Mr. Coconut-Head

The first Mr. Coconut-Head, the one containing magical properties, was assembled at different locations along my Stomp through Indonesia. The stick came from Lake Toba, the coconut from Sibolga, and the shell eyes and red coral tongue from Nias Island. It is on Nias Island where Mr. Coconut-Head came to life and where this story takes place.

Nias is a small, remote island off the coast of Sumatra Island in the Indian Ocean. The only way to get there is on a rickety boat once a week, and the only reason to go there is for the incredible right-hand wave break off Sorake Beach. Only die hard surfers venture so far. The natives are rather unaccustomed to seeing foreign faces, especially a tall guy like me walking around with a coconut head on a stick. It was apparent from their shocked looks how superstitious they were -- a classic ingredient for comic relief.

Coconut curator Olsen and Nihongo assistant Kaki display their family.

Once assembled, Mr. Coconut-Head became my constant companion. When I would take my nightly sunset stroll down the beach, Mr. Coconut-Head never failed to freak out pet monkeys chained to palm trees. One monkey was so scared he managed to claw out one of Mr. Coconut-Head's shell eyes. The magic was accumulating.

Several of us novice surfers had coral cuts from the reef, so we decided to make a trek up to some primitive villages. The largest village called Bawamataluo (meaning Sun Hill), was way up on a hill and built that way for defensive purposes. Up until the 1940's, tribal warfare and slavery was a way of life for these people. Today villagers continue to hate neighboring villagers and routinely place black magic spells on each other. When we got up to Sun Hill, a Christian wedding was in progress -- juxtaposed by witch doctors making an appeasement to ancient gods.

The wedding procession on Sun Hill.

So here's me and my entourage of international surfers with our coconut heads and the whole village starts going ape-shit. The surfers wanted to watch the church wedding, so they left their coconut heads with the witch doctors and me as we consulted the gods by tossing bones. One of the witch doctors asked of my coconut head, "Is it magic?" "Yes, of course it is," I replied. "Show magic." He requested. "No, no!" I explained, "Only at night." He nodded in understanding.

Intrigued by the primitiveness of these people, we were in the mood for maximum weirdness. Our surfer gang started hiking deep into the jungle on some of the old stone trails connecting the network of villages. We came upon a small village not even on the map and we were surprised to find it totally deserted. The natives must have seen us coming and hid, because upon closer examination we saw everybody staring at us from their thatched huts. Me, ever the consummate ham, held up Mr. Coconut-Head and demanded the village shaman. An old man came out and touched Mr. Coconut-Head. When he didn't feel zapped by its power, he shouted a summon to the village. Within seconds we were swarmed by men, women and children beckoning us into their homes. Fun times for an hour as the locals showed us everything that had to do with their simple farming lifestyles. No TV's anywhere thank goodness.

Leaving the village on the path we came, we looked back and saw a pack of kids following us. Another surfer and myself hid in the bushes and jumped out as the kids cautiously walked by. The ones we captured began crying and shaking in trepidation, the others ran away fast. We let our little prisoners go after a minute with an important message: Don't follow the gods, and don't mess with coconut heads on sticks!

Magical heads come, and magical heads go . . .

Leaving Nias and crossing the equator, Mr. Coconut-Head must have decided he needed a new master. Vanishing on a bus, even my signs all over town couldn't bring him back. Maybe I should have tried the back of a milk carton.

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