Myanmar (then called Burma) is known as the golden land of gold dome pagodas and swaying coconut trees. Coconut trees were originally called ‘gon-bin’ in Myanmar language, which translated in English means the mischief-maker’s tree.
Why it is known by this most unusual name, is because once centuries ago, a raft carrying three people landed on the Burmese coast. The people on board this raft were taken to the king. On questioning them the king learnt that they had been banished from their own kingdom because of the crimes they had committed.
One man was a thief who stole from other people; the next was a witch who used to cast wicked spells and frightened the people. While the third was a mischief-maker, who did nothing right and only harmed everyone by telling tales and lies.
The king on hearing their story ordered his minister to give a thousand pieces of silver to the thief and allowed him to settle in Burma. For the witch too, he gave the same orders. But for the mischief-maker, he ordered him to be executed at once.
To his astonished courtiers the king explained that the thief stole from others because he was poor and if he had enough to live on, he would make a good subject. The witch too cast spells because she was envious, poor and unhappy and if she had enough to live on, she too would make a good subject. But for the third, the king pointed out that “once a mischief-maker, always a mischief-maker”.
So the mischief-maker was taken to the seashore and beheaded. The next day when the king’s officer passed the place of the mischief maker’s execution, he was surprised to see the head of the mischief-maker open its mouth and shout out aloud, “Tell your king to come and bow before me or else I will knock his head off.”
The frightened officer ran to the king to report the most unusual happening. The king did not believe him and felt he was making fun of him.
“My Lord if you do not believe me, send someone with me and he will confirm what I just saw.”
So the king ordered another officer to accompany the first. When they reached the execution grounds the head lay silent. The second officer reported what he saw and in anger the King ordered the first officer to be executed for being a liar.
The unfortunate officer was taken to the execution grounds and beheaded. On seeing this, the head of the mischief-maker laughed aloud saying, “Ha, ha! I can still make mischief even though I am dead.”
The officer went rushing back to the palace and reported to the king. The king was filled with grief and remorse.
The king realised that the mischief-maker’s head would create further problems, so he ordered the head to be buried in a deep pit.
The next day a strange tree grew where the head was buried, bearing the most unusual fruit, which resembled the mischief-maker’s head. This was the coconut tree which the Burmese call the ‘gon-bin’ tree. Over the years, it became “on-bin”.
If you take the “gon-thi” (a coconut fruit) and shake it, you can hear a gurgling sound – for it’s still the mischief-maker wanting to tittle tattle and play a prank on you.