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mercredi 30 juillet 2014

Heiva i Tahiti

First Polynesian arts festival

In June and July in Tahiti, amateurs and professionals offer, every day, dazzling performances, all dedicated to traditional Polynesian arts.

Since 133 years, every year over two months, Polynesia vibrates to the sound of to’ere*, making the event one of the oldest festivals of the world.
You’ve sung… now it’s time to dance!
Music, songs and dances of course, but also traditional sports such as javelin throw, fruit carriers' race or  stone lifting are featured in Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia. But the climax of the event, the ultimate dream of every French Polynesian group is the official competition which takes place in Papeete, in July.

Tiurai or Heiva, what is it?
Initially Tiurai (meaning July, in reo Tahiti) or today Heiva (feast) are the two names borne successively by the most important and oldest festival and cultural event of Polynesia.

The story begins with evangelism and its prohibitions, materialized in 1819 by King Pomare II’s Code: it forbids and heavily penalizes (among other things) “songs, games or lascivious entertainments”… All these interdictions have been dictated to Pomare by the emissaries of the London Missionary Society. Because of this, many things have been definitely lost in Polynesian traditional arts.
The 130th edition of the Heiva I Tahiti
From 1880, it’s the official celebration of the French national day which allows curiously the return of traditional events in Tahiti. The event is called Tiurai until 1985 when it was renamed Heiva I Tahiti.

Since the first edition in 1880, there would have been two years without Heiva. And, although this statement is subject to controversy, the 2012 edition is officially the 130th of its kind.

Dances, songs, music and so on
If the highlight of each edition of the Heiva i Tahiti is the contest of the best song and dance group, what represents seven nights in July. But it’s a multitude of events of all kinds which are proposed on this occasion, for two months in Tahiti and its islands.

Many islands actually organize a Heiva. The most publicized of them is this one of Bora Bora and the most authentic undoubtedly that of Taha’a
Spectacular event of stone lifting for the Heiva
In Tahiti, the festivities take place in the month of June and July. Besides the contest already cited and which is closing the events, the Heiva of the schools, then the competitions of traditional sports and crafts, and finally the show of amateur groups, will succeed.

Sports and traditional Polynesian craft
Firstly, the impressive racing of va’a* (outrigger canoe), happening in the harbor of Papeete; it leads to showy tussles and offers the unique opportunity to see the stunning double canoes where evolve sixteen rowers. It’s also one of the rare occasions to contemplate the few traditional veil canoes racing still existing in French Polynesia.
These sailing canoes have, alas, almost gone…
The javelin (teka) throw is to drill with a purau* stick, javelin from 2 or 4 meters long, a coconut atop a mast of 9.50 meters and 20 away meters for the shooters.
The target of the Polynesian javelin
Fruit carriers’ race consists for athletes to wear running between 30 and 50 kilos of fruits over a distance of two kilometers. In these tests, so be the fastest is important, the costume of the rider and his skill, are at least as much as the final result.

Finally, the most exceptional event: the stone lifting (amoroa’a ofai). It’s in maximum three attempts to hang up on his shoulder and standing erect, a stone on the ground and weighing 80 to 100kg. The fastest is the winner. In the past, for simplicity, the stone was monoï coated!

The copra contest during the Heiva 2011

Very spectacular copra competitions and fire walking (or umu ti) are also organized.

Polynesian songs and dances at the Heiva
The singing competitions have four distinct categories:
-The Himene tarava (traditional songs) is interpreted by the whole group and directed by a ra’atira (choirmaster).
Himene tarava a unique moment of Heiva
-The Himene nota (most recent religious songs). These are the only songs written on partitions. It is sung by four voices without instrumental accompaniment.
-The Himene ru’au (very old songs) is interpreted unaccompanied by three of five voices
-The ute is a rhythmic song, sung by two or three singers accompanied by a small ensemble of string instruments (guitar, ukulele). The lyrics are completely improvised and bases on puns.  
Magical power of polynesian dancers
But the highlight of course, remains the Heiva dance competitions. Each group (which may have more than 80 dancers!) displays a performance referring mostly to ancient legends bringing out the island or district whose it’s originated.

For the awarding of the group of the year, the jury considers the choreography of course, but also costumes, orchestration and performances of dancers.

Heiva: an essential role
Beyond its strictly festive aspect, the Heiva plays a crucial role in the transmission of knowledge to younger generations by enabling them to acquire a sense of tradition, a major concern in contemporary Polynesia.

The Manahau group at the Heiva 2011

Incidentally, the Heiva is also one of the leading cultural events of the year, and this attracts a significant proportion of tourists visiting our islands.

"Tahiti in ancient time" Henry Teuira
* to'ere: The to'ere is a percussion carved into a tree trunk and whose sound depends on the size. It is beaten with two sticks and this instrument is the basis of all Polynesian music.
* va'a: Polynesian outrigger canoes can count one, three, six and up to twelve rowers.

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.


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