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.
According to folklore, a Garo leader, Abong Noga and his wife, Silme Do’ka made their way slowly up the hills of Durama (a part of Garo Hills) and settled down at Nokrek, the highest point of the Garo Hills. It is said that both man and God lived harmoniously for many years. The settlers encouraged their subjects (about a thousand of them) to engage in various professions. The subjects cleared a part of the dense forest and began practising jhum cultivation. Animals like cattle, pigs, goats, birds and others were reared by them and their lands were blessed with 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 merciful God came in his dream and told him to crush the citrus fruits and feed them to the animals. The animals recovered after partaking the fruit and since then the fruit is called Memang narang meaning fruit of ghosts with Memang meaning ghost and narang meaning fruit. 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. The surface of the fruit is smooth and deep orange red to almost scarlet in colour when fully ripe. The fruits are not juicy and not edible.
This fruit is consumed as a medicine for people and animals to cure viral infections and stomach ailments, jaundice and to dissolve kidney stones. It is used to treat fever, cold, as an antidote for poisoning and others. Powdered extract from the fruits is taken as a cure for smallpox.
It is usually eaten along with its skin and traditionally preserved after harvest by drying on a fireplace or on a bamboo stick over fire as it is available only once a year. The fruit is crushed along with its skin in a bamboo tube and the sour juice is mixed with food and given as medicine.
This fruit holds significant religious importance for the Garo people. The fruits are placed on the dead during their last rites to ward off ghosts of the departed.
The shade loving tree is 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 cultivated 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 lack of marketing is posing a great threat to its existence.
Memang narang received the coveted Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2015.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)