Haere Tatou! 2018 Must-See Tahitian Festivals & Events
The Islands of Tahiti have a rich, colourful history. From migrating Polynesians around 500BC, European explorers of the 16th century, to finally becoming what the world know as French Polynesia today, the Islands’ long history is distilled in the vibrant culture people who travel to Tahiti are bound to notice. The delightful French-Melanesian gastronomy is a dead giveaway to this heritage — that and the events and festivals that make Tahiti a festive destination all year-round.
With jagged emerald peaks and impossibly blue waters, anytime is a good time to be on the Islands but you can take it up a notch and travel to Tahiti during festivals and special events that bring countless people from all over the globe. Here are some quick bits on the top events and festivals in Tahiti:
Chinese New Year
This early to mid-February event celebrates the heritage of Tahiti’s Chinese population, most of which are descendants of workers who migrated from China to man the cotton plantations prevalent in the island in the 1860s. At least five percent of the Tahitian population today are of Chinese descent, majority of which are shopkeepers who make it a point to observe the Chinese New Year with festivities hosted in Papeete. Opening ceremonies at the town hall signal the start of this Tahitian festival. Expect to see lanterns parading through the streets of Papeete or watch Chinese cultural performances in the grand ball that marks the end of the celebration. After the celebrations, wind down by walking the streets of the bustling city of Papeete on a tour or exploring nearby sgems.
Every February of each year, Papeete’s Te Fare Tahiti Nui cultural centre turns into a huge film mecca for six days, thanks to Tahiti’s Pacific International Film Festival, commonly known as FIFO (Festival International du Film Documentaire Océanien). FIFO Tahiti brings together filmmakers in different competitions, workshops and roundtable discussions. Television conferences and documentary film screenings are also laid out for participants.
Tahiti Pearl Regatta
All hands on deck! The mid-May Tahiti Pearl Regatta, usually shortened and referred to as TPR, is taken to be one of the Pacific Islands’ most extensive, festive and beautiful media coverage regatta. Witness 40 local and international teams tear through Tahiti’s turquoise waters for five days in a series of races and festivities. The inter-island event brings participants between Taha’a, Bora Bora and Raiatea, and traditional entertainment graces each night as winners are awarded. Nautical parades, race village and beach tournaments between crews are sure to be plenty, and if you’re looking for a festival in Tahiti with lots of dancing, costumed parties and fire jugglers, you’re in for a treat!
Heiva I Tahiti
June - July
Tahitians know how to celebrate life and nothing celebrates life better than a large, lively festival! Heiva, from the words “hei” which means to assemble and “va” which refers to community places, is Tahiti’s premier festival and a feast for the senses. Experience Tahiti erupt with sound and colour as no less than 50 musicians play Pu (conch shells), Vivo (bamboo nasal flute), ukuleles and other indigenous instruments, and young dancers of various, colourful costumes perform to the rhythm of bass drums. The dancers’ preparation for this iconic Tahitian festival and creation of the costumes out of handcrafted materials take six months.
Heiva is a “Tahitian renaissance” and you’ll also notice that the music and choreography feature historical and legendary themes. This celebration in Tahiti actually originates from the time the local dresses and most traditional practices were banned by European Protestant missionaries in the 19th century because they were deemed irreverent and indecent. The dances were in fact seen as largely erotic. Fortunately though, families kept practicing the dances in secret, recorded their customs and traditions and took great care in passing these lagacies to the next generation. When Tahiti was annexed by France in 1881, these hidden Tahitian traditions started to emerge and eventually condensed to a formal celebration of heritage we now know as the Heiva I Tahiti.
Teahupo’o, popularly called “Chopes”, is allegedly the world’s heaviest left-hand break, replacing Pipeline and making Tahiti not just a dreamy paradise but an insane surfer’s playground as well. With waves that are mind-numbing in their sheer size and insane barrels that seem to taunt surfers, there’s no surprise that Teahupo’o is the venue of the yearly Billabong Pro held in August. Watch as professional surfers brave some of the highest and most challenging waves ever seen! Billabong Pro is one of the world’s most prestigious surfing events, with surfers from around the world travelling to Tahiti to participate. If you’re new to surfing, try one of the many surf courses tailored for beginners or those who just want to give surfing a shot.
Tahiti International Tourism Day
With a delightful barrage of food tastings, traditional sporting events, arts and crafts demonstrations and other spectacles, it’s a great time to be a tourist in Tahiti on this day in September! Take a trip to Tahiti during this festival and aside from the exciting events already mentioned, you’ll also score shopping bargains and get discounts on museum fees. In the spirit of this national holiday, locals also wear colourful traditional clothes and tuck exotic flowers behind their ears.
Hawaiki Nui Va’a
More than a hundred canoes and 2,000 canoeists from Hawaii, Europe and all corners of French Polynesia compete in Hawaiki Nui Va’a, the largest outrigger canoe race in the region. The 3-day competition commences at Huahine Bay in the Leeward Islands and proceeds to Taha’a, Raiatea and Bora Bora, with the distances ranging from 25 to 60 kilometres. The first day is the race from Huahine to Raiatea which is 44.5 kilometres away, the second day is an hour and a half speed race between Raiatea and Taha’a inside the famous lagoon, and third and most spectacular day is a 4-hour 52-kilometre race across the ocean to get to Matira Beach in Bora Bora.
This exhausting, frenzied and uniquely Tahitian island-to-island race started in 1992 when a man named Edouard Maamaatuaiahutapu came up with the idea as tribute to the beautiful islands where he resided and to his close friends who revelled in the sea and loved canoe races.
Get lost in an ocean of countless faces, elaborate costumes and marvellous floats in Tahiti’s exuberant October Canival! Inspired by Rio and Venice, the Carnival in Papeete features a grand motorcade of floats preceding a gigantic colourful parade of over 10,000 participants. The floats are built according to varied themes and in great secrecy by each township, only unveiling them at the Papeete parade. Don’t miss the crowning of the Queen and King of Tahiti! The crowning is another carnival highlight and is held with much fanfare and attended by many.
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