August 1996




By Brian L. Dear

You never know what's going to show up in a web search. Among the many thousands of coconut-related items I've retrieved over the past few months was a tiny article that appeared in the web version of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It was a brief blurb about a certain New Orleans organization known as the "Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club" which each year passes out thousands of elaborately decorated coconuts to Mardis Gras parade spectators. This particular web page had an intriguing photograph* of some of the coconuts made by this certain organization.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club. What a weird name, I thought. I had to know more.

I called the phone number mentioned in the article, not knowing who exactly I was calling -- the Zulu folks? the "Ernest Morial [sic] Convention Center," the Times-Picayune?

I dialed. It rang.

A grizzled voice answered with one word --- spoken as a fact, not a greeting: "Zulu."

I knew I'd dialed the right number.

I told the gentleman that I was a reporter from San Diego working on a story for a new magazine that was all about coconuts. I said I'd read about these much-sought-after Zulu coconuts in a Times-Picayune story, and I needed to collect some information on the Club and its coconuts. The gentleman acknowledged that his group did make them and that they're given out from the Club's floats during the Mardis Gras parade. But he didn't appear to want to talk to me -- I guess he was busy, or maybe he thought I was a little crazy asking such a question? He told me to hold on while he went to get someone else who could better answer my questions.

Moments later, another gentleman named Lester Pollard picked up the line. He had a friendly voice and seemed genuinely curious to know who would be calling about his organization's coconuts.

He warmed to the subject and was excited to hear about a magazine called COCONUT. He said he thought that his Club was perfect for mention in the magazine, adding, "Our organization centers around the coconut --- the coconut is everything to us! Man, we've got laws passed concerning our coconuts!"

He told me that "the main objective" for many people who go to Mardis Gras is to "get a Zulu coconut." (Dear Coconut reader -- have you ever been to Mardis Gras? Were you able to get a Zulu coconut? Send us a picture and tell us all about it!)

It seems that falling coconuts are not only a problem in the tropics. Turns out that it's a bit of a liability for the old Club (celebrating its eightieth anniversary this year) to throw the coconuts from the floats directly into the crowd anymore. Now they have to hand them out. Lester made mention of "frivolous lawsuits" and it apparently got bad enough for them to stop throwing 'em.

* * *

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club puts thirty floats in the Mardi Gras parade each year. Each float holds between 18 to 22 people.

That's a lot of floats for just one organization to enter into a parade. "Geez. How many coconuts do you give away to the crowd each year?" I asked.

He said each person on a float handles five cases of Zulu coconuts. And there are thirty-four (34) coconuts per case --- Lester was very specific about the number.

"Do the math," he said.

I did. It's a lot. According to my calculations, we're talking about 102,000 coconuts if we assume an average of 20 people per float. Thirty floats times twenty people per float times fives cases per person times thirty-four coconuts per case.

That is a lot of coconuts.

I asked him how long it takes to prepare and paint all of those coconuts.

He replied that for the recent Mardis Gras he himself made five cases (170 coconuts) and it took him five weeks.

I asked him if it's possible to buy a Zulu coconut locally, or maybe through mail order? He said no -- not yet anyway! -- but they're working on it. He says his club is "dealing with city ordinances" right now regarding the sale of Mardis Gras souvenirs. Evidently there are numerous restrictions. He said they plan to sell their coconuts on the Web. I told him about our COCONUT MARKETPLACE -- we'll add a link to the Zulu page when they start selling them! Let's hope the city gets its ordinance act together so anyone can get a Zulu coconut.

It was a pleasure to learn that the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club already has a site up and running on the web. The URL is http://www.compucast.com/zulu. There you can find historical information on the club and also you can purchase a variety of club posters.

* * *

The size and number of coconuts in the Zulu parade made me wonder where they got all these coconuts from. After all, coconut palm trees don't grow naturally in Louisiana.

"We get them from the big markets here in New Orleans," he said. Lots of ships come to the port and offload their coconut cargo. "Some of the fellows go to Gulf Port, Mississippi and get them from ships there too."

"How are they prepared?"

"Well, you know that the coconuts are pretty hairy in their natural state," he began. "So first we sand them down until they're nice and smooth, and then we apply a seal to them."

After that the club members paint a layer of black, or gold, or black and gold, on the "sealed" coconuts. From there, each coconut seems to take on a life of its own, as the club members go crazy with creativity and paint fancy, elobrately designed faces on each coconut. No two coconuts are exactly the same.

There are 375 members in the Club. According to my math, that's 270 coconuts per person. It took Pollard five weeks to do only 170. This is definitely a major undertaking.

He added that not everyone drains the milk out of the coconuts before they get sanded down and painted. Apparently it's important to drain them if you expect to keep your Zulu coconut prize around for a long time.

Why? I asked.

"Otherwise, well, you take your painted Zulu coconut home after Mardis Gras and in a few weeks, it cracks open and sprouts!"




"Do the math," he said.

I did. It's a lot. According to my calculations, we're talking about 102,000 coconuts...



*A note from the editor:
I wanted to show you the photo, but the Times-Picayune said 'no way'. I spoke to Effie Sarti at the photo desk and she wouldn't budge. Evidently nobody has ever asked the Times-Picayune for reprint permissions of a GIF file before. She said she'd find out 'the policy' and call me back. After I didn't hear from her for two days, I called her back. She said no go. Want to reprint the photo in a newspaper or magazine? No problem -- just pay $250.00. You want to use our GIF file? Forget it.

Said Sarti: "This is an uncharted area for the paper and they're not interested in going into it yet."

I recommend taking a minute to look at the photo -- but you'll have to link to the article itself to see it. Just press the BACK button on your browser after you've looked at it so you can resume reading this article.


Special thanks to Lester Pollard of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club for providing the Zulu Coconut photographs used in this article.



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