EVERY nation has a unique contribution to offer the world, and in the Seychelles it happens to be coco de mer – which for the purposes of this letter I shall call asfrut (pictured).
When you walk along Independence Avenue, the main street of the Seychelles’ capital, Victoria, you won’t see asfrut.
Asfrut grows wild but nothing in Independence Avenue is wild except the traffic. The town centre may be only two blocks – but presents an endless stream of vehicles.
Victoria’s tourist markets are somewhat removed from visitor traffic and therefore almost totally lacking in customers – a missed opportunity indeed as there were two ocean liners in port.
Anyway I was mentioning coco de mer, asfrut.
You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you how inordinately proud the Seychellois are of this unique contribution to global biodiversity.
Asfrut was growing in plenitude when man (a Frenchman in this case) first landed on this volcanic outcrop protruding manfully from the ocean floor. (That’s the Seychelles I’m referring to, not asfrut.)
It may be thought that asfrut didn’t seem a lot to offer the world, but then the moon didn’t offer much to Armstrong and Aldrin when they first surveyed its dismal, dusty surface. It certainly offered nothing like coco de mer.
Of course every people has given humanity a unique word. The Maldives gave atolu, atoll. Papua New Guinea gave maski, forget it. Australia gave boomerang, don’t come back (in fact, don’t come in the first place).
The coco de mer palm grows over 30 metres high and the mature as, er, frut, is about 50 cm long and weighs in at a lethal 30 kg.
It’s also known as the sea coconut, double coconut, Sesel nut, love nut and, since my arrival, asfrut.
There are male trees and female trees and it takes two to tango. Local legend has it that the male trees, ahem, uproot and make love with female trees. If you see this happen apparently you go blind.
British General Charles Gordon – later killed in the Mahdist uprising of Khartoum in 1885 - believed, because of their carnal shape, coco de mer were the original forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, which must have been located he conjectured, in the Seychelles. But don’t tell that to Speaker Theo Zurenuoc.
Apart from asfrut, the Seychelles, like Papua New Guinea, is a country of spectacular beauty and huge botanical diversity.
While it lacks the multiplicity of PNG’s ethnic groups, it does seem to share the same problems of lack of effective governance, management and organisation, which leaves a potentially rich place, and a potentially prosperous people, a helluva lot worse off than they would otherwise be.
But only they can do something about that.