Gripping the trunk tightly, he climbed the 60 ft tall coconut tree. He ascended with lightning speed, limbs moving in perfect synchronisation. In no time, he reached the top.
Then, using his sickle, he hacked off all the old leaves. He chopped the ripe coconuts off the stalk, sending them plummeting to the ground.
He was a Koyilettakkaaran, a coconut tree climber (Paravanmaar in southern Kerala). They clamber up coconut trees to cut the ripe coconuts and prune the dead leaves.
Coconut trees, and by extension the coconuts themselves, play a central role in Kerala culture. The leaves are used formaking sheds and baskets, the husk for ropes and mats. Coconut oil is used for hair treatment, and is incorporated into traditional dishes. Coconut water is a staple drink in the state.
Trimming coconut trees is a dangerous job, only for the daredevils. Scaling these trees with no harness is no mean feat. It calls for extreme skill, not to mention immense strength.
Both their hands and legs wrap around the tree trunk and are secured together by a small rope between them. Gripping this tightly, they place their feet on the base and thrust forward. Continually adjusting their grip, they ascend.
Watching them scramble upwards, one’s heart pounds. One misstep and they could fall to their deaths.
But this does not deter them. They are seasoned professionals, after all. Their toughened hands and feet speak for the years spent in this profession. They defy death every day for a living.
The cost of trimming one tree is a nominal 70 rupees (≅ 1 USD). In addition, they receive a bonus of 2 coconuts per tree.
This is a dying profession. As fewer locals take this job, migrant workers fill their position (read about it here).
It awes me that they would choose such a dangerous profession. There are many risks involved; paralysis at the very least. As the sole breadwinners, losing their mobility would greatly impact their families’ lives.
They are courageous and yet so humble. I salute them.
Additional reading here
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