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Tahiti Then and Now Part II

Traditional Va'a

In response to our first “Then and Now” blog post from earlier this month, Matador Network reached out to us and asked if we could submit a similar article for their website. Of course we gladly obliged; and below is the final piece that they published on Monday, October 22. If you’ve enjoyed looking through these vintage photos of Tahiti, we’ve listed our sources at the bottom so you can browse through the history books yourself.

Tahiti 100 Years Ago and Today

In the span of 100 years, most places change considerably. Not Tahiti.

Tahiti has a long history. Located in the South Pacific, the islands were first settled by Polynesians as early as 200 AD. They were later discovered by Europeans during the 16th century and eventually colonized by France. Now a part of French Polynesia, Tahiti is the political and economic capital of this autonomous overseas country.

While the islands have seen a lot of change over time, some things remain the same. Tahitians have maintained their rich cultural heritage and the islands themselves are still just as beautiful as ever.

Tahitian Valley

Tahitian Valley. The center of the island is thriving with tropical vegetation and cascading waterfalls. The image on the left depicts a verdant Tahitian valley in 1915, while the more recent image on the right shows hikers enjoying the same lush scenery today. Photo: Ty Sawyer

Cascading Waterfalls

Cascading Waterfalls. On the left is the Fautaua Waterfall, captured in 1906, and on the right is another waterfall located in the Papeno’o Valley of Tahiti. Photo: Ty Sawyer

Le Diadème

Le Diadème. There are many iconic sights in French Polynesia that give each island its unique character. Le Diadème suitably crowns the island of Tahiti as the “Queen of the South Pacific.” On the left is a picture of these mountain peaks from 1906, and on the right is a more recent picture taken from a similar vantage point.


Moorea. Another classic sight in French Polynesia is the view of Moorea from Tahiti’s shore. On the left is a picture of the sun setting behind the island—also once known as “Eimeo”—in 1915, and on the right is a similar scene with one of the resort’s infinity pools in the foreground. Photo: Rémi Jouan

Tiki Statue

Tiki Statues. The Marquesas Islands have ancient stone statues hidden within dense vegetation. On the left is a picture taken in 1910 of the statue of King Takaii, located in the Paumau Valley on the island of Hiva Oa. On the right is the same tiki over a hundred years later. This statue stands approximately eight feet tall.

Ancient Marae

Ancient Marae. Tahiti is known for the existence of ancient temples called “marae.” Many of these sacred stone structures were once destroyed but have since been restored. On the left is a depiction from 1910 of the Marae of Atahuru near the Punaruu River, and on the right is a restored marae on the island of Huahine.

Tahitian Fare

Tahitian Fare. Many of the housing structures in Tahiti are still built in a traditional Polynesian style using natural materials such as bamboo and pandanus leaves. On the left is a picture of a “fare” or native house in Tahiti around 1910, and on the right is a garden bungalow at the Huahine Te Tiare Beach Resort.

Tahitian Feast

Tahitian Feast. A traditional Tahitian meal is typically cooked in an underground oven. The picture on the left, taken in 1882, shows a pig and bananas ready to be covered up and roasted. The picture on the right shows a modern-day feast being prepared the same way. Photo: Zach Stovall

Tahitian Dance

Tahitian Dace. Dance is still an integral part of Tahitian culture. The picture on the left shows Tahitians posing in their famous “upa-upa” dance in 1920. Today, the Heiva I Tahiti—also known as “The Celebration of Life”—is an annual festival that honors this tradition and showcases the very best in Polynesian dancing.

Banana Carrying

Banana Races. Also part of the Heiva I Tahiti, banana or “fei” carrying is a longstanding tradition in French Polynesia. Fruit vendors once used wooden poles to transport bananas to and from the downtown market. The image on the left shows a Tahitian carrying his supply of bananas into Papeete in 1906. Still celebrated today, Tahitians have turned this old practice into a fun, competitive race. Photo: Doug Steele

Traditional Va'a

Traditional Va’a. Whether for sport or leisure, outrigger canoeing is a staple of Tahitian culture. Also known as “va’a,” this custom is still widely practiced today. On the left is a picture taken in the Opunohu Bay of Moorea in 1910, and on the right is a group of Tahitians paddling their canoe at sunset—with the prominent silhouette of Moorea seen in the background.


Want More?

If you’re intrigued by these vintage photos of Tahiti and would like to see more, there are a lot of great publications out there that are public domain and available for download. Here’s a list of some of our sources:

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Toya #

    This is absolutely amazing. Thanks for sharing your sources!

    November 2, 2012
  2. NealVandee68 #

    Hiya! Very cool blog!! Beautiful… Wonderful… Thanks for sharing! I’ll bookmark your website.

    November 2, 2012
  3. william #

    I’m sure this took quite a bit of time to put together. Thanks for the effort! It turned out great.

    November 3, 2012
  4. Jessica #

    Your best post yet. Love it!

    November 4, 2012
  5. Hank Marjenhoff #

    I would love to see more of these. Really fantastic.

    November 4, 2012
  6. Thompson #

    You have an awesome site over here. I just wanna say thanks for all the interesting information on it.

    November 5, 2012
  7. Zack Condell #

    Thanks for this marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it. Have a nice afternoon!

    November 7, 2012
  8. coral #

    this is really an awesome post. the story is cool too.

    November 11, 2012
  9. Dugay728 #

    Whoa this is excellent! I really like reading your articles. Keep up the great work!

    November 16, 2012
  10. jersey #

    This is really awesome, thank you!

    December 28, 2012
  11. Virapura Parasona #

    E mea nehenehe roa ta outou mau hoho’a a te fenua Tahiti!!!!

    March 4, 2018

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