Part 3 of our April in Africa trip: the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands just south of the equator, east of Africa, and ‘a thousand miles from anywhere,’ as the tourist board slogan reminds visitors. The inner granite islands were created from a splinter of India when it tore away from Africa over 650 million years ago and were subsequently protected from the outside world by a thousand mile moat of ocean.
The main islands have only been settled for about 200 years, first by the French and then by the English. Many African slaves were brought in to work the land, and other nationalities – Arabs, Chinese and Indians came and stayed also. The Seychellois population today is a melange of all these influences, resulting in a relative lack of racial tension. Seychellois women, in particular, are famed throughout Africa for their beauty and elegance: “French enough to have good shapes, English enough to have good manners, Asian enough to have a touch of the exotic about them, and African enough to have a call of the wild in them!”
Kreol is the lingua franca of the islands, but most Seychellois speak at least three languages fluently: Kreol, English and French. Kreol is a French-based pidgin language: ‘good morning’ is bonjour in French, bonzour in Kreol; ‘how are you’ is comment çava in French, komman sava in Kreol.
We don’t normally dedicate space to talk about a plant, but the coco de mer garners such attention in the Seychelles, we’re making an exception. Well, that and we’re feeling a bit sophomoric. Fair warning of pictures to come: one of the plant’s archaic botanical names is Lodoicea callipyge, in which callipyge is from the Greek words meaning “beautiful rump.”
This provocative looking member of the palm family has been the butt of jokes (pun intended) for years, and for centuries before, highly revered and the stuff of legend. In the Maldives, any coco de mer nuts that were found in the ocean or on the beaches were supposed to be given to the king, and keeping a nut for yourself or selling it could have resulted in the death penalty. However, Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (late 1500s) was able to purchase one of these nuts for 4,000 gold florins. The Dutch Admiral Wolfert Hermanssen also received a nut as a gift for his services, from the Sultan of Bantam in 1602, for fighting the Portuguese and protecting the capital of Bantam. However, the nut that the admiral was given was missing the top part; apparently the Sultan had ordered the top of the nut to be cut off, in order not to upset the noble admiral’s modesty.