Bora Bora is believed to have first been settled by Polynesian traders in the 4th century. The indigenous culture that developed was subsequently disrupted during the 19th century when Protestant missionaries arrived from Europe. The missionaries destroyed many of Bora Bora’s marae (stone temples), encouraging the locals to reject their beliefs and convert to Christianity. Over a hundred years later, many islanders maintain these Christian beliefs, but there has also been a resurgence in the celebration of indigenous culture, including dance.
Dance was once linked to all aspects of life on the island. The locals danced to celebrate, to please the gods, to challenge an enemy, or to entice a potential partner. These dances were typically accompanied by traditional musical instruments, including drums, conch shells, and nasal flutes. There are a number of different traditional dances, with fast hip and leg movements defining dances like “ote’a”; and slower arm and hand gestures characteristic of dances like “aparima”.
Another interesting aspect of traditional Tahitian culture is tattooing. Few people realize that the word “tattoo” actually originated in French Polynesia. Tattoos have always been considered signs of beauty in Polynesian culture, and they were once ritually applied to mark a child’s transition into adolescence.
You might also notice that islanders use the Tiare, Tahiti’s national flower, in courtship. The flower can be worn behind a man or woman’s left ear to indicate that he or she already has a partner; or behind the right ear to show that he or she is available.
If you’re interested in Tahitian culture, the annual Heiva i Tahiti festival is one of the best times to see these unique traditions on display. The festival comprises an entire month of festivities and competitions, including traditional dances, music, and singing, as well as sporting events like javelin throwing and heavy stone lifting.
Like most countries, Tahitian culture is also deeply reflected in its cuisine. You can’t possibly leave the island without sampling its succulent fresh fruits, including coconuts, mangoes, pineapples, limes, and breadfruit (a local fruit that is eaten both fresh and cooked).
Fresh fish also plays a large role in Tahitian cuisine, particularly tuna, mahi-mahi, grouper and bonito. With about 80% of Tahitian vanilla grown on Tahaa, an island nearby Bora Bora, vanilla is widely available and incorporated into meals ranging from fresh fish to sweet desserts.
As an overseas territory of France, it’s not surprising that Bora Bora’s cuisine also features many classic French dishes reinterpreted with local ingredients. Islanders also still enjoy ma’a Tahiti, which is typically served on Sundays. In this traditional style of cooking, pork, chicken, fish, and root vegetables are wrapped in leaves and cooked in an earth oven. The foods are left to steam for several hours, resting underground on a bed of heated stones.