The Cultural Wonders of French Polynesia
The Cultural Wonders of French Polynesia

Discover the cultural treasures of French Polynesia as you sail through crystal-clear waters, lush landscapes, and experience the warm hospitality of the Polynesian people.

The Cultural Wonders of French Polynesia

French Polynesia, a collection of 118 islands and atolls scattered across the South Pacific, is a dream destination for many sailors. With its crystal-clear waters, lush landscapes, and vibrant culture, it’s no wonder that this tropical paradise has captured the hearts of those who have ventured to its shores. In this article, we’ll explore the cultural wonders of French Polynesia, delving into its rich history, unique traditions, and unforgettable experiences that await you on your sailing adventure.

A Brief History of French Polynesia

To fully appreciate the cultural wonders of French Polynesia, it’s essential to understand its history. The islands were first settled by Polynesians, who navigated the vast Pacific Ocean using only the stars, wind, and ocean currents as their guides. These early settlers brought with them their customs, language, and traditions, which have shaped the unique culture of French Polynesia that we know today.

European explorers, including the famous Captain James Cook, first arrived in the 18th century. The French eventually claimed the islands as their own in the 19th century, and French Polynesia became an overseas territory of France in 1946. Today, the islands enjoy a degree of autonomy, with their own president and assembly, while still remaining under French administration.

The Polynesian People and Language

The people of French Polynesia are known for their warm hospitality and welcoming nature. The majority of the population is of Polynesian descent, with a smaller percentage of French, Chinese, and other ethnicities. The official languages are French and Tahitian, but you’ll also hear other Polynesian languages spoken throughout the islands.

As you sail through French Polynesia, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with the locals and learn about their way of life. Polynesians are proud of their heritage and are eager to share their customs and traditions with visitors. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to join a family for a meal or participate in a local celebration – these are experiences that will create lasting memories of your time in French Polynesia.

Traditional Polynesian Dance and Music

One of the most captivating aspects of French Polynesian culture is its traditional dance and music. The islands are renowned for their vibrant performances, which showcase the grace, strength, and beauty of Polynesian dance.

The most famous dance is the tamure, a fast-paced, hip-shaking dance performed by both men and women. Dancers wear traditional costumes made from natural materials, such as coconut shells, feathers, and plant fibers. The ote’a is another popular dance, characterized by its rapid drumming and energetic movements.

Music plays a significant role in Polynesian culture, with traditional instruments like the to’ere (a wooden slit drum), the pu (a conch shell), and the ukulele accompanying the dancers. As you explore the islands, you’ll likely have the opportunity to witness these mesmerizing performances at local festivals and events.

Polynesian Tattoo Art

Tattooing is an ancient Polynesian tradition that dates back thousands of years. In French Polynesia, tattoos are more than just body art – they tell the story of a person’s ancestry, social status, and personal achievements. The intricate designs are deeply symbolic, with each element representing a specific meaning or attribute.

Tattooing was once banned by European missionaries, but the art form has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Today, many Polynesians proudly display their tattoos as a way to connect with their heritage and express their identity. If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating art form, consider visiting a local tattoo artist or attending a tattoo festival during your sailing adventure.

Traditional Polynesian Cuisine

No exploration of French Polynesian culture would be complete without sampling its delicious cuisine. The islands’ culinary traditions are influenced by the abundant natural resources, with fresh seafood, tropical fruits, and root vegetables featuring prominently in local dishes.

One of the most iconic dishes is poisson cru, a raw fish salad marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. Another popular dish is ma’a Tahiti, a traditional feast prepared in an underground oven called an ahima’a. This communal meal typically includes dishes like fa’fa (taro leaves cooked with coconut milk), uru (breadfruit), and ia ota (marinated raw fish).

As you sail through French Polynesia, be sure to visit local markets and roadside stands to sample the freshest produce and seafood. You’ll also find a variety of French, Chinese, and international cuisine throughout the islands, reflecting the diverse influences that have shaped French Polynesian culture.

Marae: Ancient Polynesian Temples

One of the most fascinating cultural wonders of French Polynesia is its ancient temples, known as marae. These sacred sites were once the center of religious and social life in Polynesian society, where ceremonies, rituals, and important gatherings took place.

The most famous marae in French Polynesia is the Marae Arahurahu on the island of Tahiti. This beautifully restored site features a large stone platform, surrounded by carved wooden statues and a traditional thatched-roof meeting house. Other notable marae can be found on the islands of Raiatea, Huahine, and Moorea.

Visiting these ancient sites offers a glimpse into the spiritual beliefs and customs of the Polynesian people. As you explore the marae, take the time to appreciate the craftsmanship and skill that went into creating these impressive structures, and reflect on the rich history and culture that they represent.

Cultural Experiences and Festivals

There are numerous cultural experiences and festivals throughout the year in French Polynesia, offering visitors the chance to immerse themselves in the islands’ vibrant traditions. Some of the most popular events include:

  • Tahiti’s Heiva i Tahiti: This annual festival, held in July, is a celebration of Polynesian culture, featuring traditional dance and music performances, sports competitions, and artisan demonstrations.

  • Hawaiki Nui Va’a: This prestigious outrigger canoe race takes place each November, with teams from across French Polynesia and beyond competing in a grueling three-day event that covers over 120 kilometers between the islands of Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, and Bora Bora.

  • Tiki Village Cultural Center: Located on the island of Moorea, this cultural center offers visitors the chance to experience traditional Polynesian life, with demonstrations of dance, music, handicrafts, and cuisine.

As you plan your sailing adventure through French Polynesia, consider timing your visit to coincide with one of these cultural events. Not only will you have the opportunity to witness the islands’ traditions firsthand, but you’ll also create unforgettable memories that will last a lifetime.


The cultural wonders of French Polynesia are as diverse and captivating as the islands themselves. From its rich history and welcoming people to its vibrant dance, music, and cuisine, there’s no shortage of opportunities to immerse yourself in the unique traditions that make this tropical paradise so special. As you set sail on your adventure, be sure to embrace the spirit of French Polynesia and let its enchanting culture become an integral part of your journey.