10 Facts About The History of Tahiti You Should Know Before Your Trip

cottages in the middle of a beach

Posted by on 23 Feb 2023

The Islands of Tahiti are one of the most popular holiday destinations in the South Pacific Ocean. With over 118 islands and atolls to explore, Tahiti is an earthly paradise filled with land and underwater adventures.

Besides its pristine beaches and exotic underwater scenery, the rich heritage and history of Tahiti are also worth exploring. Tahiti’s culture and traditions are as colourful as its islands, with customs originating from their Mā’ohi ancestors who migrated to the land in 500 BC.

If you want to make the most of your next French Polynesian holiday, why not learn some important trivia about Tahitian culture and history? Here are ten facts that will enrich your next holiday.

Ten Facts About Tahiti's Culture And History

Before becoming part of French Polynesia, Tahiti's first settlers arrived on the island during the great migration from Southeast Asia in 4000 BC. By the 16th century, European explorers had discovered the islands before they were colonised by the French Republic.

Today, Tahitians keep their ancestor's heritage alive by sharing it with the rest of the world. Here are other fun facts to help you appreciate Tahitian culture and traditions on your next holiday.

The Tahitian Alphabet Has 13 Letters

Unlike the English alphabet, the Tahitian alphabet is composed of 13 letters. It includes the vowels a, e, i, o, and u, and its consonants are f, h, m, n, p, r, t, and v.

The Overwater Bungalow Was Originally Designed in Tahiti

The overwater bungalow, a staple amenity of several resorts worldwide, originated in Tahiti during the mid-'60s. The concept was formed when a group of American ex-pats decided to rebuild a hotel in Raiatea. They sought traditional Tahitian fishing huts as their model and constructed stilted bungalows over the island's calm waters.

Why Tahitians Wear a Tiaré Behind Their Ears

Tiaré is the national flower of French Polynesia. Typically, Tahitians wear the fragrant white flower behind their ears. Women wear open flowers, while men use unopened buds. And depending on its placement, you can determine whether a person is in a relationship.

If a Tahitian wears a tiaré behind their left ear, they are understood to be in a relationship. But if the flower is worn behind their right ear, this means they're available.

Tahiti Consists of Five Island Groups

The Islands of Tahiti are divided into five groups: The Society Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and the Austral Islands.

The Society Islands include the largest island, Tahiti, the second largest island, Moorea, and the popular honeymoon destination, Bora Bora. Veteran Hollywood actor Marlon Brando's island Tetiroa also falls under this category.

Meanwhile, the Tuamotu Archipelago is located on the world's edge and is known for forming the largest chain of atolls on earth.

On the other hand, the Gambier Islands are located more than 994 miles southeast of Tahiti. Lastly, you will find Marquesas 932 miles from Papeete Beach and the Austral Islands, located south of Tahiti.

Va'a is Tahiti's National Sport

Va'a, or outrigger canoe racing, is a popular sport and leisure activity among Tahitians. Locals either practice early in the morning or after work. And because of the significance of the outrigger canoe to Tahiti’s culture, it's also considered their national sport.

The Hawaiki Nui Va'a Race usually takes place from the 1st and 3rd of November. Over 100 teams race against each other through Huahine, Raiatea, Taha'a, and Bora Bora. Visitors can watch the race or ride a canoe from a respectable distance during this time.

"Tattoo" Originated From The French Polynesian Term "Tatau"

You can trace the origins of the "tattoo" back to the French Polynesian term "tatau", which directly translates to a mark or puncture on the skin. In Polynesian tradition, tattoos signify one's status and are considered a right of passage at the end of adolescence. They may also represent one's community, origin, family, and clan membership.

Tahiti Has The Tallest Waterfall in French Polynesia

The Fautaua Waterfall is located in Tahiti and is commonly referred to as the “Cascade de Fachoda.” Tourists will find the 443 ft attraction within the Fautaua River Valley, which is accessible after a half-day valley and jungle hike.

Tahiti Has Four Ancient Maraes

In Tahitian culture, a marae is a sacred site for religious and ceremonial activities used by ancient Polynesians. The biggest marae on the island is called Arahurahu and is located at PK 22.5

The sacred structure was constructed using black stone, and was solely built for rituals and other important events like war councils or celebrating battle victories. If you plan to visit one of Tahiti's maraes, you must remember to respect their sacred grounds.

Tahiti Has Two Official Languages

Tahitians are normally able to speak two languages, French and Tahitian. Admittedly, most locals in hotels, restaurants and stores understand English, but learning a few French and Tahitian phrases will prove to be an advantage during your holiday trip.

The Tahitian Dance is Filled with Meaning

Ori Tahiti, or the Tahitian dance, is one of the most significant aspects of Tahitian culture and tradition. Throughout the history of Tahiti, dance has played an important role in the Tahitian lifestyle and is often used as a vibrant expression of their feelings.

Historians suggest that Tahitians used their traditional dance to seduce potential lovers, challenge enemies, worship gods, and even as a form of prayer. Each dance in Tahiti’s culture is unique and signifies something important to the dancers.

The Ori Tahiti involves bright flowers, full body movements, and music from conch shells and nose flutes. To this day, the Tahitian dance has played a vital role in ceremonies on the French Polynesian islands.


With its mythical islands and storied history, Tahiti is the ultimate holiday destination for adventure-seekers who wish to discover and immerse themselves in a new culture. Aside from the beautiful scenery, Tahiti’s fascinating and deeply rooted traditions will teach you to appreciate Polynesian history.

Book your next French Polynesian holiday with Entire Travel Group and check out our Tahiti packages here. For ideas on your next trip, check out our blog here.

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