Living off Coconuts & the Modern Diet Craze

I can’t explain why, but the story of German nudist August Engelhardt (1875-1919) the man who lived on nothing but coconuts fascinates me to the point of darn near obsession. I want to know what drove a man to decide to give everything up for a life of nudity and diet consisting of nothing but coconuts.

I’ve spent the last couple of months looking for information about Engelhardt. Sadly, there isn’t much information out there.; at least in English. Truth be told, I only heard of him when I stumbled upon an Atlas Obscura (another obsession of mine) article about the coconut cult leader. Yes, you read that right; Engelhardt started the Cult of the Coconut. Why hasn’t his story been made into a movie yet?!

August Engelhardt was born in Nuremberg Germany on November 27, 1875. From all accounts he had a normal childhood though later he would complain of abuse and self-doubt. He attended Erlangen University to study chemistry. From there he went on to become a pharmacy assistant. While working in the pharmacy he developed an interest in health. Part of his interest most likely was born from the Lebensreform (life reform) movement popular at the time. A collective of German writers and philosophers, disillusion with Victorian-era Europe, started the movement based on the idea that man should live closer to nature, eat strict vegetarian diets, and abstain from tobacco and alcohol. Oh, and be nudists.

Because there are no books about Engelhart’s early life, it is unclear what caused him to take this philosophy a step to far. But a step to far he did indeed take. He announced his ideas about health publicly in guise of a gospel titled “A Carefree Future”. Sadly the only writing he left behind is not available in English. It’s a shame because we are missing out on his obsession with coconuts with titles like “The Coconut Spirit” and “How to Become a Coconut Palm”. His ideas about his beloved nut stemmed from observation. He said:

“The coconut, with its spherical shape and furry shell, is the fruit that most resembles the human head. Therefore, it is the most ideal fruit for man’s consumption. “We can expect from God that he created our food in the shape of our heads,” Engelhardt reasons. Coconuts are “vegetal human heads, and they alone are the proper human nourishment.” (Atlas Obscura)

Engelhardt’s obsession lead him to abandon his life and profession for a life of a quasi cult leader who preached nudity and coconuts.

Engelhardt converted a few members to his cult and together they set sail for the Island of Papua New Guinea. At the time the island was a victim of colonialism so Engelhardt was not the first to exploit its beauty and economically poor islanders. The island was becoming home to those looking to drop out of European society. Engelhardt and his followers were viewed as welcomed oddities. The group settled in huts and kept to themselves. They wanted for little as coconuts were plentiful as was the sun and water. The very things Engelhardt said man was meant to live by.

For a while the cult experienced paradise on earth eating nothing but coconuts, swimming, and of course, sunbathing in the nude. But, just as no man is an island, no man can live on coconuts alone. Within a year two followers died and as time went on more followers either died or caught malaria. Four years after he established his cult his followers had died or returned to Germany sick and disheartened with their heaven on earth.

Engelhardt also become physically and mentally ill but could not be persuaded to return to society. By this time the German government put a stop to people joining his cult and he was often questioned by island tourists who took pity on him. He lived the remainder of his life on the island, malnourished and in pain. Though there is no grave marker, no real report of when and how he died, it is said when his body was found (under a coconut tree no doubt) he weighed only 66 pounds. Engelhardt lived to be only 44 years old.

We could just as easily take pity on Engelhardt; clearly he was man in need of counseling. Or we look at him through the lens of history as another Victorian-era crank. But given that coconut is being touted now as a miracle cure for everything from bad-breath to dull hair, is it fair to judge Engelhardt as historical crank?

Engelhardt and the followers of the Lebensreform movement were the forefathers of the hippie movement. They believed that nature had all the answers if only men would listen. The New Age movement and the fanatical organic, gluten free devotees of today owe a lot to Engelhardt and those like him. Think of the Grapefruit and cabbage soup diets. Diets that expound the virtues of eating from only a slice of the food pyramid. Given that billions are spent on diet books and diet fads, the question must be asked; how far removed are we from Engelhardt’s view of the “proper human nourishment”? Can we honestly say, that if Engelhart were alive today he wouldn’t be listened to? I doubt it. If nothing else, it is a clear bet that Gwyneth Paltrow would feature him in Goop. And that is just nuts!

 

If you want to read more about Engelhardt I suggest reading

The Curious Case of August Engelhardt

Death by Coconut; A Story of Food Obbession Gone to Far

Works Cited

The Curious Case of August Engelhardt

Face it America, we deserve a visit from Krampus

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I had planned on finishing my fantasyland series this week with a look at how the 60’s Flower Power turned into the New Age power of thought, but a cold has got me down. So instead, I thought I’d follow up last week’s Christmas rant with a re-blog of my 2015 look at Krampus.

Sunday I binged watched HBO (you know I am sick when I sit and watch TV for hours on end) and wonders of wonders, the movie Krampus aired in the afternoon. It’s a movie that’s part comedy, part horror and while these two things do not pair well together, Krampus delivers on both. It’s a lesson on what happens when the spirit of Christmas is lost and how it is important to value those we love. It quickly became my second favorite Christmas movie.

So as I cough and sneeze my way back to health, I offer this. Things you may not know about the Krampus. Enjoy!

One of my biggest complaints against the war over the words “Merry Christmas” is that it isn’t all that friggin merry any more. Parents consumers battle for toys to stuff under the Christmas tree for kids who already have more than they deserve and will, without hesitation, ask for more just weeks after the season is over.

We all know about the horrors of Black Friday. Each year millions of parents rush out Thanksgiving night in the hopes of snatching up presents at low low prices. Part of this “seasonal” tradition involves trampling other parents or fist fighting over the last X-Box or big screen TV. For what? So that little Johnny or Suzie will wake up to find that Santa has visited late in the night; a man who is no relation to them, but yet for some unknown reason leaves expensive gifts for children to enjoy? Kinda creepy if you think about it. This tradition of allowing a stranger to enter your home while you are sleeping in order to shower your children with gifts. On top of that, he seems to have a naughty and nice list. Bet you’d be calling 911 if some stranger told your child “if you’re nice to me, I’ll give you a iPad”. But I digress. It’s not Santa’s fault Christmas is now a consumer’s wet dream. We’ve conditioned ourselves to take this one time of year to ensure all children, whether they are naughty or nice, get exactly what they want, even if it means running over someone else in aisle 3 to get it. What’s so merry about that?

Not that long ago Santa’s visit was used as a threat to make little children behave. They were reminded all year long that naughty deeds would ensure that Santa skipped them on the next Christmas Eve, or worse yet, leave coal as a reminder of his disapproval. I actually remember hearing a parent once sigh and say, “I was going to buy Richard a bike this Christmas, but he’s really becoming a dick, so it’s clothes and a basketball this year”.

Now that we (and by we I say Americans) are so enamored with the idea of the perfect commercialized Christmas you would be hard-pressed to find even one parent who uses Santa as a behavior modification tool. Santa is now every child’s beloved uncle whose loves is unconditional. What America needs more than ever is a reminder that not all children are worthy of such lavish gifts. Sometimes children (and their parents)need to be reminded that while they should always get what they deserve, what they deserve is not always pleasant. What we need is Krampus, Santa’s evil sidekick who plays bad cop to Santa’s good cop.

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Don’t know who Krampus is?

Well then here are 5 things Americans may not know about Krampus.

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What the hell is a Krampus?

According to Norse mythology, Krampus was once believed to be the son of Hel, ruler of the Norse underworld. In Norse mythology, Hel is the ruler of Helheim, the realm of the dead. She is the youngest child of the evil god Loki. Hel is most often described as a horrible hag, half alive and half dead, with a gloomy and grim expression.

So, what does the child of Hel look like?

His appearance is befitting of a demon from hell. Americans would recognize him as the devil, with matted fur, one cloven hoof, the other human, sharp teeth and large horns. He is usually depicted carrying chains or bundles of birch branches to hit bad children with. Other times he is depicted with a sack, which he uses to carry naughty children to the underworld where he will later torture and possibly even eat them.

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WTF? Why Christmas?!

In the 17th Century, some countries bordering the Alps reintroduced this once pagan monster into their Christmas traditions. Most likely because they thought their children were growing soft and needed to toughen up. They were experiencing extreme effects of the Little Ice Age, and thought the kiddies needed to be reminded “life is hell, deal with”. Or maybe they thought this yearly grab for presents to be getting a little out of hand. Either way, Krampus, demon from hell, became a part of the Christmas gift giving tradition.

No, seriously, WFT? Christmas?!

The night (December 5th) preceding St. Nicholas’ feast is known as Krampushnacht or Krampus Night. This is the night the Krampus comes out and chases down all the naughty children, beating them and stuffing them in his sack to take back to hell. Those that are left are given gifts by Santa (or then, St. Nicholas) during the following night. Some legends suggest the Krampus hunted down naughty children throughout the Christmas season. Today, some Austrian towns and villages continue the celebration by encouraging men to dress as the Krampus in order to scare the local children. This is known as Krampuslauf—a Krampus Run.

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The modern Krampus has a new PR agent

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While Americans may cringe at the idea of a demon sidekick for Santa, Europeans love and celebrate Krampus. These countries have access to his image in the form of candy, postcards, Christmas Cards, ornaments, T-shirts, hats, books, collectable horns, and this year thanks to Hollywood, his own horror movie, Krampus. The demon is becoming so main stream in Europe, some feel he is being overly commercialized and will soon lose his demonic power to scare naughty children into behaving. Who would have ever guessed mass marketing could be used as a tool for good?

But before Krampus becomes too cool, to hip for his original purpose I propose we bring him to America. Not to chase and steal naughty children but rather their parents, who act demonically themselves in the days leading up to Christmas. Perhaps a Krampus running around Walmart and the like is just the Christmas miracle many of us have been waiting for.

Works Referenced

NGO Who is Krampus? Explaining the Horrific Christmas Demon http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131217-krampus-christmas-santa-devil/

Smithsonian.com The Origin of Krampus http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/krampus-could-come-you-holiday-season-180957438/?no-ist

And of course the anonymous internet and its wonderful collection of photos.

Vintage Christmas Postcard
Vintage Christmas Postcard

Merry Friggin Christmas!