Meghalaya, famous for its rich and diverse flora and fauna is home to one of the rarest wild Indian orange species called Memang narang that is found only in Garo Hills. This wild orange was discovered by accident in the Nokrek National Park in the West Garo Hills which led to the park being recognized by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. This endangered species is believed to be the most primitive citrus in the world and accepted by researchers as a citrus rootstock for cultivating other citrus.
According to folklore, Abong-Noga and Silme-Doka were the first settlers in the hills of Durama (a part of Garo Hills). It is said that both man and God lived harmoniously for many years. The settlers practised jhum cultivation and had about a thousand servants who worked for them clearing out the dense forest. Animals like cattle, pigs, goats, birds and others were reared by them and their lands had abundant plants and citrus fruits.
Legend has it that one time all the animals of Abong-Noga fell ill and moved by the plight of the ailing animals prayed to his beloved God. The ever-merciful God came in his dream and told him to crush the citrus fruits and feed the animals with that. The animals recovered after partaking the fruit and since then the fruit is called Memang narang meaning fruit of ghosts. This name is still used by the A’chik Mande or hill people.
Memang narang is a very small sour fruit with a pleasant smell. It is usually eaten along with its skin and is traditionally preserved after harvest by drying on a fireplace or on a bamboo stick over fire as it is available only once a year. This fruit is consumed both as food and as medicine for people and animals. The fruit is crushed along with its skin in a bamboo tube and the sour juice is mixed with the food and given as medicine.
It is used to treat fever, cold, as an antidote for poisoning, viral infections, stomach ailments and others. Memang narang received the coveted Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2015.
The tree is a shade-loving tree and generally found growing in cool places in the surrounding areas of Garo Hills. The fruits are harvested directly from the branches in November as they do not fall down even when ripe.
It is tough to estimate the actual production of this wild orange as the fruit is produced only by local communities. However, the fruit is on the brink of extinction as local growers are uprooting the saplings to clear the land for cash crops and not replanting them in shady areas. The destruction of its natural habitat, small-scale cultivation, zero awareness and marketing is posing a great threat to its existence.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)