The Society Islands, French Polynesia
French Polynesia, considered "Paradise on Earth", was explored by Captains Cook and Bligh, but they were made truly famous by the paintings of the artist, Paul Gauguin, and by the words of author, James A. Michener.

Divided into the Windward Islands (Iles du Vent), and the Leeward Islands (Iles Sous le Vent) they were given their stylish name by Captain James Cook in 1769, when he named them after England's Royal Society- and Royal islands they certainly are!

Most of these rugged islands are volcanic in origin, with a few small coral atolls mixed in. Of these, the most recognizable names are the legendary islands of Bora Bora, Huahine, Moorea and Tahiti.


Current day Tahitians maintain their heritage and traditions of their Maohi ancestors. Oral history recounts the adventures of gods and warriors in colourful legends where javelin throwing was the sport of the gods, surf riding was favoured by the kings, and Aito strongmen competed in outrigger canoe races and stone lifting as a show of pure strength.

The open-air sanctuaries called marae were once the centre of power in ancient Polynesia. These large, stone structures, akin to temples, hosted the important events of the times including the worship of the gods, peace treaties, celebrations of war, and the launch of voyages to colonize distant lands.

In celebration of ancient traditions and competitions, the annual Heiva festival, held in July, has been the most important event in French Polynesia for the past 122 years. Tahitians gather from the islands to display their crafts, compete in ancient sporting events, and recreate traditional and elaborate dance performances.

The word tattoo originated in Tahiti. The legend of Tohu, the god of tattoo, describes painting all the oceans’ fish in beautiful colours and patterns. In Polynesian culture, tattoos have long been considered signs of beauty, and in earlier times were ceremoniously applied when reaching adolescence.

Music and Dance
The beauty, drama, and power of today’s Tahitian dance testify to its resilience in Polynesian culture. In ancient times, dances were directly linked with all aspects of life. One would dance for joy, to welcome a visitor, to pray to a god, to challenge an enemy, and to seduce a mate. Dance is still accompanied by traditional musical instruments such as thunderous drums, conch shells, and harmonic nasal flutes. The ukulele is the modern day musical instrument.

The skills of the ancestors’ artistry are kept sacred and passed on by both the “mamas,” the guardians of tradition and the matriarchs of Tahitian society as well as by skilled craftsmen. Items include weaving, quilting, wooden sculptures and bowls, drums, tapa, carvings, and hand-dyed pareu.

Centuries before the Europeans concluded that the earth was round, the great voyagers of Polynesia had already mastered the Pacific Ocean. Aboard massive, double-hulled outrigger canoes called tipairua, they navigated by stars and winds. Today, the canoe still plays a role in everyday Tahitian life and is honored in colorful races and festivals throughout the islands.

Tropical flowers seem to be everywhere on the islands, particularly in the hair of Tahitians. Hibiscus blossoms are worn behind the ear or braided with palm fronds into floral crowns. The Tiare Tahiti flower is used in leis for greeting arriving visitors and returning family. Tradition holds that, if taken, women and men wear a flower behind their left ear.

South Pacific