Volume 95 1986 > Volume 95, No. 4 > Some observations on duruka, Saccharum edule, in Viti Levu, Fiji, by A. Waqaniu-Rogers, p 475-478
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SOME OBSERVATIONS ON DURUKA, SACCHARUM EDULE, IN VITI LEVU, FIJI

Duruka is the general name of a favoured food plant grown throughout Viti Levu. Although similar in appearance to sugar-can dovu, it has an edible central core or unopened inflorescence. Fijians distinguish two main types of duruka based on the colour of the outer stem: duruka damu (red duruka) and duruka vulavula (white duruka).

Duruka damu is the term mainly used by people in the towns and markets where it is sold but the people who grow and harvest this red duruka call it minimanu. The red duruka or minimanu has only one variety whereas the white duruka has at least six named varieties which are distinguished by size of stem, length of edible portion when mature and period when they are ready to harvest. I should like to describe these seven varieties of duruka from a Fijian point of view. That is, from the standpoint of the people who grow, harvest and consume this excellent plant.

As schoolchildren in the interior of Viti Levu we looked forward eagerly to the season of duruka but quite often by the time the May holidays began the red duruka or minimanu was over-,ature and no longer edible. The minimanu is always the first duruka to mature and this is signalled sometime in April by the flowering of reeds known as gasau or dravo depending on where one lives. The red duruka or minimanu is the largest plant of all but its fruit is shorter that duruka waa, which matures later. Minimanu is one of the best duruka to us, partly because it comes first in the season, partly due to its excellent taste and also because it sells well in the markets. It is clear, then, that the red duruka is distinguished by colour, size of the plant and its early harvest.

As soon as the red duruka or minimanu has finished, the children start gathering the vico, one of the white duruka which is very common along riverbanks where it is valued for preventing erosion. Not all people eat vico because, although it is tasty and soft when young and short, the older mature stems become stringy and tough. Fijians regard vico as a “wild” duruka; some even say it is not a duruka at all, but we ate and enjoyed it as children nevertheless. But once the red duruka or minimanu is finished it is not long to wait for the varieties of white duruka and these become the main vegetable consumed in the villages in May. These are the duruka which the children take great delight in harvesting and eating during these holidays.

First there is duruka waa or stringy duruka which, because of its stringiness - 476 and its ability to sucker and grow wild, is believed to be very close to the vico. When mature the edible portion of waa is the longest of all the duruka and its plant one of the tallest. One grower told me the flower of waa is large and purplish but the only duruka flower I have seen is the vico and this was not unlike the New Zealand toetoe.

Duruka vuaka, another white duruka, is named after the pig and has the fattest stem and edible portion of all. Closely related to it on account of its thickness and delicious flavour is the white variety, ruabu.

Two other white duruka, kibo (‘short and fat’) and leka (‘short’) are related by virtue of their short stems and fruit and their crispness when eaten. Kibo and leka are probably the most prized varieties in the interior of Viti Levu, for their edible portions are delicious and crunchy when eaten raw, still crisp when cooked and both are good keepers. Duruka kibo is fatter and crisper than leka, which is the shortest of all, often no longer than a handspan.

From a good distance it is difficult to distinguish duruka from sugar-cane but as one approaches, the thick fat stems of the sugar-cane contrast with the thinner-stemmed duruka, and the more highly and variably coloured sugar-cane is easily distinguished from both red and white duruka. Sugar-cane leaves are broad, sharp along the edge and crack easily, whereas all duruka varieties are narrower and very flexible. Thus, we would often use duruka leaves for wrapping food or as roof thatch (drau) for houses, but never sugar-cane or vico, and only rarely waa.

The various varieties of white duruka are thus distinguished by the size of the plant, the thickness of stem, and by feeling the length and thickness of the internal edible portion.

In the last few years a new variety of duruka has come into Fiji, one which is purplish in colour and matures twice a year, from May to June and again in November. This new variety is known as duruka ni Maleya (‘Malayan duruka’) or duruka vua vakarua (edua na yabaki)duruka which fruits twice a year’ and has only just reached parts of the interior. It is already proving very popular, especially in the markets, because it extends the usually short season into early summer.

In Viti Levu all duruka prefer to live in wet but not swampy places and produce best under these conditions, but duruka also grow in the drier western provinces where sugar-cane flourishes. Apart from vico and duruka waa, which both sucker easily and propagate themselves, the other duruka have to be planted, preferably from stem cuttings, immediately after being harvested. First the inner fruit is removed by breaking down from the main stem and then the main stem is cut as long as possible and pushed firmly into clear ground. If left without harvesting, vico and, according to some, waa, will flower like reeds but, to my knowledge, all the other varieties will break down from the top, be damaged by birds (especially mynas) and eventually rot and smell bad. Wasps build their nests in old stands of duruka and guard them from all intruders. The only way to - 477 harvest this duruka is to approach it with very long sticks which are used to beat the grasses for signs of stinging wasps.

No one knows where duruka came from and I have been able to find no myths or origin stories about it. Sixty years ago it was already then considered traditional although it could be much more ancient in Fiji. Sevu (first-fruits) from a new crop are given to the landowner as for other crops, but there is nothing after that. At the start of the season no one is permitted to eat raw duruka in the garden because the birds will see this and damage the crop. This damage can be avoided if the first duruka is cooked and eaten in the garden.

The most favoured way of cooking is either by roasting in the fire or by boiling lightly in coconut cream. Minimanu, kibo and leka may all be peeled raw and boiled because they have firm fruits but all the others are better to eat if lightly roasted unpeeled before boiling.

All duruka are sold in the markets. Early season minimanu achieves a high price of $F1 to $F1.50 for a bundle of five or six stems, the equivalent price of a good basket of cassava.

By 1985 food technologists at a Government research station in Viti Levu were testing the varieties of duruka to determine which would be most suitable for canning. For it is believed there would be a good market for canned duruka if prepared with coconut cream and advertised as “Fijian asparagus” both in urban Fiji and further afield. Such a scheme would, of course, require an organisation better planned and co-ordinated than schoolchildren gaily wandering through the bush gardens and roasting some of their precious finds on the spot.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I should like to thank Dr Asesela Ravuvu and Kaminieli Cudra for information and Dr Nancy Bowers for encouragement with this paper.

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