There's a green Sprite bottle in our cupboard full of dark brown liquid, a gift from a relative in Fiji. I'm not game to drink it. Is it kura? Whoever gave it swore that it was a great medicine.
Anyway, I found some references to kura in a fictional piece of writing I have been working on. Three characters here - Ofa-Atu, an elderly Fijian woman who makes kura medicine, Madeleine an Australian, Brad an American. The story is set in Suva. These are a few excerpts from the writing.
Hairy roots of the baka tree trailed on the ground like bizarre sea creatures near pots of herbs and medicines stacked near the doorway of Ofa-Atu's bamboo hut. Some pots were in disarray, tipped over when Ema's nephew had visited during the night, kura fruit trodden into the dirt. They needed to be pure, unadulterated by earth. Ofa-Atu knew that the herbal medicines were agents with the possibility of cure. They did not always work; she also knew that. The colourful tablets given out at the big hospital and the injections might not help either, only quieten the mind. Not many people listened to the old ways though, as they purchased packets of pretty pills or Panadol or the magic Aspirin.
Her bones bit so she rubbed a homemade ointment on her knees. She leant against the plaited bamboo wall, stared at her magic river stones and golden cowrie shells, picked up two kura leaves to chew on their bitterness. A leaf basket filled with white kura fruits lay near the wooden door, like small bumpy potatoes patterned with eyes. In two or three days, they would become translucent, smell strongly inside a container covered with plastic. Four weeks in sunlight would turn them brown and the fermented juice would be ready to be squeezed out to make a healing potion.
The neighbours screwed up their noses when the kura became over-ripe. These days, relatives brought baskets of the fruit, but it used to be so nice to wander through the hills, in the forest understorey, search in places where there was brackish water, to find the special tree, pick the fruit, whether green or white, or translucent yellow. Ofa-Atu's routine was to fill cleaned soft-drink bottles with kura to sell for $10 each but these days, she had little energy to process the latest basket.
A girl in charge of a New Age medicine stall handed Madeleine a flyer and poster, colour-copied, probably from the Internet. She said, 'Kura for boils. Mouth ulcers too. My bottles only $15 to $25.You can drink half cup.'
'An elderly woman makes this in my back yard,' Madeleine offered. 'Her medicine’s strong. I only take a spoonful at a time and it tastes foul!'
'But it good for high blood pressure and for period pain us girls get. You want? Plenty tourists like. They ask for noni but kura is it. You buy?'
'No thanks. I can get all I need from Ofa-Atu.'
'Oh, you know. She good! My relative.'
Madeleine did not answer. They all said that; everyone was related. There were always connections between Fijians, always! She adjusted her flower-rimmed hat and escaped.
Brad leant over a book Madeleine had given him. It was about medicinal plants and written by her friend Hedley. Brad wanted to know more about that kura fruit that smelt so badly in the back garden. Someone had told him that it could be a lucrative business in Fiji. Well, if mahogany failed, maybe an investment in kura might work, but it would be nowhere as lucrative as the $600 million his Dad had said those timber plantations were worth. Brad had also heard something about locally bottled artesian water that might be worth something.
The waitress interrupted him. 'Would you like another drink, sir?'
'A small bottle of Coke, please.'
Brad read: The young flowering fruit is eaten to treat diabetes. The leaves can be put into coconut oil and then the oil can be applied to the skin to treat evil spirits. Nice one! A small piece of young root can be pounded and applied to relieve toothache, young fruit ingested for stomach ache. For urinary disorders make a drink. Green fruit is an emetic. It can also cure sad and worried women. Hmm. The healers claim that kura can help high blood pressure, arthritis, wounds, the heart, cell regeneration, antibacterial defences, stroke, obesity, appetite control and sexual behaviour. Ah ha! Brad continued his reading. Studies have shown that kura stimulates the immune system and promotes the growth of white blood cells. It inhibits the growth of tumours by increasing and stimulating T-cells in the immune system. The most stunning effect is that damaged cells, under the influence of the fruit, have actually regenerated themselves. Now for the intellectual stuff. Scopoletin binds to Serotonin, an important chemical in the human body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has a crucial role in treatment of disorders, mainly those found in the central nervous system. These include anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, sleep disorder. Oh, oh! Really?
'Here's your drink, sir.' The girl shook the bottle and the drink burst out the top, spreading over the café table. As Brad grabbed the book, the girl apologized extravagantly, found a cloth to wipe up the mess and hurried to fetch another bottle. The book was now damp at the edges.
‘Don’t worry,’ he called after her. 'Smells better than kura!' He scrabbled for his wallet to pay.