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Ratu – The feared Fire Tree

By Pauline Karalus


Trekking through the thick jungles of the fine-looking island floating peacefully over the sea, there are many species of animals and plants to discover, most of them harmless, living in the beauty of the tropical sunshine.

Growing up in the wildernesses is so much fun and you are trained to differentiate the edible plants and animals from non-edible ones. Some of these plants and animals are poisonous, though most of them are not and journeying with older and wiser members of your tribe helps you absorb the knowledge and the great qualities from them.

Many of Bougainville’s population prefer the jungle to towns or cities. They love nature and the everyday welcomes them into the wildernesses in search of food or for fun with the lovely creatures inhabiting the forests.

The different species of animals and plants found in these rainforests add variety to Bougainville’s stunning canopy-covered bushes. Rivers snaking in between these striking jungles make the view even more breathtaking for visitors and locals as well.

Amongst the creatures and plants there exists a plant typically known by the locals for the sharp pains it can inflict once in contact with the human body. The Fire Tree, which is traditionally given the name Rotu grows in the tropical jungles of the island and is not commonly known by visitors who tour the island for various reasons.

There are two species of Rotu. The first type of the Rotu species has all green leaves whilst the second of its kind has green and maroon leaves and the plants often grow close together.

The first kind of the Rotu species having all green leaves is called Kaana Kege in the Telei language meaning “Bone Scratchy”, since pains developed when contact with the leaves which lasts for a number of days. These sharps require no medicine however the person naturally cures from it slowly as time goes by. These kinds grow in abundance along river banks and most commonly un-noticed by the human race and come into contact with whilst fishing along these riverbanks or picnicking during leisure periods.

The second kind of the Rotu species with maroon and green leaves is called Mai Tururu in our mother-tongue meaning “Dog’s Pee”, and this brings about pains that do not last for very long. Once your body is in contact with a Mai Tururu, you will feel very painful sharp pains compared to the pain you would feel when in contact with a Kaana Kege, but the pain dissipates quickly. For first timers the pain seems to be so hard to handle that you may even pee your trousers before you realize it.

Rotu trees grow as tall as 10 to 20 meters and continue to be feared by the local people. The cutting down of these fire trees does not even seem to decrease the number, however it is feared that continues cutting down of these rare species will one day cause them to become extinct.

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