Cracking Coconuts and Beauty Queens: Tahiti’s Heiva Festival

Festival Essentials

When: Annually, every July
Where: Different locations around the world – especially Hawaii, California and at its best in Tahiti.
Remember to bring: Your coconuts and a grass skirt.

Heiva is French Polynesia’s most important festival which takes place every year in July. It’s a colourful display of traditional costumes, skills and music of the pounding drums, a hypnotic groove in a celebration of life and traditionally preparation for war. Heiva or the Tahiti Fete is celebrated all over the world, especially in Hawaii and California but is at its most sensational in Tahiti.


Costumes are intrical to the Heiva experience, taking their lead from traditional tribes garments. Natural roots, seeds and nuts and feathers are used as decoration as well as head dress and a “toto” staff. Women’s costumes take their lead from birds feathers, bouquets, and flowers. Costumes are also symbolic, like the “varua ino”, an evil spirit character with ghostly long face and fingernails or “Tutea Tuturu” who represent the light of humanity in a blaze of sunburnt feathers and pearls and yellow and black make up.

Mr. Tahiti

The highlight of the Heiva is the Mr. and Miss Tahiti competition. Unlike other beauty contests, it’s not just about brawn and good looks but also skill and intelligence; part of the contests involves cracking open 10 coconuts in record time! The Mr. Tahiti competition is strongly traditional with an emphasis on the knowledge of ancient Polynesian skills like Palm tree climbing. The toughest round is lifting stones, contestants have been known to lift weights up to 300 pounds.

The French have suppressed the Polynesian way of life for over a century. Heiva is helping to keep Polynesian traditions alive and giving people back their pride in their culture. It’s a coveted prize guaranteed celebrity on the island, and former winners have gone on to have successful careers at Pop stars and TV presenters.



Honoring Tahiti’s Rich Cultural Tradition
The 4th Annual Thaiti Fete in Hawaii.

By Susi O’Neill