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Heiva Festival, French Polynesia

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What is the Heiva Festival?

The Heiva Festival is a large celebration that commemorates the identity of theFrancopolynesians, integrating the vast majority of the archipelagos and islands. Thousands of people congregate to participate in one of the largest festivals in the country to promote the identity and theidentity characteristics of the residents. The activities in the Heiva Festivalrepresent the traditions that had been lost, but have been gradually recovering.

The Heiva is a meeting place for the entire population comprising the islands and archipelagos of the country. In addition, it is a great space where the differentcultural aspects of the nation and physical skills are put to the test. Despite being a great commemorative festival, the Heiva also counts as a competition between variousgroupings and individuals.

The prevailing aspects of the festival are mainly singing and dancing. The dance groups dress in various colors and have traditional and themed costumes to perform. Likewise, the Heiva also offers spaces for competition and activities of various kinds such as sports competitions, beauty contests, degustations, weightlifting competitions, palm climbing and coconut opening.

During the festival, thousands of singers, artists, dancers and athletes from the five archipelagos and the 65 competing islands of the French Territory gather as individuals and teams in the various categories and competitions. We invite you to attend this wonderful festival and witness the great amount of competition andartistic presentations that French Polynesia has to offer.


The Heiva Festival is a great celebration of dancing and singing

The Heiva Festival is a great celebration of dancing and singing



When is the Heiva Festival

The Heiva Festival is usually held inlate June and early July and features two weeks of programming and activities. In addition, it also comprises some other pre-festival ceremonies that, although not part of the official program, it is a good idea to attend in order to have a complete experience.



History of the Heiva Festival

Even before the arrival of Europeans to the islands of Tahiti, the islanders used to express themselves through the arts, so they were considered a carefree and sexually expressive society. The prevailing elements of this era were mainly dance and song and were expressed in their daily life. With the arrival of the first English explorers, the missionaries arrived, who did not like these manifestations, since they were considered sinful and too provocative.

Although these missionaries had contributed in great proportions to the society, making it literate and prohibiting cannibalism, they also tried to put an end to some traditions because they were considered anti-Christian. In the year 1819, the islanders’ own demonstrations were banned and were only carried out secretly or privately.

Once the islands were under French control, the country decided to allow Polynesians to participate in sports and dances only on Bastille Day, this being an effort to satisfy the needs of the islanders to perform their own cultural manifestations.

By the year 1977, the islanders had acquired a greater level of autonomy and decided to fully revive the festivities of yesteryear. This event paved the way for the birth in 1985 of the Heiva festival as we know it, officially symbolizing the return of traditional Polynesian culture.


Where is the Heiva Festival

The Heiva is a month-long period of festivities celebrated in the five archipelagos of French Polynesia. Celebrations and cultural manifestations are held on each of the islands. However, theofficial and main Heiva festival, better known as “Heiva i Tahiti“, takes place on the main island of Tahiti. In the capital of French Polynesia, located in Tahiti and known by the name of Papeete, major singing and dancing competitions are organized every night at the “Fare Tahiti Nui“.

Simultaneously, cultural displays are held in each of the island’s locations, as well as shows and activities.


The Heiva Festival groups are presented to compete for the title of winners

The Heiva Festival groups are presented to compete for the title of winners



How is the Heiva Festival held

The Heiva Festival is a celebration like no other, since it has a full program where you can find a good number of singing groups, dancing and sports activities. In addition, the celebration has several orchestras composed of up to 50 musicians to provide you with the best live entertainment. Not everything is art and spectacle at the Heiva, there are also varioussporting events that make up the program of events.


Cultural events

Dance and singing competitions run from the beginning of the festival to the end, so you have a wide range of shows. Singers and dance troupes from the islands prepare for up to six months or more to devise programs and choreographies that reflect ancestral traditions and legends. All the elements that make up the shows, such as the music, the choreography and the costumes are based on historical themes and change annually.

Each day during the festival, 4 or 5 dance and singing groups compete for thetitle of winners. The groups and members are judged by a panel of experts who specialize in dance, percussions and musical compositions, singing and letters. Experts look for details such as entry into the dance area, appearance, the originality of the costumes,dance steps, the hip movements, the arm and hand movements and facial expressions.


The main attraction of Heiva is the professional dancers. The various dance groups and schools develop a varied repertoire in the various categories of the competition. In the presentations, the groupings featurethemed clothing and some typical costumes adorned with flowers, herbs or coconut. In addition, the pieces they perform have a thread or chain of events and each act functions as a kind of chapter that encompasses a main story. The stage scenery changes according to the purpose of the piece and the story it wants to tell.

Theamateur dance performances are also a popular attraction. There, you can seechildren, women and older men, all passionately swaying their hips in the name of traditional dance.

Some of the outstanding schools and groups that have participated in the Heiva festival are:

  • Tārava Tahiti
  • Garutoa Anaa
  • Hura ava tau
  • Tamanui Ha’apapa’ura No Tahiti
  • Ohi’u Maeva
  • Hura tau
  • Tamarii Mata Faa’iho
  • Tārava Raromatai
  • Teahinui
  • Pupu Ori Tamari’i Vaira’o
  • Tamari’i Tautira I Te Hiti Raa O Te Ra
  • Te Manuia
  • Hana
  • Kurahei
  • Tahiti Ora
  • Hei Tahiti
  • Heikura Nui
  • Temaeva



Song and hymn contests are an important part of the celebrations. The tunes include a cappella pieces sung inPolynesian language and some of the most authentic performances come from singers from the island of Rapa Goi. Themusical performances are truly a different and unique sensory experience. The members of the groups also enliven their lyrics with some hand and body movements, transforming the event into a grandiose visual and auditory spectacle. Like the dances, the musical groups also have several categories.

Some outstanding groups that have been part of the Heiva presentations and competitions have been:

  • Tamari’i Pane Ora
  • Haururu Papenoo
  • Tamari’i Mataiea
  • O Faa’a
  • Tamari’i Mahina
  • Natiara
  • Pupu Tuha’a Pae
  • Tamari’i Tuha’a Pae No Mahina
  • Teva i Tai
  • Haururu Papenoo
  • Tamari’i Mataiea
  • Haururu Papenoo
  • Te Noha no Rotui
  • Tamari’i Mataiea
  • Te Pare o Tahiti aea
  • Te Noha no Rotui


Sports competition

Heiva i Tahiti has always been an event for sports competitions and games. Traditional sporting events are based on ancient athletic activities and include competitions such as stone lifting, javelin throwing,canoe races, fruit carrying races andpalm climbing.


The Heiva Festival features a repertoire full of spectacle and cultural activities

The Heiva Festival features a repertoire full of spectacle and cultural activities


Tips for going to the Heiva Festivals

If you wish to attend the Heiva Festival, we recommend planning your trip in advance,making an itinerary of activities and reserving your preferred lodging in advance. Also, remember to pack light clothing so you can fully enjoy the festival.

Remember also that many of the events that comprise the festival are held on different islands and that the island of Tahiti occupies the most important events, this does not mean that the rest of the events are not worth seeing. If you have the wonderful opportunity to go to French Polynesia between the months of June and July, we advise you to attend the events taking place in the various areas and islands.


Events in Heiva Festival

The Heiva Festival has quite a full schedule of events that take place during the two weeks of events. In addition, there are some commemorative ceremonies that take place during the event that are definitely worth attending. We encourage you to attend as many events as possible so that you can experience the festivals fully and comprehensively.


Opening Rāhiri Ceremony

The opening ceremony marks the beginning of the dancing and singing competitions. It is a tribute to all the groups that will perform during the two weeks through the variouscultural and thematic elements in their repertoires. In addition, it also counts as a form of thanksgiving to the panel of judges who participate in the winner selection. This ceremony is a ritual that has been celebrated for decades and is a representation of events to come in the country.

Each participant holds abanana leaf that is placed on the ground, a ritual that is part of a strong interchange between the judges and the participants. Likewise, the entire ceremony is a sign of peace and serenity, acquiring a commitment to respect one another until the end of the competition regardless of the outcome.



Once the festival has started, events occur non-stop until all the groups have finished their repertoires. Performances occurfrom Thursday through Sunday, beginning at approximately 6:00 p.m. and culminating at 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. Depending on the size and repertoire of the ensembles, each ensemble ranges from about 30 minutes to an hour and at least 4 or 5 ensembles perform each day.

Generally, the groups perform fromThursday to Saturday, then the dances and music stop until the following Thursday to start again with the rest of the performances.


Fire Walk

The Fire Walk or Fire Walk is an event that occurs during the Heiva Festival celebrations. Although it does not count as an official celebration of the event, it has been taking place before the festival for about 60 years, so it has become deeply embedded in the festival traditions.

The event requires a long preparation, since a hole must be dug deep enough to place all the materials required for the ceremony, such as wood and rocks. This hole is completely filled with wood and rocks and then a layer of dried coconut palm leaves is placed on top of it. Although it seems very easy and fast, the whole arrangement will depend on the thickness of the wood, since it is necessary to wait 24 to 48 hours for it to be ready.

Once the night arrives and after aceremonial rite of the locals, the ritual begins with incantations. Instructions are given to the public and then volunteers are invited to follow the priest on heated stones whose surface temperature can exceed 2,000 degrees Celsius. Everyone attending the event is completely awestruck by the greatspectacle of living flames and the people walking on them.


Award Ceremony

During the ceremony of premise, the winning titles are given to the groups in the various categories. In addition, there are also some events and presentations by the winning groups or outstanding groups.


Dance and music are the most important elements of Heiva Festival

Dance and music are the most important elements of Heiva Festival


What to eat at the Heiva Festival

Tahiti is the largest island of French Polynesia and has a wonderful geographical location that allows it to have good products to develop its characteristic dishes. As you can imagine, the large number of dishes that the island has come mostly from the ocean, ensuring the best quality products for the dishes.

One of the traditional dishes of Tahiti is the ‘Ota ika. The ‘ Ota ika is a kind of ceviche that can be found in several islands of French Polynesia. It consists of raw fish to which citrus juice is added until the surface of the fish is opaque. After this, coconut milk and diced vegetables such as cucumber, tomato, onion, onion, green onion and peppers are added. The dish has some variants in the surrounding areas that integrate various seafood and crustaceans.


The 'Ota ika is a kind of traditional ceviche from French Polynesia

The ‘Ota ika is a kind of traditional ceviche from French Polynesia


Another dish you can get in Tahiti is the Poʻe, also known as Poke. This is a dessert made of mashed bananas mixed with arrowroot flour, a ginger-like root used in many sweet recipes. Once the mixture is integrated, it is wrapped in banana leaves to cook on milk. The end result is a pudding-like dish, which is served with coconut cream or other fruits.

In addition, Tahiti offers a good number of places you can visit to expand your culinary experience on the island. Some of the most famous places are: Le Grillardin, L’O a La Bouche, Le Souffle, Restaurant Le Sully, The Lotus Restaurant, Vaitohi Restaurant, LE CARRE and Blue Banana.


The Poʻe is a traditional Tahitian banana pudding

The Poʻe is a traditional Tahitian banana pudding


What to see and do inside the Heiva Festival

Once you find yourself at the Heiva Festival, you have a lot of cultural events ahead of you. If you don’t want to miss a second of what’s happening at the festival, we recommend going to the Opening Ceremony with the Rāhiri ritual. Also, if you want to see a great show of physical and mental strength, we recommend attending the fire walk, a wonderful event where you’ll see people walking on live flames on a pile of wood and rocks. Don’t forget to attend the sporting events and activities that take place in different parts of the island.

If you prefer to jump right in with the shows, you have a consistent amount of events to attend. These events take place from Thursday to Saturday and from 10 am to 11 pm. There you can see a huge amount of dancing and singing events. Finally, you can attend the awards ceremony where they will award prizes and titles to the most outstanding groups of the entire festival.


What to see and do outside the Heiva Festivals


Marché Papeete

This is the most important popular market of the island. Inside you can find plenty of food stalls, including fruits, vegetables, oils, handicrafts and hundreds of souvenirs.


Vaipahi Water Gardens

It is an incredible series of gardens that features waterfalls, plants and flowers of all kinds.  It also has some trails where you can take a walk or view from the sea from various points.


Pā’ōfa’i Gardens

This is a wonderful walk along the seashore. The route is a large sidewalk full of vegetation that is right next to the sea. It is a leisurely stroll, so you can go with friends or family and just hang out.

Safety at the Heiva Festivals


Pape’ete or Pepeete is an extremely safe city, so you don’t have to worry about strolling its streets both day and night. Be sure to pay attention to your surroundings, since in the more touristy areas you can be a victim of pickpockets. We recommend that you keep your personal belongings in a safe place and contact the police if any mishap occurs.

If you decide to go diving, be sure to pay attention to your surroundings, as the waters are used to seeing moray eels that could ruin your day if they attack you. Communicate with your guides or locals about the safest areas and follow the instructions they offer you in this regard.


Weather at the Heiva Festival

During the Heiva Festival, the city of Pape’ete has pleasant weather, with temperatures ranging from 29 to 22 degrees Celsius.


At the Heiva Festival, sports competitions are also held

At the Heiva Festival, sports competitions are also held



How to get to the Heiva Festivals

The island’s main airport is located in the district of Faa’a and is known as Faa’a International Airport, which receives some flights from Europe and America. Once you are there, you can make use of transportation to reach the city center.


How to get there by ferry

Papeete receives some ferries that transit between theisland of Moorea and Papeete.


How to get there by bus

From the airport you can take a bus directly to the town of Papeete. The ride is 10 minutes.


How to get there by car

From the airport you can take a car and reach the city center through the main road.

If you take a cab, the taxi fare ranges from US$20 to US$23.