Luckily for Sir Isaac Newton it was only an apple that fell on his head when he cooked up the idea of the Universal Law on Gravitation. Had he been sitting in a coconut grove things might have turned out considerably different, for the coconut has a quiet reputation as the silent killer. Our journey north has finally deposited us on Colombia’s Caribbean coast and if there’s one thing the Caribbean coast is never short of it’s a coconut tree. In fact, for the past few days we’ve been surrounded by plummeting coconuts, their constant thud leaving us with the distinct feeling of being under siege. Whilst we can all put up with a bit of bird shit dropping in our hair, a coconut crashing on your bonce is an altogether more weighty problem to dwell on…or not, as the case may be. So, how dangerous are they? Well, soon after our arrival at Los Angeles Camping the owner was quick to advise against walking under the coconut trees fearing, quite possibly, that we might be rendered incapable of paying our bill. But he had a point, even if a quick dash to Wikipedia unearthed a ream of spurious information concerning death by coconut. For example, in 1984 Dr Peter Barss, whilst working in Papua New Guinea, made a study entitled “Injuries Due To Falling Coconuts”, though 28 years later his life’s work earned him an “Ig Nobel Award” from the Annals of Improbable Research, to which he replied rather huffily…’When you’re treating these injuries on a daily basis it’s not funny.’ George H Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File, fanned the flames of this urban legend when he claimed the chances of being killed by a shark are much less than those of being killed by a falling coconut, to which he attributed 150 fatalities a year. Whilst Messrs Barss and Burgess might have had to bear the brunt of a few jokes over the years, others erred on the side of caution. In February 2002 The Daily Telegraph reported how coconut trees were being removed from the beaches of Queensland, Australia, to guard against “death by coconut”. And in November 2010, the Guardian newspaper ran a story on a decision by the Indian government to remove all the coconuts from the trees at Mumbai’s Gandhi museum, ‘…for fear that a nut might descend on to the head of President Obama.’, who had recently visited the city. The report added, ‘Thanks to Indian officials and the Barss study, Obama’s recent visit to Mumbai was devoid of coconut trauma.’ Whilst it seems the earliest reported incidence of death by falling coconut was in 1777, when King Tetui of Mangaia, Cook Islands, lost a concubine to a “falling green nut”, coconut casualties have not always been influenced by gravity. In April 1983 a coconut was cited as the cause of death involving a female goose-beaked whale, after a husk became lodged in her intestine, causing her to beach herself on a sandbar at Siesta Key, Florida. Not to be outdone by a whale a production line manager in Kiev, Ukraine, achieved the extraordinary feat of tumbling into a vat of coconut oil, where he succumbed to drowning. Undoubtedly it’s a perilous life on the beach, between the shark-infested waters and the killing fields of the coconut groves, so I’ll leave you with a poem by Frederick Seidel entitled “The Coconut”.
A coconut can fall and hit you on the head.
And if it falls from high enough can kind of knock you dead.
Dead beneath the coconut tree, that’s the life for me.