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The 130th Heiva I Tahiti

Female Tahitian Dancers

This year marks the 130th celebration of the annual Heiva I Tahiti, a spectacular month-long celebration of Polynesian culture. It’s the largest and most popular festival of its kind in French Polynesia, showcasing the very best in traditional dancing, artistry and athleticism. While preparation is already underway, the month of July is the best time to visit Tahiti and witness this celebration in full force. The event is held at the beautiful To’ata Square in Papeete, Tahiti, and we’ve got your exclusive tickets to the festivities!

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The Celebration of Life

In Tahitian, hei means “to assemble” and va means “community,” so the word heiva refers to any organized activity or gathering in French Polynesia. However, the proper Heiva I Tahiti has become known as “The Celebration of Life” because it is the symbol of Polynesian culture. It serves as an iconic event for a group of people that are especially proud of their unique heritage.

The History of Heiva

Music and dance have always been a central part of Polynesian culture. Tahitian dance, or “Ori Tahiti,” is one of the most sophisticated and ritualized art forms of all time. However, it was not always practiced as freely in Tahiti as it is today. When European Protestant missionaries arrived in the 19th century, they found such “erotic” displays to be offensive and King Pomare II legally banned the tradition in 1819. Thankfully, the Tahitian people found a way to keep dance alive, practicing the ritual in secret and passing on the tradition in anticipation for its revival.

After Tahiti was annexed by France in 1881, the Heiva festival began to take shape. At that time, the event was called Tiurai – a derivation of the word July. It was meant to coincide with France’s national holiday known as Bastille Day, which is still celebrated every year on July 14th. On this one day, France allowed Polynesians to partake in their traditional celebrations. The first festival included games, entertainment and singing, but dance was still somewhat restricted, forcing them to perform a much more “sanitized” version of Tahitian dance.

It wasn’t until 1956 that Madeleine Moua, a high school principal from Papeete, spearheaded the full revival of Tahitian dance by forming the dance troupe Heiva Tahiti. Soon after, traditional dance resumed its rightful place as a vibrant part of Tahitian culture. Then in 1985, Tahiti obtained greater political autonomy from France and they renamed the festival Heiva I Tahiti.

The Heiva Experience

Each dance performance is a unique creation. The music and choreography reflect a historical and legendary theme, highlighting the drama of the opera and the distinct influence of Tahiti’s ancestral traditions. The dancers rigorously train for six or more months, and their costumes are handcrafted from materials indigenous to the area. The live orchestras are made up of five to fifty musicians using traditional instruments such as the nasal flute or “vivo,” marine shells or “pu,” and the ukulele.

Beyond the dancing, the Heiva I Tahiti is also a traditional sports competition. The sporting events are based on ancient athletic activities and include heavy stone lifting, javelin throwing, outrigger canoe races, and a fruit carrying competition in which men sprint carrying large bunches of bananas tied to poles.

Here’s a fantastic article about experiencing the Heiva I Tahiti and below is an entertaining video that captures a dance performance from last year’s festival. The 2012 edition promises to be an incredible show with record-breaking participation of over 3,500 artists and 38 professional groups singing and dancing on stage. Both Moorea and Bora Bora also have their own versions of the Heiva. Moorea’s will be held from June 16 to July 14 in the Afareaitu District, while the festivities in Bora Bora will take place from June 22 to July 29 at Moto’i Place in Vaitape.

Getting There

If you ask us, this is an event that you have to experience for yourself. We’ve put together a very special 2012 Heiva Tahiti package including free daily breakfasts, a circle island tour, and a 7-night stay at the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Resort. Once you book your travel with us, we can arrange to purchase your Heiva tickets ahead of time so they’ll be ready when you arrive. Just ask your reservation specialist for more information. We hope to see you there!

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Farell #

    Would love to be there for the event… maybe next year!

    June 8, 2012
  2. Hauser #

    Even San Diego has their own version of Heiva (http://www.heivasandiego.com/) I’ve been there and it’s great… although I would love to experience the real thing.

    June 8, 2012
  3. Smith #

    Sounds like the best time to visit Tahiti and be fully immersed in the culture. Sign me up!

    June 12, 2012
  4. Alex Goad #

    I love watching Tahitian dancers. The way they move is incredible!

    June 15, 2012
  5. Mark #

    Love the Heiva! Best time of my life.

    June 17, 2012
  6. teddy g. #

    Hadn’t heard of this before, thanks for the insight!

    June 19, 2012
    • Monica #

      Fantastic. I really like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining. I can’t wait to read more from you. This is really a wonderful website.

      July 12, 2012
  7. karoline pass #

    After reading your blog post I browsed your website a bit and found some really great information. Thanks and keep up the quality posts.

    June 20, 2012
  8. Sukjoo #

    Since the first time I saw a picture of Tahiti I have wanted to visit because of it’s beauty. I still have the dream. Someday!

    July 12, 2012
  9. Carlos #

    your post is an excellent example of why i keep coming back to read your blog. nice post and thanks for sharing.

    July 19, 2012
  10. Brandon #

    Pretty great post. I just stumbled on your blog and I’ve truly loved browsing your articles!

    August 8, 2012
  11. kristin_gomes #

    Hey I think you have a great blog going here, I found it on Bing and plan on returning regularly for the information that you all are providing. Thanks for making my morning a little bit better with this great article!

    August 26, 2012
  12. Shenna #

    Great piece. I’m really impressed. Keep posting this kind of stuff on your blog and I’ll definitely share it.

    September 7, 2012
  13. Ezra #

    Thanks for writing about Heiva. Loved it!

    September 13, 2012
  14. Emma #

    This really wowed…

    September 13, 2012
  15. mcclene #

    This is worth my attention. Where can I find out more?

    September 13, 2012
  16. Alvaro #

    I like this website so much, I just saved it to my favorites!

    November 2, 2012
  17. Anna Maireroa #

    Would love to come this year but how do i purchase the tickets and how much they cost and
    I am in Rarotonga so how much would that be in new zealand dollars.

    April 18, 2013
    • nicolegriffith #

      Hi Anna, sorry for the delay! They just announced the schedule for this year’s event and tickets went on sale today. We can reserve tickets through a hotel concierge, so please let us know if you would like assistance with your travel arrangements (reservations@tahiti.com). Locally, tickets are also on sale at the grocery store Carrefour and through the radio station Radio1 Fare Ute (www.radio1.pf). Here’s additional information (in French): http://www.lesnouvelles.pf/article/ca-fait-la-une/heiva-i-tahiti-demandez-le-programme

      June 6, 2013
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    August 27, 2014

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