2006/06/30

The Legend of Tagimoucia

Long ago, in the high rain forests of Fiji's "Garden Island" of Taveuni, a volcanic crater became dormant and over the eons filled with the water of plentiful rains to become what is known today as Lake Tagimoucia (tahng-ee-mo-thee-ya).

It lies along the spine of mountains than run the length of the island and reach a height of 1241 meters (4072 ft) at Uluigalau peak. Its size is difficult to determine with certitude because of the marshlands that surround it as well as the vegetation that floats on its quiet surface, but it is perhaps 500 meters (1640 ft) long and half as wide. Smaller ponds are nearby to the south. From the lake at 823 meters (2699 ft.) above sea level, the almost daily rainwaters pour in lacey streams and veils of waterfalls into the Pacific on either side of the island.

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Location of the lake circled on this Space Shuttle view of Taveuni

To reach the lake one faces a serious hike of some three or four hours depending on the condition of both trail and hiker, up streams and steep muddy trails. Pandabonium has yet to try it. In Fiji's warm, humid climate, the air can feel heavy and somehow makes one's feet feel the same. The rain forests of Taveuni are protected from logging and other development and are home to many interesting endemic species of plants and animals. One gets the feeling of being in another world.

Another world? Ironically, this is the world the way it was before industrial culture defiled it. This is the true planet earth. The process of destruction has only taken a few hundred years using the energy of ancient sunlight stored for hundreds of millions of years in the earth as coal and gas and oil, the power of which most people, even as they use them, do not even come close to grasping. Perhaps they will very soon as the search for alternatives begins in earnest. It will be unsettling. That much is certain.

It is here, in this mist shrouded, primeval setting and nowhere else on earth that the beautiful flower that shares the name Tagimoucia is found.

Rare though it is, the Tagimoucia flower, scientific name medinilla waterhousei, is a member of the seventh largest family of flowering plants in the world - melastomataceae. The national flower of Fiji, it has been featured on several postage stamps.

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Like many things in nature that are unique to a certain area, there is a local legend about this flower's origins. Pacific Island cultures had no written languages so knowledge and history were handed down over milenia - often with surprising accuracy - through the oral traditions of story telling and chanting.

I have heard two versions of this legend, the key points of which are the same. In modern times, local legends are sometimes told in a fasihon that the story teller thinks will be best received rather than the way it was told in the past. I have seen this happen with some Hawaiian stories. It is then retold that way many times making it difficult to discern the original story. I suspect that has happened with the legend of Tagimoucia.

One story is that a young girl was playing when she was supposed to be doing her chores. Her mother kept reminding her of what needed to be done, but the girl ignored her. The mother became so annoyed that she grabbed a bundle of sasas (mid ribs of coconut fronds), which she had been using as a broom, and spanked the girl with them telling her to get out of their bure (house) and never come back.

The girl was so upset that she ran away. She ran and ran with tears in her eyes. She could not see where she was going and after a long while she encountered a flowerless vine hanging from a tree and became entangled in it. She could not free herself and lay down and fell asleep crying. Her tears turned from salt water to blood and fell on the vine where they turned into beautiful red flowers.

When she awoke she was able to free herself from the vine and ran home. She discovered that her mother had forgotten all about their quarrel and so they lived happily from then on.

The other version I heard was a romantic one and goes like this: Once upon a time, a princess was about to be forced by her father to marry her predestined husband.

However, she was in love with another man and, in desperation, she fled from the village into the mountains and, completely exhausted, she fell asleep on the banks of the lake. While she was sleeping, she cried and in her dream tears trickled down over her cheeks and turned into beautiful red flowers. ... And the red flowers engendered the Tagimaucia plant.

Tagimaucia means, "to cry in your sleep". Tagi=cry, moce=sleep.

I don't know which, if either, is the original local tale. Which do you like best? Which do you think is the "original"?

In preparing this post, a funny, serendipitous kind of thing happened. I was having difficulty finding pictures to share and started searching on line. There isn't much there either. I never did find a picture of the lake mainly because it is in the jungle and covered with vegetation. (Well, I found one, but I would have had to pay for it.) Also, most of the few flower photos I found were of the wrong flower! Finally, I found this picture of a Tagimoucia blossom.


What is so funny is that I happen to know the person who took it. Her name is Dr. Angela Kay Kepler. Kay (along with her husband, Cameron) has done decades of research and written many guide books about the botany and ornithology of Pacific islands, particularly the Hawaiian archepelago. Originally from New Zealand, she has lived on Maui off and on for many years. How do I know her? She is a clarinetist and we played together in the Maui Symphony Orchestra. Big ocean - small world.

Update:
Wendy of Peceli and Wendy's Blog Babasiga found a brochure that she had saved about this flower and posted it on their blog. It has a really nice picture of the blossoms. Vina'a Wendy!

25 comments:

jairam said...

Lovely story, thanks for sharing :)

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Vina'a va'alevu for posting about the tagimaucia flower. I've found a pic of it and put it on our website. I'll try and find the words of the string-band song about it.
W.

Pandabonium said...

Jairam - thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

Wendy - Vina'a. that's great. Nice picture of the flower and small ones of the lake and view too. I'll add an update to link to it.

Efendi said...

nice articles ^^

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Efendi. You are Pacific Islander's first visitor from Indonesia. Welcome! or as they say in Hawaii "e komo mai".

The Moody Minstrel said...

Hmm...sounds suspiciously like "Oye como va" to me...

Momo the Wonder Dog said...

MM - I'd like to hear you play that on the shakuhachi.

Happysurfer said...

Somebody has gone Santana.

I like the second version better - more romantic and no hurt involved as in beating.

Nice flower.

Pandabonium said...

Santana?

Glad you liked the story and the flower.

The Moody Minstrel said...

She's referring to "Oye Como Va". That's a Santana standard.

Pandabonium said...

Oy Como vey! Dense as a brick I am at times.


hgizoon - time gunfighters meet on the dusty streets of planet Earp.

Robin said...

Thanks for letting me know about this flower.

Robin said...

BTW, I am very much interested in the native Orchids of Fiji, would u know anything about them?

Pandabonium said...

Robin - thank you. I don't know much about anything, but I hope this is a start. Fiji has about 170 species of orchids, but of that 50 are endemic. Many of them have very small flowers and some only last for a day or so. Here are some that you might want to look into further: Dendrobium Biflorum, Dendrobium Dactylodes, Spathoglottis Pacifica, and Dendrobium Macropus.

When you come to Fiji, there is a garden you must see. It is just outside the port of entry - Nadi. Called "Garden of the Sleeping Giant", it contains 2,000 species of orchids. It was started in 1977 by an actor you probably never heard of - Raymond Burr. He owned land on Taveuni as well. Burr was in the Americanized version of the film "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" and starred in many TV detective and courtroom drama series in the US. Anyway, its an awesome place for an orchid lover to visit.

nzm said...

Whenever the Queen came to Fiji, she was always gifted with a bouquet of Tangimocea.

I can remember one occasion when she came into Suva on the Royal Yacht Britannia. In those days, you could drive onto the wharf without any hassle - we always used to go there on our Sunday drives!

On the night that the Queen was due to leave Fiji on the Britannia, we were on the wharf with scores of other people to see her go.

She arrived in her Rolls Royce, and walked up the gangway, turning to wave at all of us who were cheering on the dock. In her arms, she had the msst amazing bouquet of Tangimocea.

Then she went up on deck, her Rolls was lifted on board, the ropes were cast off, and the Britannia sailed out of Suva Harbour with the Queen and Prince Philip not going inside until we could hardly see them anymore.

Pandabonium said...

Great bit of first hand history, NZM. Thanks. Was that the 1977 visit? I think I'll post it so more people can read your comment. Interesting.

brij said...

nice tails....but the 1 my parents told me i belive that 1...

Pandabonium said...

Thanks Brij.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story, I believe The second version is the original story, I even went to the lake myself and climbed a tree to get this beautiful flower! The lake has dried up and have about 4 small lakes. It took me 5 hours to climb up the hill untill i reach this huge lake! I swam for an hour and it was really really cold!
Interesting story!

Roshini said...

My husband calls me "you are my Tagimoucia" which resembles a great meaning to me because this flower is found nowhere in the world except in the beautiful lake of Fiji Islands. It means a great deal to me.

Anonymous said...

thanxz 4 da story.the first story is more well known in my family so i think that the first story is the one i'll beleive.oh and by the way it's the first time that i'v heard of the second version.by the way thanks again it really helped me on my assignment........

alesh said...

thanks for the story,it really helpes me alot about the flower

Mick said...

The only story in regard to the tagimoucia flower that was passed on by my great grand parents is about the princess and this is the first time to learn about the young girl. The tagimoucia flower can not grow in any other part of the Island apart from the lake and so other countries.

Anonymous said...

In September of 1988, my husband and I were sailing in Fiji and met a man in Somosomo village on Taviuni Island who guided us up the mountain to see this rare flower. We never saw or even knew about the lake, but were thrilled to get to see the beautiful tagimocia flower. It was an all-day hike through the most beautiful botanical jungle and well worth the effort. It was the second time to view a rare flower. While in French Polynesia, we were guided high up a mountain on Raiatea to find the tiare apitahi flower that only grows there in the whole world.

Pandabonium said...

Anon - Thanks for your comment. Wow, you got to see two rare flowers of the South Pacific. Wonderful. I've heard the lake is often overgrown with vegetation, so difficult to see. How fortunate you are to have seen the flower.