Pitcairn Island Unna a Coconut

The 10 most important things one should learn and do whilst on Pitcairn

Hot Water
Trading
Fishing
Pota
Fly a Kite
Unna a Coconut
Down the God
Swimming
Nola Reynolds
Miz T

Unna a Coconut

During Darrin, Brandon and Zara’s stay on Pitcairn, and from the time of arrival, they insisted they master the art of unna’ing a coconut.

The coconut is an important ingredient used in many traditional Pitcairn recipes - dipping a ripe banana into the freshly grated flesh of a coconut makes it a dessert. Its extracted can be turned into butter, or squeezed into favourite dishes like, ‘Wild Beans’, ‘Fish in Milk’, ‘Potta’, ‘Mudda’ and ‘Tale’ - just to name a few.

The tool we use to grate the white flesh of the coconut is called the ‘Unna’, hence the phrase “…to Unna a coc’nut”.

The traditional ‘Unna’ was a multipurpose tool. Twice as long as a contemporary Unna, it had an extended platform at the rear of the seat. This was used to hold a flat stone we call the ‘Yolla’. Like the Unna, the ‘Yolla’ is also a form of grater. However, the Unna and Yolla produce very different results. The Unna, used to grate coconut produces a coarse grating. The Yolla is used to grate sweet potato, yam and green banana producing a very sludgy paste.

The Yolla stone is of a particular type, the best found close to Bounty Bay. It is relatively soft, very porous and much pitted. The pitting is sharp which gives it its natural grating properties. To make a Yolla, a selected stone is soaked in water for many days which further softens it, after which it can be easily carved and shaped into a slab.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Yolla Grater
The Pitcairn 'Yolla' - Grater
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The Porous Surface of the Yolla
The porous stone's natural sharp pitting.
Ideal as a grater

Over time the extended rear platform holding the Yolla was dropped from the Unna’s design. Perhaps because of the contraptions overall length, its bulk, and heavy weight which made it awkward to move about.

Today’s ‘Unna’ is simply a seat with an iron bar attached which protrudes from one end. The grater is the bar’s leading edge which is sharpened with fine serrations. It’s this that produces the gratings.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Unna
The Pitcairn 'Unna'
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Unna
Basically a seat with a
protuding sharpened bar.
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - The Unna Bar
The sharpened bar has serrations
which prodes the gratings

An old metal file makes an excellent bar. Heat one end in a fire to soften, flatten to splay its edge and then cut in the serrations. Drop in water to cool and re-harden.

At first, one might think it shouldn’t be too hard a task to Unna a coconut.
However, as Darrin and Brandon discovered it took several dozen coconuts and many, many tries to get it right.

To Unna is one thing, to select the right coconut is another.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Selecting Coconuts
Decisions, decisions -
this one, that one?
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Selecting Coconuts Isn't Easy
Hmmmmmm... this is tricky!

Darrin spends many hours deciding on the right nut to use.
Which palm the coconut has come from, its colour – yellow through to brown, its size – big or little, when shaken – does it contain liquid or not.
Much goes into deciding the best of the best.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
Brandon prepares to dehusk a coconut

After deliberations Brandon takes over. His task is to remove the outer husk of the coconut.

To do this we use a ‘Digger’. The ‘Digger’ is simply an iron bar in the ground. Its top edge is splayed and sharpened, so it easily penetrates the hard husk.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
To dehusk we use a tool we call the 'Digger'

With force, drop and stab the coconut into the Digger. Lever it to peel off a section of husk.
Continue around the rest of the coconut until the entire husk is removed. Easy, peasy.

Not for Brandon though.
After dropping, throwing, banging, levering, twisting, jimmying, chucking, winding and yelling, he’s yet to get off any husk –
Amateur!

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
This isn't going quite the way I planned it!
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
If I just get it started, I'm sure it'll be down hill from there.
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Dehusking A Coconut
Brando 0, Coconut 1

…“%#@%#* - This isn’t working. What do I do now?”

Remain persistent. Once you get the action right a husk can easily be removed in 2 to 3 pieces.
Brandon remained persistent and eventually produced a bare nut.
… Although there was shards of husk from one end of the yard to the other.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Cracking Open A Dehusked Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Cracking Open A Dehusked Coconut
Darrin cracks open a nut to expose its fleshy inside.

Taking the nut, Darrin uses an axe to slowly tap around the outer shell. This needn’t take a lot of force, nor does the axe need to be sharp. Any hard blunt object will do the job just as well.
At some point, tapping your way around the nut, it will simply split.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Sitting on an Unna
Get ready.... Go!

Ok – position yourself on the Unna with a bowl underside.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating A Coconut
Slowly work your way around the inside of the nut

Placing a half nut over the Unna bar, slowly grind backwards and forwards, at the same time slowly turning the nut eventually completing a whole 360 degree turn.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating A Coconut
Around and around, slowly the flesh falls away
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating A Coconut
Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Grating A Coconut
Before you know it, a bowl full of grated coc'nut!

Continue this action until all the flesh is removed.
Viola – a bowl full of grated coconut.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Drinking A Coconuts Milk
One of the pleasures of the job.
Darrin drinks a glass of coc'nut milk

Darrin wisely collected the coconuts watery content when cracking open the nuts. It makes for a great thirst quencher during the entire process.

Pitcairn Island, Big Flower - Drinking A Coconuts Milk
Nuts up

CHEERS - To fellow masters of the Unna!