South Pacific Specialists

Heiva I Tahiti – “The Celebration of Life”

In Tahitian, the word Heiva (hei meaning to assemble, and va meaning community places) refers to activities, pastimes, physical exercise, and festivals. Music, dancing, singing and sporting events have always held an important place in Polynesian communities. In ancient times, they were essential components of religious and political ceremonies. Dance was one of the most sophisticated and ritualized art forms performed in groups or individually.

More than just a simple festival, Heiva I Tahiti has become the symbol of the Polynesian culture and an iconic event for a people proud of their heritage. These performances highlight the drama of an opera and the distinct imprints of an ancestral tradition. The dances are unique creations, for which the dancers train for six months or more. Text music, choreography and costumes are based on a historical or legendary theme.

Live music and singing accompany the dancers. The orchestras are made up of five to fifty musicians using traditional instruments such as the nasal flute or “vivo,” made from a portion of bamboo, marine shells or “pu,” and more recently, the ukulele, a small Hawaiian guitar with soft tones.  The traditional singing competition accounts for another powerful portion of the Heiva I Tahiti. The melodies include a cappella in “reo ma’ohi” (Polynesian language), which express moments of joy and melancholy.

Since its creation, the Heiva I Tahiti, has also been a showcase for traditional sports and games. The traditional sporting events are based on ancient athletic activities and include; a stone lifting competition, a javelin- throwing event, outrigger canoe races, a copra competition, and a fruit carrying competition.


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