Cocoa Butter and Tonka Beans
“I born on a ship sailing towards Trinidad,” “you know what my parents named me on the boat?” asked the diminutive old lady in late
“Umm, no clue,” Juggernaut was perplexed.
“That make sense, being born on ocean, and samudra means ocean,” Juggernaut tried to make a sense of out of an unusual name.
“Then I married a Muslim and he changed my name to Bagum,” the old lady summarized her life changing experience in a few short
Juggernaut met the old lady on a farm in the outback during his roaming days through the island to break boredom while looking for a
job. Begum lived alone in a small cinder block home looking after a small cocoa plantation that accounted for less than an acre or so. She was not even sure where her property boundaries
On some weekends, Juggernaut spent time with Bagum helping her with cutlassing or cutting grass weeds using a machete. It is a hard
job; he wondered how the old lady worked whole day on the farm. She always walked with a sharp machete as if it is her hand ornament. She wore a scarf all the time to cover her head, Indian
style and spoke English with pure local accent sometimes inter mixing with few Indian words like ‘beta’ ‘ pani’ and ‘roti.’
Begum used the machete effortlessly to cut loose red ripe cocoa pods from the tree and rip open the pods to expose the cocoa beans while
Juggernaut enjoyed eating the sweet pulp that surround the beans. The pulp tastes just like Custard-Apple. The separated beans were sun dried on a metal wire mesh and ground to make pulp.
The pulp is highly flavored and extremely greasy with cocoa butter, and tasted bitter. When mixed with hot milk and sugar, there is nothing that compares with this homemade cocoa milk drink
with so much flavored cocoa fat floating in the cup; the after taste lingers in the mouth for hours after drinking it.
Among the cocoa trees were tall Tonka Bean trees that provided needed shade to cocoa trees. These trees shed long pods that have
black Tonka beans. The beans when crushed has sweet smell like vanilla, almost one is tempted to taste them. Begum sold Cocoa and Tonka beans to a trader in export business. Apparently
Tonka beans are used in making scented candles and lotions, and some even use in food preparation for flavor.
Working with Begum, Juggernaut learned how to use machete effortlessly to cut weeds or rip cocoa pods. She lived alone with her
parrot as old as she was in birdie years. Begum has a wealth of information on cocoa farming and Tonka Beans, whatever it is worth. Begum lived of the land; growing vegetables and minding few
hens for eggs and meat. Her needs for frugal living were simple; occasionally she shopped at Roy’s Rum shop for staples and a bottle of rum. When it comes to cooking, she curried everything
from chicken to bodie (long Indian pale green beans); for breakfast it was roti (Indian flat bread) and a piece of curried chicken, for lunch again roti and a piece of curried chicken and for the
dinner white rice, greens, sometimes dahl (boiled split peas paste) and piece of curried chicken.
“I wish you make stew chicken for a change,” suggested Juggernaut once.
Sure she did; with tomatoes, scallion with soy sauce and a dash of ‘Angostura Bitters’ that tasted and smelled like cardamom. The Island
is known for producing the world famous ‘Angostura Aromatic Bitters’ used to flavor drinks and some dishes. Begum believed in God Almighty but never mentioned religion by any name. She never
said, she was tired of working.
After hard day working in the field, Juggernaut sit with her on her front wooden porch making ole’ talk, drinking rum and coke and
smoking ‘Broadway’ cigarette, the only brand Begum like for it is strong though Juggernaut liked ‘ Du Maurier’ brand for its light taste. When it comes to cricket, she was discriminatory in
the sense she loved only Indian team though she has a soft spot for Pakistani team; she always talked about old time Indian Cricket players like Nari Contractor and how he got hurt bad from a fast
ball bowled by famous West Indian bowler Charlie Griffith. Among Cricketers’ she loved Rohan Kanhai from Guyana. “He can bat you know, made big scores in test matches,” “I understand he
likes to drink, we Indians like to drink rum, nah,” she said looking at the ‘Old Oak’ rum bottle, half empty. Juggernaut drank more than his share. Smoking Broadway cigarette and drinking
rum went hand in hand; smoking was a catalyst for drinking.
“You listen to calypso all the time,” “for an Indian you are different,” said Begum watching Juggernaut listening to calypso music on
“Yeah, I love calypso.”
“Whom you like?”
“Sparrow, Kitchener and Shadow,” “once I am done with studies I start writing calypso.”
“What you write about?”
“You go write and let me hear when you done writing,”
“I may write about cocoa butter and tonka beans, and curry chicken.”
“You are a saga boy now,” “you never go back home, I know that,” said Begum looking at Juggernaut making dance movements to loud calypso
Drinking hot chocolate milk brings back memories of wiry old Begum
with a head scarf, a cigarette dangling from her mouth and a machete in her hand ready to work at any time of the day.
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