most recent population census found a total of about 200,000 people in French
Polynesia. However the criteria used for defining the racial groups
can only approximate a breakdown of: 70% Polynesian, 12% European, 10%
Polynesian/European, five per-cent Chinese, and three percent Polynesian/Chinese.
All are French citizens.
The population figures for the five administrative subdivisions are Windward
Islands 140,341, Leeward Islands 22,232, Austral Islands 6,500, Tuamotu/Gambier
Islands 12,374, Marquesas Islands 7,358. About 70% of the total population
lives on Tahiti.
people of Tahiti-Polynesia are the maohi or Eastern Polynesians (as
opposed to the Western Polynesians in Samoa and Tonga).
intermariages are commun and many Tahitians can claim French, Chinese,
American and Polynesian ancestry. This accounts for the physical beauty
of the inhabitants and the total abscence of racial prejudice, either
from the Europeans or the Tahitians.
education is mandatory in Tahiti for every child to the age of 14. Primary
education begins at age five, and continues to the age of 12, when children
begin secondary education.
There are several technical and vocational schools in Tahiti, as well
as a large adult education program. Vocational training includes hotel,
restaurant, nursing and teaching programs.
Arts and culture
weaving was unknown in the old days, tapa cloth was made by women from
the bark of the paper mulberry, breadfruit, and banyan trees.
The boughs were soaked in a river for several days, the outer bark then
stripped off and the inner bark separated from it. The softened inner
bark was placed on a block of wood and beaten with a mallet. When the
tapa was of a uniform thickness it was dried in the sun and dyed. Floral
or geometric patterns were printed or painted on.
introduced the Tahitians to quilting, and two-layer patchwork tifaifai
have now taken the place of tapa (bark cloth). Used as bed covers and
pillows by tourists, Tahitians still use tifaifai to cloak newlyweds
and cover coffins.
To be wrapped in a tifaifai is the highest honor. Each woman has individual
quilt patterns, which are her trademarks. Bold floral designs are popular,
with contrasting colors draw from nature. A good titaifai can take up
to six months to complete and cost US$1000.
The French artist Henri Matisse, who in 1930 spent several weeks at
the now-demolished Stuart Hotel on Papeete's boulevard Pomare, was so
impressed by the Tahitian tifaifal that he applied the same technique
and adopted many designs for his "gouaches decoupees."
Music and Dance
is a big part of Tahitian life. It has gone beyond the traditional styles,
while singers and musicians continue to compose music for the masses
on subjects they have always written about - love and the sea - while
enriching their songs with reggae and Latin rhythms.
A good place to listen to traditional Tahitian music and songs is in
the upstairs restaurant area of the main Papeete Market. They have a
band who plays there everyday at lunchtime.
the missionaries banned dancing completely in the 1820s and the French
colonial administration only allowed performances which didn't disturb
Victorian decorum, traditional Tahitian dancing is back in a big way.
During major festivals troupes of 20-50 dancers and 6-10 musicians participate
in thrilling competitions. The big hotels on Tahiti and Bora Bora offer
exciting dance shows several nights a week which you may attend for
the price of a drink.
tamure is a fast, provocative, erotic dance done by rapidly shifting
the weight from one foot to the other, somwhat similar to belly dancing.
The grass skirts are low slung on the hips, enhancing the girating motion,
whil e the torso remains perfectly level. The rubber-legged men are
almost acrobatic, though their movements tend to follow those of the
women, mostly with scissor-like motion of their bent legs.
love flowers and need no excuse to wear them, either behind their ears,
in their hair , around their neck or expertly braided with palm fronds
and other greenery into floral crowns. This is one of the great charms
of the Tahitians people.
Tradition has it that if a woman or man tucks the flower behind the
left ear she or he is taken; a flower placed behind the right ear means
the person is available.
Sex & the Tahitian Myth
the days of Wallis and Bougainville, Tahitian women have had a reputation
for a willingness to share their amorous favors with foreigners.
to come from the fact that after some early encounter with muskets and
cannons, the Polynesian got smart and quickly figured that to appease
the foreigners, nothing worked better than providing accomodating women,
which to them was not a big deal.
The European explorers did have a good time as Tahitian women actually
relished lovemaking and they came back with tales of exotique and willing
Well, for better or worse, this is largely a thing of the past.
As a short-term visitor, your liaisons with Tahitians are likely to
remain just friendly. Westerners' obsession with the sexuality of Polynesians
usually reflects their own frustrations or misplaced fantaisies.
There are many gorgeous Tahitian girls, but they are proud , smart and
sophisticated and are not too impressed by men who see themselves as
God's gift to women.
the self-righteous who hold the view that Tahitian morality is loose,
this is rather ironic considering that Polynesians have always shared
whatever they have, cared for their old and young, and refrained from
ostracizing unwed mothers or attaching stigma to their offspring.
mahus, or third sex, bear little of the stigma attached to female impersonators
in the West.
A young boy may adopt the female role by his own choice or that of his
parents, performing female tasks at home and eventually finding a job
usually performed by women such as serving in a restaurant or hotel.
Usually only one mahu exists in each village or community, proof that
this type of individual serves a certain sociological function. George
Mortimer of the British ship Mercury recorded an encounter with a mahu
Though Tahitians may poke fun at mahus they're fully accepted in society,
seen teaching Sunday school, etc.
Many, but not all, mahus are also homosexuals. Today, with money all-important,
some transvestites have involved themselves in male prostitution and
the term raerae has been coined for this.
official languages of French Polynesia are French and Tahitian, with
each group of islands also having its own language. These languages
belong to the great Austronesian or Malayo European language family.
Once exclusively the language of Tahiti and its neighbors, Tahitian
is now spoken on about 100 islands of French Polynesia. The language
gained prominence because Tahiti was the most populous island and the
chief language chosen for missionary work. As the written word and Christianity
were spread by native pastors, the printed Tahitian word more or less
superseded other local dialects and languages.
Although English is spoken by many shopkeepers, hotel personnel and
students, it would help to have some command of French.
the above information taken from David Stanley's Tahiti Handbook