Nerve pain

Tagimoucia is so rare that it can only be found on one of Fiji’s 330 islands, high atop a steep mountain ridge, and blooms for less than three months a year.

It was Fiji Day in Suva, the compact capital of the island nation of Fiji and the largest city in the South Pacific. I turned left off Victoria Parade and into Albert Park near a parked taxi draped in light-blue national flags. Fiji Day commemorates the day in 1970 when then-Prince Charles granted Fiji independence after 96 years of British rule.

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Detecting barbecue smoke, I followed my nose to a line of food stalls, weaving between picnicking young families and men throwing a rugby ball. Several stalls hawked British-style pork sausages in white buns, while others hawked more tantalising tandoori-style chicken. Such British and Indian influences are unavoidable in modern-day Fiji. They are, however, a far cry from the Fiji I had come to know and love during my time on Fiji’s remote island of Taveuni.

I visited Taveuni, Fiji’s “Garden Island,” a week ago in search of an extremely rare flower known as tagimoucia (pronounced tahng-ee-mow-theea). Fiji’s endemic and elusive national flower, as well as one of the rarest flowers on the planet, is the tagimoucia. Its bright crimson and white petals grow in clusters, and all Fijians are taught from a young age that the disparate colours represent a beautiful but tragic love story between two disparate people – a kind of Fijian Romeo and Juliet that has captured the country’s imagination.

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Despite the fact that the tagimoucia is prominent in Fijian folk and popular culture, many Fijians may only have seen the bloom in photographs – in 2013, an image of the tagimoucia replaced Queen Elizabeth II on the front of the Fijian 50-dollar note. The tagimoucia grows only on Taveuni, and only on a mountain ridge beside a difficult-to-access, high-altitude lake, where it blooms for less than three months of the year.

Because of its uniqueness, Fijians regard the tagimoucia as a national treasure as well as a symbol of good luck and fortune. On graduation days in Suva, high school and university students frequently request the flower. who place it in their graduation garlands. Fijian pop star KKU dedicated an entire song to the tagimoucia in 2021, and the music video depicts him travelling to Taveuni in search of the flower before dancing on the beach with it behind his ears.

I first learned about the tagimoucia while looking for the most difficult trek in Fiji and was immediately intrigued. So, after a few days on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, to recover from jet lag, I set out in search of this elusive plant.

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I boarded a bus for a two-hour journey through Vanua Levu’s central mountains to the southern coastal town of Savusavu, where I would catch a ferry to Taveuni.

My gaze was drawn upward as we crossed the gleaming Somosomo Strait to Taveuni, to the mountain ridge in its centre, where the tagimoucia hides on and around Des Voeux peak (1,195m). When I arrived, I took a taxi to Somosomo’s main village to meet my hosts for the next four days, a local couple named Amoreena and Tabua Tikoilawaqa.

Filomena Mitchell, Amoreena’s 80-year-old mother, was introduced to me. When I mentioned my desire to see the tagimoucia, Mitchell’s eyes lit up: “It is smaller and more delicate than you would expect!” I’ve already seen the tagimoucia twice. Both times were in 1965, when I was a nurse assigned to an east coast nursing station. It was easier to climb from that side back then. You’ll be ascending from the west. It’s a difficult hike; proceed with caution!” She insisted.

Meanwhile, Amoreena told me about the famous tagimoucia legend.

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“Tabua and I are from Qamea, a small island off the north-eastern coast of Taveuni. Long ago, the Somosomo and Qamea tribes were at odds. The Somosomo chief’s daughter had promised her heart to a Qamea warrior, while her father had pledged her hand to another in a case of forbidden love. When the Somosomo chief found out, he had the Qamea warrior killed. Disgusted, the girl climbed to the top of the island and collapsed in the dirt, scratching and kicking in her despair at the prospect of losing her lover. Lake Tagimoucia was formed through digging, and her tears became the first tagimoucia flowers. As the Qamea warrior was killed, the flower’s two main colours came to represent two lovers separated by death in Fijian culture.”

The tagimoucia (Medinilla waterhousei) is a flowering liana, which are long-stemmed woody vines that can climb trees to reach the canopy in search of direct sunlight. 30cm-long clusters of crimson and white tear-shaped petals droop from the thin vine that sprouts from the volcanic soil of Taveuni’s mountainous interior – two distinct parts of the same flower. Because all attempts to transplant the vine to other Fijian islands and countries have failed, it is believed that the plant requires a very specific composition of volcanic soil.

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The following day, I drove to Tavuki, where the Des Voeux peak trailhead begins. Local tribal traditions require that anyone, Fijians and visitors alike, seek permission from village elders before venturing out in search of the tagimoucia. Amoreena had instructed me to seek out a man named Samuela Vagoni, and I soon found the bald man with a goatee hammering a nail inside a small hut.

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“By the power vested in me by the village elders of Tavuki and Somosomo, I Samuela Vagoni have the authority to request from you the sum of five Fijian dollars [£1.85] to pass this point and ascend to see the tagimoucia,” Vagoni puffed out his chest, cleared his throat, and said. We continued chatting after the formalities were completed. “I arrive at 08:00, but some people arrive earlier to avoid paying. On the way down, I just charge them 10 Fijian dollars! “With a grin, he said.

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