Hunting for Papua's red fruit

Hunting for Papua's red fruit
PHOTO: Hunting for Papua's red fruit

Papua's red fruit or buah merah (Pandanus conoideus) is believed by some to be a "super fruit", rich with health benefits.

It has been eaten by Papuans for years, consumed by communities in the cities of Wamena, Jayapura, Nabire and Manokwari for generations.

The red fruit is typically served in family gatherings and sometimes during the traditional stone burning festivals.

Head of Timika City Health Agency Erens Meokbun said some communities in Timika have been cultivating the oval-shaped medicinal plant for centuries.

"Since the establishment of Timika in 1996, some Wamena communities in Timika have been pioneering the cultivation of red fruit," he said.

The red fruit plant resembles other plants in the Panadus genus and it can grow up to 20 meters high. After three years, it bears five fruit or more, each weighing around 3 kg.

He said the tradition of bottling red fruits has been around since 1998, but many of the ripe red fruits are being sold in Timika's street markets.

Buyers can either purchase intact fruits or bottled ones in the traditional markets. The bottled ones are mostly produced traditionally in simple kitchens at the markets' kiosks.

Victoria Op, a local red fruit vendor, sold a 200 milliliter bottle of red fruit juice for Rp 150,000 (US$11.40), while 1.5 liter bottle costs Rp 1 million.

"We guarantee it is quite hygienic since it has been processed three times," said the 45-year-old who has employed four workers since starting the business in 2005. She said her buyers come from different places, including Aceh, Medan, Makassar, Jakarta and even some regions in Kalimantan.

"There's a doctor from Medan who ordered red fruit for his patients," said the woman who claimed to earn up to Rp 4 million a day.

Another trader, Natalia Wakerwa, said she buys red fruit for about Rp 40,000 from farmers and processes up to 50 fruits to create 100 bottles.

Before the fruit is eaten it is usually cut in half and then into six pieces. It is then boiled. The cooked fruit is squeezed to get the red fruit's oils and juices to come out and the rest of it is disposed.

People later mix cooked taro and tubers with the juice and serve it as the main course of a meal.

To make the bottled version, the red fruit should be boiled or cooked for around 1.5 hours to release the oils and juices. The water and pulp are then separated and stored before finally being bottled.

A red fruit trader, Yosephine Pigai, who has a kiosk at Pasar Sentral Baru in Timika, earns up to Rp 20 million a month, which allows her to send her two children to study in Yogyakarta.

A Dani tribe leader, Max Murib, said the red fruit, known as kuansu among Papuans, was believed to increase vitality and cure ailments, such as intestinal worms and skin problems.

"As you can see, Dani people who consume red fruit rarely get sick. They always look fresh and strong even in their 80s," said the 78- year-old priest who grows around 20 red fruit trees himself.

Health agency head Erens said there was probably no strong scientific evidence about the health benefits of red fruits, but some people have claimed to enjoy its health benefits.

However, a lecturer at Cendrawasih University named I Made Budi MS has already conducted research on the health benefits of the red fruit, contributing to its popularity. In the research, he found that the red fruit contains antioxidants and that those who consume it rarely suffer from degenerative diseases like hypertension, diabetes or heart disease.

"Since the research was put forward in 2005, many have been seeking out the bottled red fruit," Erens said.