Establishing the Intimate Link: 20th Century Tropical Agriculture and the Establishment of the Coconut Zone

*Philip Jan Cerepak  -  Department of History, University of Wisconsin Madison, United States
Received: 8 Jun 2020; Revised: 10 Jun 2020; Accepted: 15 Jun 2020; Published: 15 Jun 2020; Available online: 15 Jun 2020.
Open Access License URL:

Citation Format:

 This paper examines the role of colonial science institutions in imagining and developing the Coconut Zone, an area of intense coconut production that extends from the small Pacific island chains encompassing the Caroline and the Marshall Islands, all the way to northern Papua, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Southern India. Through an examination of European colonial science institutions, as well as the Philippine Bureau of Science, and Agriculture, this paper establishes the intimate connection between western consumers and tropical producers. Here, within the agricultural institutions, we are able to see the burgeoning demand for copra production and a formation of a distinct Coconut Zone. This paper builds upon Sydney Mintz’s theoretical articulation of sugar production to situate copra, the dried meat of the coconut, in conversation with other global, colonial commodities.

Keywords: Coconut; Copra; Tropical Agriculture; Commodity; Colonial Science; Environment
Funding: Institute of International Education; National Security and Education Program Boren

Article Metrics:

  1. Anonym. 1912. The Cult of the Coconut: A Popular Exposition of the Coconut and Oil Palm Industries. London: Curtis Gardner
  2. Anonym. Without year. “Industrial Surfactant Synthesis.” In The Reaction and Synthesis in Surfactant Systems, edited by John Texter. United Kingdom: Taylor and Francis Group
  3. Beccari, O. 1917. “The Origin and Dispersal of Cocos Nucifera.” Philippine Journal of Science, 12, C
  4. Berry, E. W. 1926. “Cocos and Phymatocaryon in the Pliocene of New Zealand.” American Journal of Science 5 (12)
  5. Bleichmar, Daniela. 2008. Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. 45-50. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  6. Child, R. 1971. Coconuts. London: Longman
  7. Cook, O. F. 1901. “The Origin and Distribution of the Cocoa Palm.” The U.S. National Herbarium 7 (2): 257 – 291
  8. Cook, O.F. 1910–1912. “History of the Coconut Palm in America.” The U.S. National Herbarium 14
  9. Copeland, Edwin Bingham. 1906. “On the Water Relations of the Coconut Palm (Cocos Nucifera).”
  10. Copeland, Edwin Bingham. 1908. Elements of Philippine Agriculture. New York: World Book Company
  11. Cronon, William. 1991. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: Norton and Company
  12. Dayrit, Fabian. 1906. “A Brief History of the Philippine Coconut Industry as Reflected in the PJS, 1906 to 2005.” The Philippine Journal of Science. Centennial Ed. Manila: Quezon City
  13. Driver, Felix. 2004. “Imagining the Tropics: Views and Visions of the Tropical World.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 25 (1): 1-17
  14. Edmondson, Charles Howard. 1941. “Viability of Coconut Seeds After Floating in Sea.” Occasional Papers of Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 16 (December)
  15. Endersby, Jim. 2008. Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  16. Felix, and Luciana Martins, eds. 2005. Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  17. Foucault. 1971. The Order of Things. London: Longman
  18. Fourth Annual Report of the Philippine Commission, Report of the Civil Governor for the Period Ending December 23, 1903. Entry 91, BIA, RG 350, Box 5. USNA. B73
  19. Gunn, Bee F., Luc Baudouin, and Kenneth M. Olsen. 2011. “Independent Origins of Cultivated Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) in the Old World Tropics.” PLOS ONE, 6 (6)
  20. Harries, H.C. 1978. “The Evolution, Dissemination and Classification of Cocos nucifera L.” Botanical Review 44 (3): 265-319
  21. Harries, H.C. 1981. “Germination and Taxonomy of the Coconut.” Annals of Botany 48 (6): 873 - 883
  22. Hedley, C. 1896. “A General Account of the Atoll of Funafuti.” Australian Museum 3
  23. Hedley, Charles. 1896-1900. The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice Group: Its Zoology, Botany, and Ethnology, and General Structure Based on Collections Made By Mr. Charles Hedley, of the Australian Museum. Sydney: Sydney Museum
  24. Hill, A. W. 1929. “The Original Home and Mode of Dispersal of the Coconut.” Nature 124
  25. Hodge, Joseph. 2011. “Science and Empire: An Overview of the Historical Scholarship.” In Science and Empire: Knowledge and Networks of Science Across the British Empire, 1800 -1970. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan
  26. Kromer, George W. 1964. Coconut Oil Imports and Consumption Increasing in the United States. Washington DC: Economic and Statistical Analysis Division, Economy and Research Service
  27. Kromer. W. 1968. The U.S. Oil Situation. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture
  28. Low, James. 1836. “A Dissertation on the Soil and Agriculture of the British Settlement of Penang or Prince of Wales Island.” In The Straits of Malacca: Including Province Wellesley On the Malayan Peninsula with Brief Reference to the Settlements of Singapore and Malacca. Singapore: Singapore Press Free Press Office
  29. Manuscript Reports of the Second Report of the United States Philippine Commission on Affairs in the Philippine Islands. Vol. 2. Entry 91, BIA, RG 350. USNA. Box 922. 340
  30. Marsden, William. 1811. The History of Sumatra: An Account of the Government, Laws, Customs, and Manners of the Native Inhabitants. London: Thomas Payne and Son: London
  31. Mintz, Sidney. 1985. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. 153. New York: Penguin Books
  32. Moore, Oscar K. (1948). “The Coconut Palm: Mankind's Greatest Provider in the Tropics.” Economic Botany, 2, no. 2 (April-June): 119-144.
  33. Oliver, Douglas L. 1988. The Pacific Islands (revised edition). Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press
  34. Ortiz, Juan. 2001. Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar. Duke University Press: Durham and London
  35. Raby, Megan. 2017. American Tropics: The Caribbean Roots of Biodiversity Science. North Carolina: North Carolina Press
  36. Report of the Chief of the Insular Bureau of Agriculture for the Year Ending August 30, 1902, in, Report of the Philippine Commission 1902. Part 3. Entry 91, BIA, RG 350, USNA. A1375 – A1380. 502
  37. Ridley, H. N. 1930. The Dispersal of Plants Throughout the World. L. Reeve and Co. Ashford: Kent
  38. Smith, H. Hamel, and F. Pape. 1911. Coco-nuts: The Consols of the East. London: Tropical Life Publishing Dep
  39. Snodgrass, Katherine. 1928. “Copra and Coconut Oil.” Fats and Oils Studies, No. 2. California: Food and Research Institute, Stanford University
  40. The Copra Dock at Islais Creek 1947 - 1974. The ILWU Oral History Project. Vol. 2, part 1. Edited by Harvey Schwarts. From the Dispatcher, June 1998
  41. Walker, Herbert S. Without year. “The Coconut and Its Relation to the Production of Coconut Oil.” The Philippine Journal of Science 1 (1): 53-54

Last update: 2021-04-21 21:56:18

No citation recorded.

Last update: 2021-04-21 21:56:19

No citation recorded.