Heiva: a guide to celebrating the culture of French Polynesia

Bora Bora. Tahiti. Heiva. Festival.

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'Bora Bora Heiva flower floats' by MarkWallaceCreative Commons Attribution

Location: To’ata Sq, Pape’ete, Tahiti

Dates: July 4-20 2013.

Level of participation: 2 - take part in a party to remember Polynesia’s past

A celebration of French Polynesia’s indigenous culture, Heiva sees the islands explode with slit drums, symbolic costumes and parades.

Traditionally a celebration of life or a preparation for war, the event gives the island women an excuse to promenade in colourful feathered costumes. Visitors might find themselves adorned with hibiscus garlands and Tiare flowers as they are dragged into the party. Costumes even incorporate head-dresses, staffs and, in the representations of one evil spirit, a creepy face and fingernails in need of a clip.

Joining the formidable dances, reminiscent of the Maori haka, and the traditional sports, an amusing modern addition to the festivities is the Mr and Miss Tahiti showdowns. The contests are more traditional than they sound, testing contenders’ abilities to scale palm trees, crack open coconuts and lift stones.

Drum-soundtracked Heiva celebrations can be found in locations ranging from California to Hawaii, but Tahiti has the biggest parties.

Local attractions: Rangiroa, in Tahiti’s neighbouring Tuamotu Archipelago, encircles the world’s second largest atoll (coral lagoon). Tahiti itself has 2000m-plus mountains and museums devoted to geology and painter Paul Gauguin, but then there are all those beaches...

More info: Tahiti Tourisme, Pape’ete (+689 50 57 00; www.tahiti-tourisme.com)

See other top festivals in July here.