A day in Dongjiao, the Hainan community where a single fruit is the source of everything
As the folklore in Hainan goes, coconuts have eyes. Before falling off its tree, a potentially deadly distance of up to 50 feet, an overripe nut peeps at passersby through the holes on its husk so it can avoid the innocent and aim only for the guilty.
On my first night in the Dongjiao Coconut Grove, Mrs. Pan, a farmer-turned-seller of souvenirs, relays this local wisdom to me in lilting, accented Mandarin. She reassures me that I have nothing to fear from the over 500,000 palms that populate one of Hainan’s oldest coconut plantations, located on a peninsula outside the city of Wenchang, on the island’s east coast.
“These ‘king coconuts’ are from our own ancestors’ trees; we’ve farmed them for 100 years without getting hit,” she beams. But looking up at these monarchs on their perch, growing so densely that they blot out the light with their overlapping leaves, I am not so sure. We are in their country.
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Coconut Country is a story from our issue, “Vital Signs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.