Not many of us today realize the importance of a coconut tree to the lives of many Malays during my younger days. In fact even in some remote villages today, the coconut trees are still an important part in their lives. The fruit itself has a multi-purpose; the husk of the fruit is most ideal for baking cakes and even using it for orchid planting, the shell can be made into a ladle while of course the fruit itself is most useful in almost all Malay dishes and delicacies. Dried coconut leaves are most sought for making penyapu lidi and in some villages, its trunk would be used as connectivity over a big drain. The ketupat is being wrapped with coconut leaves and the satay we eat uses the stick taken from the coconut leaves. For that reason, many Malay houses of my time will have coconut trees planted in their homes. We produced our own coconut milk and we only bought it during emergency when our coconut fruit stocks wasn’t available. We had six tall coconut trees in our house compound. Coconut trees are very tall and none of us could climb them and so whenever our coconut fruits were out of stock, we would employ the services of the coconut tree climbers.
During my younger days we had two coconut tree climbers offering this service namely Pak Bedot and Pak Hussein. Both were in great contrast in their physique. Pak Bedot was a big man, stout and strong while Pak Hussein was a small and frail looking man but in terms of their skill in climbing coconut trees, they were both champions. However, they both had one thing in common and that would of course be the smell of coconut all over their bodies.
Whenever our stock was almost nil, grandma would tell me to be on the look out for both Pak Bedot or Pak Hussein and so I would always be on the look out if any of them would be passing by our house. Each would be riding on their beca (trishaw).
Pak Bedot would begin his climbling by tying himself with a gunny rope loosely over the tree trunk and would slowly ascend himself to the top. He would always had a long cane with him stuck onto his belt. Why would he bring along a cane while climbing? Well, in spite of being strong and big sized, Pak Bedot was always paranoid when encountered with a lizard. It’s more of a geli (squeamish) feeling just like me. I can never be near a lizard. Whenever he noticed a lizard above him, he would stop and took his long cane to beat the poor harmless creature. Once we heard him shouting like a tarzan because there was a lizard on his head. It was disastrous because he dared not hold the lizard with his bare hands. Then he would shake his head vigorously trying so hard to loose the lizard. Once he sensed that the lizard was no more around, he would slowly begin his climb again. At one time after shaking his head so vigorously, he was suddenly silent for a few minutes. When we all shouted at him what went wrong, he shouted back kepala Pak Bedot peninglah (I feel dizzy). From that incident onwards, he would always wear a glove while climbing, just in case.
When he reached the top, he would find a suitable site to rest his body and he’d better look for a site strong enough to contain his weight. Then the plucking would begin and one by one the fruit would fall. We would always ask him to pluck some young coconuts for our immediate consumption and drinking its milk. While doing his plucking, Pak Bedot would sing some Hindi songs and would imitate his idols but we always told him not to dance whenever on top of the tree because that could be fatal if his dancing went overboard. When his business was over he would descend and always singing his favourite Hindi songs. When he reached the center of the trunk, safe enough to guarantee his position, he would stop and sing the song even louder and this time his singing would be accompanied with his own style of belly dancing. Sometime while so absorbed with his Hindi tune, we would shout at him and said, Pak Bedot, tengok tu, ada cicak atas kepala (Pak Bedot look, there’s a lizard above your head)” and immediately his lovely tune turned into a horrendous shout like as though he had seen a terrible looking ghost. I miss my lovely and gentle Pak Bedot.
Pak Hussein was a small size man and would always have a small medal pinned above his pocket. According to him, he was once serving with the British army and was extremely proud of it. His favourite words were ‘Don Mensen’ (Don’t mention) and so we would always say thank you to him and his immediate reply would be ‘Don Mensen’. Even if we say terima kasih, his reply would still be ‘Don Mensen’.
Pak Hussein had a different style of climbing. Being smaller and lighter, his climbing was much faster than Pak Bedot and he had no problem with lizards. When up on the tree top, he would be so silent and suddenly we noticed the coconut falling one by one. When his business was done, he would descend faster than ascending.
When on the ground, Pak Hussein would be more talkative. He would tell us stories of his army days and the time he stayed in the jungle during the Japanese occupation. So whenever his troop encountered a coconut tree, he would be the center of attraction. According to him he had climbed more than five hundred coconut trees while staying in the jungle. Never mind about his exaggeration, we always loved to hear his stories. In the midst of telling his stories, we would always interrupt by saying ‘thank you’ and he would always answer immediately ‘Don Mensen’.
During the festive seasons when we needed a lot of coconuts, we would sometime employ both of them at the same time. So Pak Bedot would climb the trees behind our house while Pak Hussein would do the job in front where we had three coconut trees. It was like watching a competition and kids like me would run around to the front and back enjoying the fall of these fruits.
There was another coconut tree climber I have forgotten his name, but we seldom used his service. We didn’t use him much because it wasn’t him that would do the climbing. He had a beruk (monkey) with him and the beruk would be the one doing the works. He cycled all over the housing areas with his beruk sitting at the middle of his bicycle’s handle.
Both Pak Bedot and Pak Hussein would obviously be paid for their services. Sometime both of them would bring home some coconuts for their own consumption. The next time their services would be needed would be in a month’s time and when that time was due, we would wait anxiously for the arrival of Pak Bedot or Pak Hussein.
Terima kasih Pak Bedot and thank you Pak Hussein….’Don Mensen’.