We have met by appointment after dinner on the boat deck. The air is stiflingly still and hot, but the moon is shining brightly, and myriads of stars are adding their lustre to the splendour of the tropical night.
I announce informally that, as arranged, we are about to have a cacao palaver.
"Cacao - what's cacao?" you chorus, following up the half query, half exclamation, with a sigh that seems to suggest I have brought you all this way away from home under false pretences.
Cacao, as you will soon understand, if you will give me a chance to explain, is more nearly related to cocoa than are coconuts. Since I overheard some of you anticipating the pleasure of picking coconuts from cocoa trees, I had better tell you, without further delay, that you might just as well expect to pluck cherries off an apple-tree. Coconuts are the fruit of a tree belonging to the palm family, whereas cocoa. . . .
But before I go any further, please make yourselves comfy in your deck chairs; if you are any the less attentive to what I have to tell you because your feet are up and you have a cushion at your back, mine will be the blame for not telling my story in such a way as to keep you wide awake. Here is a tin of mixed chocolates for you; I have just bought them at the barber's shop, to show you how chocolates must be packed if they are coming to the tropics, and also to help put life into the information I am about to give you.
The correct name, botanically speaking, for the tree which yields the vast commercial supply of the world's cocoa, is cacao. It is the most important member of the family called Theobroma, a name which, as you may remember, I have already told you means "food of the gods "; that name was given to the family by Linnaeus as a lasting record of appreciation for it as the source of a most delicious food. Several of the Theobromas yield beans from which cocoa is prepared, but the one most generally cultivated for commercial supplies is distinguished by the name of cacao. Theobroma cacao being the full designation of this most important branch of the family, the short but botanically correct name for the trees belonging thereto is cacao; hence, the edible beans yielded by such trees are cacao beans. Strictly speaking, the name cocoa should only be used for a pure product prepared from the beans to distinguish it from the raw product, cacao; cocoa becomes chocolate by the addition of sugar, with, maybe, some flavouring ingredient.
In everyday language, however, that word cocoa has come to be used indiscriminately in talking of the tree, the fruit, and the powder that is prepared from the beans as the basis of a beverage. Thus, ninety-nine people out of a hundred who are interested in the industry - planters, merchants, shippers, and manufacturers - speak of cocoa farms, cocoa plantations, cocoa beans, cocoa bags, cocoa stores, the cocoa market, and cocoa factories. The hundredth, being a scientist, probably refers more correctly to cacao farms, cacao plantations, and cacao beans, and might argue quite logically that a depository for the raw beans should be called a cacao store, and one for the powdered product prepared from them a cocoa store. I propose that during our trip together we should use that word cacao often enough to become familiar with it, but not harp on it in a way that might convey a wrong idea concerning our position and ambition as visitors to the sights and scenes of a great industry. Cacao beans are entitled by their composition to a high place of honour among the world's food products. Some scientific experts put them first on the list, others say they are second only to milk, and others argue them into a slightly lower position of merit; but all are agreed that they are composed of a remarkable amount and combination of valuable ingredients. The scientific analyses of the beans vary slightly according to circumstances-such as variety, method of cultivation, country of growth, and process of preparation; but here is a fair average of the statistics, and I want you to note the facts very carefully, for although they may seem a bit dull to you now, I can assure you there will be many an occasion presently when you will find you can get more enjoyment from what you have come to see by being able to recall them:
Fat (cocoa butter)
Starch and digestible carbohydrates
Note the high percentage of fat, the heat-giving constituent of food, and of starch and albuminoids, the flesh-forming constituents; theobromine, I should tell you, is an alkaloid which has a similar property to the stimulating power of theine in tea, and caffeine in coffee. In cacao beans, therefore, as you will now understand, we have a food product that combines a very high proportion of nourishment with tonic power. To sum up its virtues, the bean is imbued with special power for building up the bodies of growing children, for making good the waste suffered by older bodies through the wear and tear of life, for supplying people of all ages with a reserve fund of energy, and for giving them a fillip when they are physically or mentally tired.
Now that you know how large an amount of fat enters into the composition of cacao beans, or, as they are commonly called, cocoa beans, you will understand why those chocolates you are eating have to be kept in tins in a hot climate; you can also explain to yourselves why chocolate goes soft at home if it is exposed to the sun in a shop window, and why your pocket gets messy if you have any chocolate in it when you sit near the fire.
I quite agree with you that in this Turkish bath atmosphere of the part of the world where we now find ourselves, it seems hardly possible to imagine that we have ever enjoyed sitting near a fire, and that our friends at home are now probably hugging the hearth and trying to get warm.
A damp, hot climate suits the cocoa tree.
Gasping for breath and feeling as though you are wearing clothes that have been dipped in hot water and only half wrung out, you are thinking that this tree ought to thrive out here. The climate of the Gold Coast is so congenial to cocoa that the trees grow, as you will presently see, like weeds. In other countries the cocoa tree has gained the reputation of being one of the most exacting of tropical crops, demanding much time and skilled attention. Local conditions and the happy-go-lucky methods of cultivation under which the Gold Coast has become the biggest cocoa producing country of the world, are challenging some of the theories hitherto put forward by experts, and generally accepted as the first principles of successful cocoa growing. For instance. . . .
Quick! Get inside. We fight against the furies of a terrific gale. . . . All manner of things are flying about everywhere around us. . . . Deck-chairs are being hurled overboard. . . . Awnings are thundering, doors are banging, there is a crash of breaking glass. It is only a stone's throw from where we have been sitting on deck to the haven of the lounge, but by the time we get under cover we are on the verge of exhaustion.
"Shut that door!" is the greeting shouted at us before we are through it. To a chorus of " Wasn't it glorious to feel the wind!" . . . "The rain will soon be here, coming down in bucketfuls." . . . "Cool night after this - be able to sleep for a change " . . . we join fellow-passengers and stewards in the frantic rush to close windows, portholes, and skylights, and in lending a hand at holding things down until all communication with the outer air has been shut off, so as to prevent any more books, papers, bottles, and glasses joining in the fray.
We are experiencing a very good sample of the tornadoes which are a feature of West Coast weather.
They occur frequently in the rainy season, and there is usually a grand finale, one like the present outburst, to herald the arrival of the dry season towards the end of October or the beginning of November. Also, an odd tornado is common in the middle of the dry season somewhere about Christmas-time or New Year.
Looking back on your experiences of a few moments ago, and listening now to the roar of the wind outside, you will not be surprised to hear that the strength of a tornado is sufficient to blow roofs off houses and uproot veteran forest trees of monster girth. Widespread damage is wrought by tornadoes in the towns, villages, and forests of the Gold Coast, but by some miraculous means the cocoa trees generally escape any very serious injury. Yet, as I was about to tell you at the moment when this tornado burst with characteristic suddenness, there is a rule of tropical agriculture, founded on the widest and best practical experience of cocoa cultivation previous to the development of the industry in the Gold Coast, which says that, given all other ideal conditions; cocoa trees will not thrive in a country where they are exposed to strong winds.