Background Information: RJ is a senior at college. He was born and raised in Hawa’ii, but his family is Filipino. I heard him mention the use of coconut oil, and how his grandmother told him to use it for dry skin or to massage into sores, and it struck me how similar this folk remedy was to what I had heard in my own culture. I interviewed him about the practice and what it means to him.
Ankita: Can you tell me about how your family uses coconut oil?
RJ: My grandma uses it…well, she makes it. She takes coconuts and…I’m not sure what the process is, entirely, but I know she cooks it somehow, until the oils…um, are rendered, and then strains that, puts it in a bottle, and labels it ‘coconut oil’. But she only makes it on a specific day, and that day—she only makes it every four years. I’m not sure why. I think it has to do with some type of superstition, where it’s like a good luck type of oil. It’s an all-purpose oil, and you use it on your skin, or on your hair or on your lips. And she also uses it to like, massage into sores or like, when you have aches…body aches. It’s good for skin…Or like, it has healing properties.
Ankita: Do you know where she might have learned it maybe?
RJ: Well she’s from the Philippines, and I guess like, her parents…probably did that.
Ankita: Did she ever try to teach you or your parents or something?
RJ: Not intentionally, but we’d just like be around the house and see her make it, so we’d witness the process…But there’s also like the residue of that, so like the parts that are strained, she uses that in a dessert. So like, all parts of the coconut are used.
Ankita: Do you think you believe it? Like believe in its healing properties?
RJ: Um…I think so. Well, only when she applies it to me. Or the rest of us. But if we do it ourselves…not really.
Thoughts: From the way RJ described it, his grandmother’s process of making this oil is elaborate, time-consuming and specific, and it was a tradition that was passed down to her from her family. I find it interesting how RJ said that when his grandmother applies the oil, he believes in the medicinal properties of it, but not if he were to do it himself. The value that he places on this particular folk remedy, therefore, is tied to his grandmother, and perhaps his relationship with her. He does not believe in it enough to make the oil or go through the process of applying it himself, but his grandmother’s act of applying it for her family members becomes a ritual with heightened symbolic meaning and significance.