Ceiba pentandra is a tropical rainforest tree that is native to Mexico, Central America and tropical west Africa. The kapok trees that occur naturally in South America are known as the "Giants of the Amazon Rainforest". They are huge trees that can rise up to 200 ft (70m) tall, towering above the canopy of the tropical rainforest. It has a substantial trunk with thorny bark and buttress roots. In Mayan mythology, the Ceiba tree is sacred, connecting the Universe, Heaven, Earth and Hell. It is believed that the souls of the dead would climb up into the branches which reach into heaven.
Today, I'm going to write about our version of the Kapok tree which is commonly found in the rural areas and villages all over South East Asia. It is a small to medium size tree with smooth bark. It is in a cultivated form which probably came from Africa and introduced to Asia more than 10 centuries ago.
Common name: The Silk Cotton Tree, Java cotton, Java kapok
Family: Malvaceae (previously Bombacaceae)
Native plant of : South America and Africa
My article about this tree appeared in the New Straits Times Press on June 5th, 2010:
A Useful Tree
Kapok trees bloom periodically. The flowers are said to produce an unpleasant odour that attract bats in the evenings. The bats feast on the nectar and help to pollinate the flowers.
The ripe fruit pods which are woody will burst open while still on the tree. They look like overflowing bags of cotton hanging from the tree.
This deciduous tree may shed all of its leaves during a dry season.
The pods are quite hard when ripe. Inside these pods are the fluffy, silky and yellowish cottony fibres that enable the seeds to float away on air, thereby dispersing them to faraway places.
The fibre is light, very bouyant, resilient and resistant to water. It is difficult to spin, unlike cotton which can be spun into yarns and threads for the textile industry. The process of harvesting and separating the fibre is labour intensive and done manually. The tree itself is not cut down during harvesting, only the seed pods are removed and the fiber within extracted.
Villages use a long pole to reach for those pods that had cracked open. The fibres are collected and stored in gunny sacks. The seeds are sorted out by hand.
We use the fibre as stuffings in pillows, bolsters, mattresses, upholstery and stuff toys. The locals call this fibre, "Kekabu". I think kekabu make great bedding materials. Unlike other materials, kekabu pillows and mattress are cool and therapeutic. It bends according to your body shape. For a kid, it is like being your mom's embrace. Sleeping on it is like enjoying a spa.
We never wash these pillows because it could not be washed. But we changed the pillow cases. Periodically, we would hang them out under the sun and beat them with a stick to remove any ticks and mites. The hot equatorial sun will kill all the germs with its solar power. It can last for many years, 10 years or more. If the cloth was too old and torn, we made a new cover and transferred the stuffing.
When I got married and started to have kids of my own, mom would go back to our village to search for the kekabu sellers to get enough stock to make a whole set of baby pillows, bolsters and a baby cot mattress for each of my kid. She said, the kekabu bed sets are cool to sleep on and if baby has a restful sleep, the adults will get a good rest too. During those times, I didn't really value her efforts much, so I dispose off the old pillows and mattresses when it got old. I replaced them with newer versions like polyester, foam, latex, feathers, microbeads, cotton or whatever that was new and popular. Somehow, all these materials could never take the place of the kekabu pillows that mom used to make.
Now I live to regret my actions and wish that I hadn't thrown them away. The only consolation is that my boy had the last set. He is very fond of it and will never leave home without it. I'll make sure this set will be preserved for as long as possible.
The kekabu industry is a home cottage industry in Malaysia. There are still people making kekabu bed sets by hand and selling it for an income to support their families. I think this is an example of how we can live in harmony with nature. They don't cut the trees, but only harvest the fibres from the pods. The trees help to support a family. The fibres which would otherwise be blown off and wasted are used to make bedding materials that lasts a lifetime with beautiful memories to add on.
My post today is dedicated to Euroangel, a Filipino Expat in Europe of My Euro Travel and Adventure blog. Thank you for being the first commenter of my previous post on the King's Crown. Her blog is about travel in Europe.
"Happy Mother's Day!"