The missionaries did all they could to
wipe out traditional Polynesian culture by levelling temples, destroying
carvings, and banning tattoos and that heady, erotic dancing that
Bougainville told Europe about. The missionaries sought to make the
Polynesians follow the teachings of the Good Book and their own autocratic
commandments, but fortunately some of the traditional ways survived.
Recently there's been a strong push to revive old ways and rediscover
traditional arts. Traditional musical instruments include pahu and toere
drums and the curious nose flute called a vivo. Guitars and
ukuleles made their way into Polynesia and the locals developed a unique
song style that owes much to country & western music in form but has a
distinctive South Pacific island groove. Customary dancing (tamure)
has slowly made its way back into French Polynesian life, but, sadly, the
art of making tapa (bark paper and cloth), practised throughout the
Pacific, has all but disappeared.
Things are pretty laid
back in French Polynesia - dress standards are relaxed even in the
classiest restaurants and beach wear is often just from the waist down.
Church is deadly serious though and Sunday is the day of worship (fully
clothed). The Polynesian concept of family is a much broader one than in
the West - cousins, uncles, aunts etc are all part of the scene and are
called fetii. The family might also have adopted children, faaamu,
and children are commonly entrusted to relatives or childless women.
French Polynesia has a unique culinary tradition,
with old South Pacific cooking methods combining with French gastronomy
and Italian and Chinese influences. This manifests itself not just in the
flashy restaurants but also in the cheap roadside mobile snack bars, les
roulottes. Food is still cooked in traditional pit ovens that are
common throughout the Pacific. A hole is dug in the ground, stones are
placed within it and then a fire is lit to heat the stones. The food,
wrapped in banana leaves, is placed on top, and then the hole is filled in
again with earth. The baking process takes several hours. In French
Polynesia this kind of oven is called an ahimaa and the feast is
called a tamaaraa.
information on culture in French
Polynesia, go to:
more general information
on French Polynesia, go to: