The Vacoa

Vacoa originated on the shores of the Indian Ocean, more specifically in Indonesia. However, no certainty has been established about its arrival on Réunion. Was it introduced by the first settlers or is it indigenous to the island?

Two hypotheses have been put forward :

  • – Austronesian peoples would have brought this tree from what is now Indonesia to Madagascar, then the first Malagasy settlers would have introduced it to Réunion.
  • – Vacoa was already present when they arrived.

Technical specifications

Common name : Vacoa
Latin name : Pandanus Utilis Bory
Family : Pandanaceae
Origin : Indonesia

Description of the tree

The trunk
The trunk may be simple or widely branched, with numerous vigorous, clear stilts. It can grow up to 7 metres high.
It acts as a windbreak or support for the vanilla plant.

The leaves
Evergreen, lanceolate, ribbed, leathery and thorny at the edges. They can exceed 1.50 m in length.
The leaves are used for handicrafts: braiding objects such as bertels, tents and other items of all kinds.

The fruit : Pinpin
This fruit, bristling with hard protuberances, does not fall. It dries out on the tree. Each seed gives rise to an average of 5 plants.
A single pinpin can provide around 1,500 vacoa plants. The pinpin can be used in gastronomy, especially to make jam or fritters.

Vacoa cabbage
Located at the base of the leaves, it is often cooked as a gratin, in a carry with “boucané” or smoked sausages. It can also be eaten as a salad or in achard.

Vacoa crafts

Vacoa is most widely used for basketry.
The leaves are dried, softened and then exposed to the sun.
The objects traditionally plaited are backpacks (the bertelle or bertel), hats, saisies, etc.

From picking to making

Vacoa leaves are picked from various sites or from private homes. The craftswomen then remove the 3 rows of thorns and split the leaves into strips.
The strips are then bundled and dried for 3 to 8 days in the sun.
Once dried and bleached, the strips are softened by rubbing them with a knife. The braiding can then begin.