Althorp.
I was pleasantly surprised that the replica looked much better in reality than in the photos and is actually beautiful. It's an ornament more than a paperweight. It's very heavy and is the exact size of my hand cupped around it with all fingers outstretched and can't be securely picked up that way. Instead you have to lift it holding onto the wooden base it sits on. In the rugged brown strip through the middle JFK's words are etched in with depth and if you run your hand across the surface it's rough. The whitish-creamyish curved sides around the message-strip are translucent and give a sense of texture like the surface of a coconut. Light reflects off its highly glazed surface making it shiny like a glass paperweight. I love it and it's a cherished possession to add to my JFK memorabilia.
Although the JFK coconut replica looks like a coconut in size and shape its contrasting colours caused me confusion. I imagined that the coconuts JFK and the crew drank and ate, while waiting to be rescued, had fallen on the ground beneath a palm tree -- or they'd miraculously managed to climb a tree and toss some coconuts down.
I thought the coconut JFK wrote the message on would look the same as the coconuts a person sees in the store. But all the photos of the JFK coconut -- even the original on his desk and the replica -- have the coconut shell only being a dark strip in the middle surrounded by a lighter part of coconut. I also started wondering how it was possible that JFK could write so clearly, and seemingly easily, onto such a hard surface as the shell of the coconut.
Totally baffled I sent an email to the grandson of Eroni Kumana -- the rescuer who taught JFK how to write on the coconut -- asking him to explain how it was done:
Greetings Rellysdom Mala,
Could you please explain or demonstrate on your blog exactly how JFK wrote on the coconut. I have never been able to visualize what the coconut looked like that Biuku or Kumana climbed up and brought down from the tree. Was it a ripe coconut with the hard brown shell covered in hair or was it a green unripe coconut? In photos of the coconut on JFK's desk - and in the replica that Caroline gave out at the ceremony -- It looks like the coconut is partially peeled, ie there's only a strip of hard brown in the middle and that's where JFK carved the words. Wouldn't it have been easier to have written on the soft white part? I am sure this question will make you wonder how I wouldn't know this but the truth is I don't. I have googled the question: "How do you write on a coconut" but nothing comes up. I would appreciate it very much if you could help me with this.
All the best, Jackie
Kumana's grandson replied:
To Orwell Today,
Writing on the coconut HUSK, fruit, and its petiole continues these days for youths who play at the seaside. The petiole part (open message beside roads for public) is common in rural communities as it is waterproof. I will find the best digital camera for demonstration.
~ end quoting ~
While waiting for the reply from Solomon Islands I did some more research trying to figure out how JFK wrote on the coconut. I went to the store to buy a coconut so I could try carving on it myself. The song PUT THE LIME IN THE COCONUT kept popping into my head so I bought a lime as well. When I got home I tried writing a message on the coconut and it was so hard I couldn't even etch one letter on it let alone 15 words as JFK had done. How he did it -- or on what part of the coconut -- was as confusing to me as the meaning behind PUT THE LIME IN THE COCONUT song.
I googled step by step how to crack a coconut to get the water and the meat to drink and eat like the PT-109 crew had to do to survive. Below are pics of how it's done:
watch PUT THE LIME IN THE COCONUT listen
1971 song by Harry Nilsson (the fifth Beatle)
Brudder bought a coconut, he bought it for a dime
His sister had anudder one, she paid it for de lime
She put de lime in de coconut, she drank 'em bot' up
She put de lime in de coconut, she drank 'em bot' up
She put de lime in de coconut, she drank 'em bot' up...
My interpretation of the lyrics:
The brother and sister both had stomach aches (probably from a hangover) and bought coconuts and limes to make a drink to cure it. The brother bought his coconut with a dime but the sister already had a coconut and traded it for a lime. The reason they were making the coconut-lime drink was because it's a remedy the doctor had previously told them about when they'd gone to him for treatment. So when the stomach ache didn't go away and the sister was writhing in pain in the middle of the night she called the doctor and told him the remedy didn't work and asking what she should do now. The doctor asks her for clarification by repeating what she told him she'd done, ie "you say you put the lime in the coconut etc etc"... And the sister keeps whaling at the end of the phone saying she did what he'd told her to do, ie put the lime in the coconut and it didn't work and demanding to know what she should do now. So the doctor repeats the procedure a little more specifically saying you put the lime and the coconut and then you "drink them both together and then you'll feel better" and then to call him during office hours in the morning. At the end the doctor, in exasperation, raises his voice and accuses the sister of being "such a silly woman".
~ end of Putting Lime in Coconut story ~
By the time I'd finished the coconut-carving and coconut-cracking experiments -- and ate and drank them both up -- the email from Solomons arrived with a video.
watch THE JFK SOS MESSAGE DEMONSTRATION, Kumana's blog
(scroll down to when it was posted on September 12th)
After watching it a few times, I still had questions and sent another email:
Hello Rellysdom Mala,
Thanks so much for creating that excellent video demonstrating how to climb a palm tree and loosen a coconut then throw it to the ground and break it open and then write on the husk but not the shell of the coconut fruit. That's the part that's still a bit confusing. Is the brown coconut shell inside the husk? Could you please explain in words, besides in action, what's happening each step of the way and if that's exactly how Biuku and Kumana did it. Did they have the tool that the boy in the video used to crack open the husk?
All the best, Jackie
Kumana's grandson replied:
To Orwell Today,
They got the young coconut from the coconut palm. They went through step-by-step (exactly) what the video demonstrated. They used a wooden tool (a piece of sharp wood) to separate the layer (husk) from the shell. Usually, the color was preserved for up to 3 to 4 days and then started to loosen its color till turning brown.
~ end quoting email ~
Having now received further explanation on what was happening in the video -- especially the word coconut "husk" instead of "shell" -- it started dawning on me that what I knew about coconuts in their natural environment up in the tree -- before they arrive in the store -- was absolutely zero. To further my understanding I googled info on the biology of coconuts and especially about the husk.
What I learned is that the hairy brown coconut shell full of the water and white meat is on the INSIDE of the coconut husk (sort of like the husk around a cob of corn) and you have to remove the husk to get at the nut inside. The bunches of coconuts up in the tree all have their husks on and when they are ripe they fall off the tree from way up high (or are thrown down) and land on the ground. The husk, with its inches of soft fibres surrounding the nut, cushions the fall and protects it. The husk is very difficult to remove, to get at the nut, and there's a technique -- usually requiring a sharp tool and alot of force. The husk is ripped off in shreds -- a quarter at a time. The skin of the husk -- either yellow, green or brown -- is thin and it scratches easily and so, duh, that's the part of the coconut a person writes the message on.
As seen in the JFK Message Demonstration video that Kumana's grandson sent, the kid (impersonating Kumana) climbed the tree and threw down a coconut to Biuku (also impersonated by the kid) who sliced it into pieces on a stake and then handed a quarter of the husk to the hands (impersonating JFK) that we see scratching out the SOS.
So in reality, JFK -- impersonated above by my GI-Joe action figure -- didn't write the message on the hard SHELL of the coconut but on a piece of the soft HUSK and that's what Biuku and Kumana delivered to the "Commander" to whom it was addressed. And that's exactly what the coconut in GI-Joe's hands looks like. It's shaped like an elongated oval -- which I'd never really noticed before -- and not round like an unopened coconut shell (which I'd always imagined JFK wrote on).
As mentioned in the Ripley's PT-109 article, it wasn't until years later that the coconut with the message was returned to JFK. With it being only a strip of husk -- turned dark brown as it aged -- it must have been fragile and, for support, was laid across a coconut shell for transport and then encased in a glass-looking dome for preservation.
Having brought my GI-Joe-JFK into play for demonstration purposes, I carried on posing him in scenarios on how the coconut message came to be.
I don't have a palm tree growing in my yard but I do have tropical Canna Lilies towering on the balcony. I used a leaf to symbolize the quartered husk the message was written on. My JFK pillow is sitting on a chair in front of the sliding glass doors as though supervising the project. In a way he is, because as mentioned elsewhere on the webiste, I work for JFK and he's my boss.
After my successful project of putting the lime in the coconut and drinking 'em bot' up I had two halves of the coconut shell leftover. I used them for staging the re-enactment of JFK writing the message on the husk of the coconut. I put the coconut paperweight on a fresh Canna Lily leaf to get the idea of the size. Then I folded the leaf into the shape of a quartered husk and wrapped it over a coconut half. Then I wrote the message on the leaf in the exact way JFK had etched it. It never ceases to amaze me how succinct and intelligently laid out the message was. It was like a mini-letter with a return address; then who it was to; then vital info to effect rescue; then how many to be rescued; then who it was from. And his handwriting was perfectly legible.
The song that kept popping into my head this time (like "Put the Lime in the Coconut" had) was "PT-109" by Jimmy Dean which was a mega-mega hit in 1961 when JFK was still alive.
watch PT-109 SONG listen
(the last photo in the music video -- of PT-109 sailing past painting of JFK's face -- is from my website*)
In '43 they put to sea thirteen men and Kennedy
Aboard the PT 109 to fight the brazen enemy
And off the isle of Olasana in the straight beyond Naru
A Jap destroyer in the night cut the 109 in two
Smoke and fire upon the sea
everywhere they looked was the enemy
The heathen gods of old Japan
yeah they thought had the best of a mighty good man
And on the coast of Kolombangara looking through his telescope
Australian Evans saw the battle for the crew had little hope
Two were dead and some were wounded all were clinging to the bow
Fightin' fire and fightin' water trying to save themselves somehow...
Smoke and fire upon the sea...
He led his men through waters dark rocky reefs and hungry sharks
He braved the enemy's bayonets a thirty eight hung round his neck
Four more days and four more nights a rescue boat pulled into sight
The PT 109 was gone but Kennedy and his crew lived on...
It was pitch black that night in appropriately-named "Blackett Strait" as JFK and PT-109 were patrolling there looking for Japanese destroyers. The other two PT-boats in their squadron had already fired their torpedoes and left to return to the base at Rendova. The PT-109 was all alone, with no radar and it was silent all around them -- with even their own engines hardly making a sound being on idle to prevent making a fluorescent wake to enemy aircraft flying above.
I tried to re-create that atmosphere using my GI-JFK and other props -- like my PT-109 boat and books propped up to set the scene. The other half of the coconut -- the one I'd broken apart to get out the meat -- was on a plate in pieces and for fun I assembled them like a puzzle to see how much shape it still had.
The cracked sides and the jagged hole at the top reminded me of a volcano and I got the idea to place it around a candle-holder I got in Mexico (where I'd sit under palm trees sipping pina-coladas).
The volcano prop looked like Kolombangara and I placed it with the others in a scene staged to represent JFK and PT-109 on the last day before they headed out to their last mission after the sun went down.
Next I set up the props to represent PT-109 cruising past the massive volcano rumbling and threatening eruption -- symbolisng "smoke and fire upon the sea" and the beginning of the survival and coconut story.
Finally, to conclude my play, before putting GI-JFK and all the other props away, I set them up to represent the dawn of the new day where "some were dead and some were wounded" and JFK led them "through waters dark, rocky reefs and hungry sharks".
I placed my Orwell glass paperweight on the booklet I'd compiled of the Solomon Islands articles I'd written in August -- to which I'll add this final chapter.
All the best,
Jackie Jura, October 2022
JFK PT-109 GI-JOE SOLD & JFK GI-JOE ROCKING MEMORIAL
*JFK'S BOAT & COCONUT
JFK SOLOMONS PROTEST RED CHINA
watch PT-109 SONG listen
KUMANA SON JFK's LETTER TO CAROLINE
JFK'S CAROLINE VISITING SOLOMON ISLANDS
(79 years after rescue of PT-109 crew)
JFK SAY KEVU SPOKE BRIT ENGLISH
KUMANA FAMILY KEEP JFK ALIVE IN MEMORY
RED CHINA INVADING JFK'S SOLOMONS
(China leasing strategic island of Tulagi)
July-August 31, 2022
JFK TRUTHS & UNTRUTHS & JFK ASSASSINATION PUZZLE PIECES
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