Modesta’s Way: Traditional Hair Care Methods Using The Mighty Coconut

Marinduque is a small island off the southern coast of Luzon island in the Philippines. Depending on the traffic situation, it takes a total of 7 to 8 hours of travelling to get there. It’s a 3 hour drive from my home to Dalahican Ferry Terminal in the port of Lucena City. From there it is another 3 hour journey on the RoRo to Balanacan port in Marinduque. A 30 minute drive will bring me home.

Marinduque is provincial to the core. It smells of Copra everyday. It has no malls. Marinduque is rich in traditions and has a unique way of life that manages to survive despite modernity.  Marinduque is widely known for The Moriones Festival. An annual festival that is celebrated during Holy Week. It is a festival that has been going on for more than 200 years. Men in decorated Morion Helmets go around town as a form of penitence.

According to Wikipedia, “The Moriones Festival is a famous annual festival locally known as “Moryonan” in Marinduque. From March to April, parades and celebrations can be seen on the streets. In Santa Cruz, Gasan, Boac, and Mogpog, a parade of people dressed as “Moryons” can be seen on the main road connecting the towns of the island. Boac and Santa Cruz, the biggest towns in the province, shows a reenactment in the evening of the actual event when Longinus, a blind soldier, punctures Jesus with his spear and blood droplets from the wound restores Longinus’ sight.”

I filmed Modesta’s Way during the week of The 2017 Moriones Festival.


The Mighty Coconut

I met Modesta circa 2013 . This was the time Cholo and I decided to plant roots in Marinduque. His family hails from there. As evident from my Instagram posts, we commute often between our city home and country home.

The first time I met Modesta, not only was I amazed by her personality,  I was amazed by her black hair. She did not have a single strand of white hair on her head. Even to this day! I have known of Modesta’s hair care methods using coconuts and I have been generally intrigued by it. It was only fairly recent that I had a “light bulb moment” and decided to film it for posterity.


During filming, I got to know Modesta intimately. She was born in 1941 to farmers working on privately owned land in Ilayang Cawit, Marinduque. Their main source of livelihood, to this day, is Copra FarmingCopra Farming is the process of heating dried coconut meat to extract coconut oil. I don’t want to describe the process further because that’s a totally different topic. Click here to be brought to Wikipedia to read more about Copra Farming.

It was because of Copra Farming and through oral tradition, the secrets of the mighty coconut was passed on to Modesta. It is because of the mighty coconut that, at 75 years old, she has jet black hair. She has never shampooed, used hair conditioner nor ever tried to color her hair.

Here is Modesta’s Way.


We did not have the best coconut available during filming because Tropical Cyclone “Nina” ravaged Marinduque last Dec. 26, 2016. Destroying much of Marinduque, it’s farmlands and most of all, the crops. So we worked with what we had and decided not to use more than the necessary. A coconut takes one year to mature and it yields only after it’s second year.

The short film shows two methods of using the coconut as a hair care system.

The first part shows Modesta, extracting coconut milk from the coconut and using it as a shampoo. According to her, there was no such thing as a “shampoo” during her younger years and that her ancestors have been using coconut milk to wash their hair. One piece of advise she gave me after filming is, when you want to wash your hair with coconut milk, choose a younger coconut. Preferably a coconut plucked from the tree. A much older coconut, especially one that has fallen from the tree and sprouting might be too “rancid” to use.

I don’t really know when commercial shampoos first arrived here in the Philippines, but my best guess would have been after World War II (1945). I’m sure the American soldiers who liberated the Philippines from the Japanese brought more than just chocolate bars.

Modesta with my good friend Tesa (@mylifeonlafayette).

When I told my mom about this story; of using coconut milk as shampoo, she gave me her own account of using it during her childhood days. She said that after shampooing with coconut milk, she and her sisters would squeeze Dayap (Key Lime) on their hair to make it more fragrant. But that’s another blog post. My mom was born in 1955.


During the second part of the film, you’d see Modesta and I talking about applying coconut oil on her hair. At the 6:19 mark, you’d see that the coconut seedling we had was “too mature”. A much more younger seedling would yield more oil. The “Tubo” seen in this film was quite large and was accidentally cut in half by Kitan. Luckily, a few months back, my partner Cholo was able to film Kitan holding a smaller “Tubo” while Modesta was showing my good friend Tesa the coconut oil surrounding it and on how to apply it. Here’s the video of a smaller, uncut and oil rich “Tubo”.

“Tubo” of a young coconut sapling. Photo by Tesa (@mylifeonlafayette).

I really don’t know what is the english word for “Tubo”. Some people online call it “Coconut Apple”, “Coconut Embryo”, “Coconut Bread”, “The Heart of the Coconut”, some call it “The Sponge”. This is actually the coconut’s cotyledon. What I found amazing about the “Tubo” is that it is actually delicious.  It tastes of sweet milk. I stated on the 8:56 mark, the texture reminds me of the Macopa fruit. Click here to get to know more about the Macopa.

When you place the “Tubo” on the side, you will see the solidified coconut oil clinging to it. This is what is ideally used when “oiling” hair. Photo by  Tesa (@mylifeonlafayette).

Kitan gave me a short lecture on how the coconut grows. The “Tubo” is the coconut seedling’s main source of water, nutrients and energy. No wonder coconuts are able to survive floating on water or growing on sandy beaches. I shall start calling the “Tubo”  as “The Heart of the Coconut” because of this.


I am not a chemist nor a scientist, so I cannot tell you why Modesta’s Way of caring for her hair has actually stopped it from turning gray. But as you can see on the video, Modesta has definitely benifited from using fresh coconut milk and fresh coconut oil.

According to Wikipedia here’s what’s constitutes a Coconut:

Saturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Polyunsaturated Fat.

The Proteins:

TryptophanThreonineIsoleucineLeucineLysineMethionineCystinePhenylalanineTyrosineValineArginineHistidineAlanineAspartic acidGlutamic acidGlycineProline, and Serine.

The Vitamins:

Thiamine (B1)Riboflavin (B2)Niacin (B3)Pantothenic acid (B5)Vitamin B6Folate (B9)Vitamin CVitamin E, and Vitamin K.

The Minerals:

CalciumIronMagnesiumManganesePhosphorusPotassiumSodium, and Zinc.


If you decide to do this, here’s a tip from her. You should always rinse your hair off after shampooing with coconut milk. Never leave it on or else the ants will have a feast on your head.

I hope this blog was insightful.

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