Tahitian Culture

Fire dance at night

Posted by on 01 Nov 2019 , in Islands


The Islands of Tahiti are renowned throughout the world for their stunning Black Pearls. They are cultivated mainly in the remote lagoons of the Tuamotu Archipelago and can be purchased throughout the islands. Polynesian legend has it that Oro, the God of peace and fertility would use his rainbows to visit earth and would offer to the oysters’ mother of pearl an iridescence that gives the pearls their amazing spectrum of colours.

You can purchase pearls that are already mounted in jewellery or simply choose the pearl of your dreams and have it mounted back in Australia. The value of the pearl is based on four main criteria.

  1. Size - Measured in diameter, usually around 8 to 12 millimeters.
  2. Shape - Round pearls are rare and highly sought after. There are also semi-round pearls, semi baroque pearls which include button, oval and pear shaped pearls, Baroque pearls which are an irregular shape and circled, or pearls which have distinctive circles over the surface of the pearl.
  3. Quality - which depends on the even quality of its surface and lustre.
  4. Colour - There are many shades of pearl colours including green, blue, golden, silver and purple, the most sought after being green coloured pearls.


Tahitian for "scented oil", Manoi oil is made from soaking the petals of the Tiare flower, a symbol of beauty and purity, in coconut oil. Monoi Oil is only produced in French Polynesia. It is uniquely soft and silky and highly beneficial for both the skin and the hair containing moisturizing and soothing properties.


As soon as you step into the arrivals hall at Tahiti Faa’a International Airport, your senses are in overload with the wondrous aromas of flowers. The Tiare is Tahiti’s national flower and is omnipresent throughout French Polynesia. Both men and women tuck a Tiare behind their ear to signify their relationship status and crowns of flowers are regularly worn by local women going about their daily tasks.

Traditionally flower leis are given as gifts upon arrival and shell necklaces upon departure. It is quite a spectacle to see a local being farewelled at the airport, his or her neck completely hidden beneath hundreds of shell necklaces, a simple yet powerful display of affection.


No matter where you find yourself in The Islands of Tahiti you will hear the hypnotic sounds of traditional Polynesian music. Ukuleles and percussion instruments feature heavily in this style of music and you will often stumble upon an impromptu Ukulele jam session on a street corner! Modern music is also being combined with the more traditional sounds, to create a unique and funky blend.

Singing and song plays an important role in daily Tahitian life and it seems that everyone you meet in the islands has been gifted with an angelic and melodious voice!


Tahitian dance is not just for the tourists – it is a fundamental part of Tahitian life and a vibrant way of expressing Polynesian culture. The dances are authentic and play an important role in spreading the Tahitian culture abroad. The Tamure dance, the famous hip wiggling movement, is recognised world-wide and is synonymous with long haired, beautiful Tahitian woman being serenaded by buffed, muscle bound Tahitian men. Most hotels will offer you a dance show that is performed by groups from local islands, proud to showcase their culture and talent.

Each July, as part of the Heiva cultural festival, a dance competition takes place and groups from throughout the islands perform to a strict set of rules, vying to win the coveted title, amongst others, of Best Group. Behind these performances are months of rehearsals and a meticulously choreographed tale of a Polynesian legend.

If you are in Tahiti in July you can buy tickets to this unique and vibrant event. The atmosphere is more like a sporting event with locals whistling and cheering on their favourite performers. Not to be missed!


In French Polynesia a tattoo is not just a fashion statement – it is a symbol of one’s identity. Since the early 80s tattooing has enjoyed a strong revival and can be seen to proudly adorn the bodies of both men and women, eager to showcase their Polynesian culture.

You can even leave with a “permanent souvenir” of your visit, with Moorea being home to some of the most famous tattooists in the region!


Tahiti has a varied and vast array of local arts & crafts on offer.

The Marquesas Archipelago is known for its wood carving and a range of Tikis, bowls, spears and other items can be found. Tapa is a paper like cloth made from the bark of trees and these days is mainly fabricated on the island of Fatu Hiva. Fashion jewellery such as earrings and necklaces are in abundance in the markets and are fabricated with local shells, pearls, seeds and grains – a fabulous and often inexpensive souvenir! The weaving of baskets, hats, mats and bags from Pandanus leaves thrives in the southern Austral islands.

Irrespective of which island they are fabricated on, most art and crafts can be found in hotel boutiques, local shops and markets on the islands of Tahiti, Moorea & Bora Bora. In addition, some hotels have also have basket weaving activity that you can join.


There are a number of local artists who live and work in the Islands of Tahiti. You’ll find their work in various local shops, so it’s always worth going for a walk to visit the local art and craft shops to find that special something to take home and remember your holiday.


Paul Gauguin is a famous French artist, initially schooled in Impressionism, but who then broke away to pioneer a new style of painting broadly referred to as Symbolism. Gauguin experimented with new color theories and semi-decorative approaches to painting. Moved to French Polynesia One of Gauguin’s most famous works was the Manao Tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch) (1892)

Gauguin relocated to Tahiti to escape European society, in pursuit of some type of personal and creative freedom. Upon moving to Tahiti, he chose to settle among the native peoples and away from the Europeans living in the capital, with his final resting place being in the Marquesas Islands.

Gauguin borrowed from the native culture, as well as his own, to create new, innovative works.

The Gauguin Museum (currently closed for renovation) is the only museum in the Pacific to feature Paul Gauguin’s original works on a permanent basis including paintings, sculptures and engravings.


It is hot, hot, hot in Tahiti and so a pareo (sarong) is often worn by both men and women. It is versatile, colourful and very functional! Shorts, thongs and t-shirts are the staple attire in most islands – the vibe is very relaxed!


Religion permeates everyday life in The Islands of Tahiti and churches are jammed on Sunday mornings and a significant number of Marae, or sites sacred to the ancient Polynesians.


There are a surprising number of churches compared to inhabitants throughout the islands. Today you will mainly see Catholic and Protestant churches with a smattering of other religions such as Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness.

One of the most memorable experiences in The Islands of Tahiti is a visit to a Sunday church service in the Austral Islands, where the congregations dress in vibrant coloured dresses and floral shirts; the women wearing hand woven hats made from dried Pandanus leaves. The ukuleles and drums are in abundance in the church and the hymns are sung in the local Tahitian language with a unique reverence and distinctly Polynesian flare.

The light pink Catholic cathedral or ‘Paofai Temple’ in the centre of Papeete is a must-see. And if you happen to be there on a Sunday morning, it’s a must-hear too. Hymns burst forth from the devout, white-dressed congregation and the sound is soul stirring.


Throughout Tahiti and her Islands you’ll find dozens of ancient sacred sites called, marae, dotting the landscape and these hold great cultural significance. The marae or pagan temples of the ancient Polynesians were built to worship the islands’ gods, with these temples being made from basalt rock, coral slabs and stone. In Tahiti, the marae temples include Marae Mahaiatea, Arahurahu, Anapua and Farehape.

The Arahurahu marae is undoubtedly the best looking marae on the island of Tahiti. It is tranquil, huge, has been beautifully restored and is used for the re-enactment of ancient ceremonies performed during the Heiva Nui dance celebrations. Food/Gastronomy



Traditional Tahitian food is called a Ma'a Tahiti and families often gather on a Sunday to share this meal cooked in a traditional ground oven. It includes starchy vegetables such as Taro and Uru along with pork, chicken and fish amongst many other delights. Poisson Cru is available at most resorts and restaurants and is a delicious local raw fish dish with coconut milk.

Most resorts will have one evening a week where you can partake in an extravagant polynesian dinner including BBQ meats, traditional ‘hangi’ style or ground oven cooked vegetables, poisson cru, salads, desserts and much more followed by a show of attractive traditional tahitian dancers including fire dancing.


Modern food in Tahiti is a heady mix of French inspired cuisine with fabulous Polynesian ingredients, Chinese inspired dishes and fresh local fish dishes. through to fabulous NZ meat dishes (yes NZ is not far away!) you will find a mix of culinary delights sure to impress!


You will also find food vans with wide variety of cuisine. These are cheap fast, tasty and a fun alternative to more formal restaurants. There is a group of these found in downtown Papeete, commonly known as ‘The Roulottes’ and are a great place to enjoy an outdoor meal while also being clean and friendly.


Breakfasts in Tahiti include traditional French fare such as pastries, croissants, crepes and Omelettes while also traditional tahitian food such as "firi firi” or Tahitian donuts, coconut flavoured bread or raw Tahitian fish.


French Polynesia is renowned for its exceptional vanilla bean. Tahitian vanilla is incredible, with an aroma that is floral with tones of ripe fruit. Large plantations are located in the mountainous islands of Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa. Tahaa is known as the ‘vanilla island’ because of its pervasive aroma of vanilla, and as it produces about 80% of all French Polynesia's vanilla. Vanilla thrives in damp valleys protected from wind and sun. The vanilla plant is a climbing vine, an orchid with thick and glossy leaves. First and foremost, their size and caviar content mean each Tahitian vanilla bean is about twice the size of other vanilla beans. Vanilla beans from Tahiti are huge! Treat yourself to some vanilla ice-cream while in Tahiti and you won’t be disappointed. Tahitians also use vanilla with the cooking of fish, with “vanilla and cardamom poached Mahi Mahi also being a speciality.


Tahiti has featured as the location for a number of famous films.

In the 1962 film version of “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando there were more than 2,000 actors and more than 8,000 extras. After the shoot, Marlon Brando bought Tetiaroa Atoll and married his co-star Tarita Teriipaia.

The 1984 film The Bounty, starring Mel Gibson and Sir Anthony Hopkins used the breathtaking island of Moorea as one of the main filming locations. This version of the film is generally regarded as the most accurate depiction of the actual mutiny. Minor roles in the film were played by the now famous actors Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis.

Some of the surfing sequences in Point Break (1991) were also filmed at Teahupo'o as was the The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D film featuring nine-time world champion Kelly Slater and Tahitian surfer Raimana Van Bastolaer.

The 2009 film Couples Retreat starring Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Jason Bateman and Kristin Davis was filmed at Bora Bora, at the St Regis Resort. The St Regis resort, along with other resorts in Bora Bora has played host to a number of famous actors over the years.

More recently, the French film ‘Gauguin’ starring Vincent Cassel featured scenes filmed in Tahiti and her islands.

When experience matters