I have an old carved coconut, with a Spanish phrase carved into it, which I think says:

De un lyr yo soy esclavo desde oy ano d 1778

Or at least, that is my guess at the phrase - you can see what is actually carved in the attached image.

Can anybody confirm what that means? I'm fairly sure of most of it, but I can't work out what the "devnlyr" (not pre-supposing spaces) might mean.

Coconut carved in 1778

  • 3
    Amazing coconut and amazing inscription. I'll try to search something. My first thought is that it can be "de un lirio soy esclavo", writing the i's as y. "Lirio" is the name of a flower. Maybe a love declaration?
    – Charlie
    May 17 at 15:33
  • @Charlie - Ah - that's an interesting thought. Far more poetic!
    – Steve
    May 17 at 15:37
  • Actually, now that you mention it, I'm thinking that the imagery carved on the door is lots of lilies (the English translation of "lirio", I believe). I know a lot of similar objects were produced by British and American sailors, to pass the time on patrol off West Africa. Maybe this was a lovesick Spanish sailor, pining for the beautiful lily he left behind?
    – Steve
    May 17 at 16:43
  • 1
    Indeed, the door seems to have lots of lirios (lilies) carved into it. I'll add my comment as a response.
    – Charlie
    May 17 at 16:49

Given that the door of the coconut, as you noticed, seems to have flowers (probably lilies) carved into it, I'd suggest the following as the meaning of the inscription:

De un lyryo soy esclavo desde oy. Año de 1778.

Or in modern Spanish:

De un lirio soy esclavo desde hoy. Año de 1778.

The English translation (courtesy of Gustavson) would be:

Of a lily I am the slave as from today. Year 1778.

I haven't found the word lyr or lir in any Spanish dictionary in the last five centuries. Hence I discarded the de un lyr yo soy option. Besides the yo would be redundant, I don't think the author would carve an unnecessary word into the coconut (too much effort wasted).

  • 1
    If it was a specific day, I'm imagining it might have been a wedding gift to his bride. Or maybe he carved it to celebrate the birth of his daughter? A declaration of his commitment.
    – Steve
    May 17 at 17:22
  • 3
    I'd suggest this similar translation where, because of proximity, there is a clearer rhyme between "slave" and "today": Of a lily I am the slave as from today.
    – Gustavson
    May 17 at 19:36
  • 1
    Could "ano d" be an abbreviation of "anno domini"? May 18 at 1:27
  • 1
    In my opinion, the D In ANO D is a ligature of D and E. The same goes for the first D in the text. Although this ligature is quite common I couldn't find an UNICODE allocation.
    – Krauss
    May 18 at 5:18
  • 4
    As an interesting coincidence (I think!) on this translation. In the 1950s, my grandmother was a cleaner, and had commented on how much she liked it. That Easter the owner (a librarian) gave it to her as an "Easter egg". My grandmother's name was Lily. She never even realised what language it was written in. I wonder whether it was pure coincidence because she had commented on it, or if it was a secret message from the librarian.
    – Steve
    May 18 at 8:54

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