Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The baka tree in fiction

from w
The banyan or baka tree figures largely in a piece of writing I did a while ago. This is part of it....

Night in Suva

The elderly Fijian woman at ease with the spores lodging in the trees, lichen, fungus, and algae. She knew what held a rainforest together, though the baka tree was an anomaly because it grew downwards, germinated from above, spreading out its network of roots to squeeze the host tree. When leaf litter was broken down and fungi feasted on dead wood, enzymes softened it and became nutrients. The wind carried spores like dust and so the cycle of life went on.

The Fiji vanua, culture, would also change, transform, and regenerate.

The baka tree sheltering Ofa-Atu's small, woven, bamboo hut had been challenged by storms, but it somehow represented survival. Or did it? Its strength was deceptive. The hanging vines were spirits rooted to the ground, baring their legs. The tree was so huge its hair-like roots crossed the fence-line between the Australian, Madeleine's No.42 and Bal Krishna's No. 40. Ofa-Atu's daughter-in-law Ema lived at No. 44, which was part of Madeleine's property, a house-girl's flat that grew.

Ofa-Atu often forgot that she lived in a suburb of Suva city instead of the forests of Taveuni Island. The season of the flowering asparagus was over but living in a city was confusing because there was little reference to the seasons of fruiting and rest.

Grandma Ofa-Atu was the last of the Fijian tattooed women, though not many people knew that. Only the women back on Taveuni who used to bathe with her in the river had seen her intimate body decorations.

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 hard, 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.

Ra Qiqi, the small white-eye forest bird, swept across the midnight sky. Also restless, Ofa-Atu was awake because memories of long-past incidents were too strong. She touched objects on her shelves with affection, even the makings of a black hair dye made from bark that she no longer used because nowadays she allowed her wavy hair to remain white. 'Girl with the Uncombed Hair', they used to say to tease her when she was young. Even when her hair was cut short as a child, it sprang out wide, instead of staying in place when combed up. Aged seventy-eight years now, these memories were more vivid than incidents from the previous day.

No comments: