The Heiva i Tahiti
The Heiva i Tahiti is a heartfelt invitation to discover the polynesian universe, a unique opportunity for immersion in the fenua’s wealth of cultural subtleties, a universe both strong and fragile. Tahiti and her islands celebrate polynesian culture every year in July in this festival, the 127th this year. The Heiva i Tahiti brings together the elite of dancing, singing and traditional sports.
By 1815, the envoys of the london Missionary Society had achieved the conversion of Tahiti to Christianity. Spritual success was followed by laws meaning tu put an end to “ancient and bad habits” - songs, games and entertainment. These prohibitions suddenly cut off Polynesians from their traditions. Ironically, in the late 19th century, the Bastille Day commemorations brought the fun back. These celebrations featuring games and singing were called “Tiurai Festival”, from the English “July”. Dance is only reintroduced in 1956, thanks to Madeleine Moua who created the Heiva troupe. Made up of girls from good families, the group was knowledgeable and a hit from its first performance. The Tiurai festival became the Heiva festival in 1985, no longer celebrating July 14, but Autonomy Day on June 29.
Dance and singing competitions - Ori Tahiti and Himene
Dancing and singing came close to becoming extinct. From prohibitions to partial rehabilitations, they now have an essential place in Polynesian society. In ancient times, people sang and dance to mark life’s milestones. The heiva festival has brought ori Tahiti back in the spotlight, gracefulness and sensuality are no longer taboo. Every year, troupes strive to express, in their moves and in their songs, the love they feel for their fenua.
Stone lifting - Amora’a Ofai
The spectacular sport originated in Rurutu, in the Austral Islands. The goal is to lift a stone from the ground as fast as possible, and to stabilize it on the soulder for a given time. Precision, speed and strength are needed for this discipline that also requires great powers of concentration. There are several weight categories, and athletes may lift up to 150 kg.
Fruit-carrier race - Timau Ra’au
Before becoming a competition, fruit carrying was a profession. Men used to race each other to bring fruit from the orchards to the villages. Nowadays, competitors raced over 1 to 1,8 km, carrying a load of local fruit and vegetables ranging from 15 to 50 kg. Rankings are based on speed and conservation of the fruit : some pieces often get lost on the way, and runners must pace themselves to minimize losses.
Javelin - Patia Fa
This precision discipline was originally the favorite activity of great warriors. More popular today but no less difficult, javelin throwing involves aiming at and hitting a coconut on a 9.5 meter mast. Throwers are placed 22 meters from their target, and the event features eight heats with 10 javelins each time.
Outrigger canoe races - Va’a
The Heiva’s main event. On their va’a of one to sixteen rowers, teams must show their speed and stamina. Lagoon races are speed events, while ocean races are genuine marathons.
Firewalking - Umu Ti Ceremony
The umu ti is a ceremony during wich the community gathered to cook the ti, or auti roots (Cordyline fructicosa) in a traditional oven. Organized by high priests, the umu ti always features a firewalk also was an occasion to confirm the priests power, who felt no pain walking on lava stones heated to 1000 °C.
The Craftsmen’s Heiva - Heiva Rima’i
THis great arts and crafts exhibition gathers artits from the five Polynesian archipelagos. Sculpture, weaving, tattoo, jewelry, all rival in imagination and skill in their use of local materials (wood, mother-of-pearl, pearls, seeds, etc…) and turn out true masterpieces.