The Culture of French Polynesia

March 24, 2015

French Polynesia is located in the South Pacific Ocean and has 118 islands, all of them of volcanic origin. Thanks to their origin, they are high islands and their black ominous rocks are a wonderful contrast to the soft white sand and lush vegetation. Many islands organise safari tours that will allow you to see the inside of the island and learn about the vegetation and animals.

The Main Islands (and a bit of myth!)

Moorea meaning yellow lizard got its name thanks to an old legend. The story goes that a woman gave birth to an egg and when a yellow lizard hatched the couple cared for it until it got too big. The parents were afraid of the size and decided to abandon their ‘child’. The lizard waited patiently for his parents, remembering the kindness and love, until it realised that it was abandoned. Struck with grief it swam towards the East but didn’t manage to survive the strong currents and its body washed up on the shore of Moorea.

Tahiti is the liveliest of all the islands with a rich nightlife and many activities. Papeete is the capital of Tahiti and has much to offer as far as clubs and restaurants go. Though for many Tahiti is just a pit stop before they go to the other islands, spending some time here can allow you to embrace a busier and more urban side of French Polynesia.


Bora Bora is a honeymooners retreat, and is an island you’d want to visit if you wish to take it easy and spend quiet time with your loved one. It’s most famous for its lagoon and the coral reef that guards it. Polynesians are protective of this natural phenomenon and go to great efforts to stop pollution that kills the coral. This lagoon is filed with colourful fish, turtles, and other marine life. You can swim with sharks, feed the sting rays and even visit the oyster farm to get your own black pearl!

Bora Bora (1)

The coconut tree legend is the most famous one and Polynesians love to tell the story of its creation! A beautiful girl, Hina, was supposed to marry the Prince of Eels but, frightened by his appearance, she ran away and took refuge with Hiro, the god of fishing. Hiro took pity on her, caught the prince of eels, cut him into pieces and entrusted his head to Hina. Before he died, however, the Prince of Eels made a prophecy that Hina will one day kiss him and thank him. Hiro had warned Hina not to place the Prince’s head on the ground or the prophecy would come true, but she forgot and the head went into the ground, where a coconut tree was born! Hina was condemned to guard the tree because people believed it was cursed, until a great drought struck and the people, including Hina, were saved by pressing their lips to the three dark spots laid out like two eyes and a mouth, and drank the coconut water. Thus, the prophecy came true!

Huahiné Island

The Culture

As French Polynesia used to be a colony, the majority  of people can speak French and English but they have their own tribal languages as well. Polynesians are very kind and will go out of their way to help you. Despite the influence of European culture, French Polynesian culture is still strong. Polynesians have never stopped dancing, and have many different types that can either be a warrior dance or a love dance.  Each of them accompanies different music and costumes and can be linked to a welcome, religion or challenge. The flower behind the ear signalises their relationship status. If you are not available you wear it behind your left ear and if you’re single you put it behind the right!

Fire Dance

The Food

French Polynesian cuisine is a mixture of different influences like French, Chinese, Italian and Vietnamese. Polynesians use fresh ingredients and exotic fish, fruits and vegetables. The most authentic way to cook is the underground oven or, as they call it e Ahima’a, where they heat up volcanic rock, place food in woven baskets, layer them in many leaves, scatter dirt over it and let it cook for two to three hours. Poisson cru is another must dish composed with raw red tuna in a coconut and lime juice sauce. A typical dessert is po’e a taro root backed fruit pudding. Yum!


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  • Reply kateinthenorth March 25, 2015 at 8:32 am

    There can never be too many cultural articles about FP. This is a great read, tnx Mandy!

  • Reply Mandy Underwood March 25, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Thanks Kate! There’s so much more to FP than lagoons and overwater bungalows but too many people fail to realise this. 🙂

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