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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Tahiti's Heiva Festival - Page 2

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For performers like Teihotaata, Heiva’s cultural expression is a family affair at heart: “My parents used to meet and dance in Temaeva," she recalls. "Since I was a baby I've been around the costumes and I've always gone to all the shows. It’s my culture and I can't imagine not dancing," she adds.

Dancing and singing may be Heiva Tahiti’s most glamorous attractions. But there is a lot more to this festival than swaying hips and a cappella choirs. Traditional culture also comes alive on the playing fields and in the harbors of many islands.  Canoe racing is popular, as are traditional competitions such as javelin throwing, and stone lifting, which originated on Rurutu, in the remote Austral Islands. Many communities also host an annual banana-bearers foot race, in which men sprint carrying large bunches of bananas tied to poles.

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A popular arts exhibition called ‘Heiva of the Artisans’ also runs concurrently with the main festival and features the work of artists and artisans from all over French Polynesia’s five archipelagos. Weavers and carvers use traditional materials such as pandanus, pearl shell and coral. Fantastic displays of the legendary Polynesian art of tatau, or tattoo, as it became known among early European sailors, are also on display throughout the festival.

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Judging by the number of intricate tattoos covering the muscular torsos of the male oteo dancers on this night of nights on Papeete’s waterfront, the fine art of tattooing is still doing booming business all over French Polynesia.  As tonight’s performance nears its ecstatic climax, dozens of dancers, their bodies drenched in perspiration, form a human daisy chain. Among them, Teihotaata strikes yet another dramatic pose for the appreciative crowd, the cameras and, most importantly, for the sake of her culture.

“Heiva is the most amazing show you’ll ever see," Teihotaata says as she catches her breath backstage after the show. “Just as you would go to Rio to experience Carnival, you must come to Tahiti to see Heiva. It’s unique, huge, and marvelous. You simply cannot miss it,” she adds.

Visitors to this legendary tropical getaway better known for idyllic over-water bungalows and romantic sunsets than for its vibrant indigenous culture are well advised to take this jubilant otea dancer’s advice and experience Heiva Tahiti, the soul of the South Pacific.

©Mark Sissons

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The annual month-long Heiva Tahiti Festival takes place each July, coinciding with France’s Bastille Day celebrations. Air Tahiti Nui ( flies non-stop daily from Los Angeles to Papeete, on the island of Tahiti. Air Tahiti ( services the islands of French Polynesia. Both offer flight and lodging packages in hotels and family pensions throughout the country. For more information about Heiva Tahiti and other French Polynesian events and attractions, visit


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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