Posts Tagged ‘Heiva i Tahiti

Taro & Circuses

leave a comment »

This is going to be an odd sort of blog because it’ll be mostly photos, on the principle that one of the latter is worth a good bit of text!

Heiva i Tahiti

The venue was the Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, on Punaauia Bay about 20 minutes’ drive west of Papeete. The occasion was the Traditional Sports and Games Competitions – a yearly event that is part of the Heiva i Tahiti, which is basically a celebration of all things traditionally Polynesian. The day was the 14th July – Bastille Day – and like any good French Colony everything was shut down, including public transport. We were lucky enough to be able to ride with friends, but people without a car or similar arrangements would have had a devil of a time getting there. The result was that the audience consisted mostly of families and friends of the competitors, who came from all over French Polynesia, and an almost completely tourist-free occasion. It’s deeply hypocritical to be delighted by this absence of one’s own species, of course.

Heiva Admin!

The events were: men’s & women’s javelin throwing, rock lifting, coconut husking, copra-preparation and coconut tree climbing.

4 seconds to climb 8 metres

Coconut trees are scaled with the aid of a twisted rope about 16″ long, with a loop for the feet at either end, and some of the competitors made their own rope from plant fibre from a species of hibiscus right before the event. It took the winner about 3 1/2 seconds to climb to the red rag at the top of the tree!

To husk a coconut one whacks it several times onto a lethally sharpened wooden stake – of the kind more commonly used to pin vampires to a crossroads in the dead of night – thus peeling the tough fibrous covering from the nut in chunks.

To prepare copra, the stake was dispensed with and the whole coconut was split with an axe, spraying coconut water and coconut chips onto the surrounding spectators. Then the meat was scooped out of the split nuts with a special tool, then put into a bag (though in reality it would have been dried in the sun for a day or so before being bagged) and the competitor would jump to his feet as a roar of triumph would be heard from his supporters.

Rock lifting was, well, lifting big rocks. These had been carefully smoothed to eliminate any possible convenient handholds. The women lifted 60 kilos and the men 150 kilos, and the idea was to hold the boulder on your shoulder for as long as possible.

Some of the men, being just that much tougher, danced around the platform a bit with their loads.

The men’s javelin-throwing went on the longest and was the most impressive competition. The javelins are home-made from wild hibiscus shoots about the thickness of a finger, carefully peeled and dried, resulting in a shaft which is light, flexible, strong and not entirely straight, which gives a spin to the javelin when it’s thrown. The points are made of the metal from tin cans and the men’s javelins are also tipped with heavy carpenter’s nails. These weapons are thrown at an unhusked coconut fastened to the top of a metal pole about 30 feet high.

The women’s coconut was a big green one and the men’s a smaller, drier brown one. The spears were thrown pretty much as people felt like it and the degree of skill manifested by the men may be judged by the fact that toward the end of each heat there had been so many hits that javelins were skidding and bouncing off the ones already embedded in the target. The winner came from a tiny atoll somewhere in the archipelago, and this was the 16th year in a row he’d won.

We ate a lunch of traditional foods – roast pig, young taro shoots and huge portions of a selection of glutinous and/or starchy vegetables that had the sort of flavour that whispered, ‘This will go straight to your hips’ even as one ate them. In fact, the Tahitians tend to be on the large side, especially the ‘Mamas’ or matriarchs, whose personalities are as impressive as their avoirdupois, whose hats would put those seen at Ascot to shame, and who can all dance beautifully!

A few days later, we went to one of the many traditional dance competitions that take place each year during Heiva i Tahiti. The event was staged in a vast, temporary open-air stadium which had been set up near Papeete’s main harbour. Dance troupes from all over Polynesia, including Hawaii, perform in various categories and prizes are awarded for the totality of each performance: skill, choreography, costumes, story-line, singing, movement, emotion.

Photos Heiva Dance

The costumes are extraordinary as well as beautiful because most of them, especially those worn by young dance troupes, are made from fresh vegetation and flowers by the performers themselves, and their friends, during the night before their performances. The performances we attended featured, among other young troupes, the group that we had heard practising nearly every night for weeks in the gym behind the yacht club.

That’s it – hope you enjoy the photos!

Love to all,





Written by mnestis

July 23, 2009 at 7:35 PM

Posted in French Polynesia, Tahiti

Tagged with ,