The Tahiti Traveler

2016, year of the fire monkey in Polynesia (and China)!

From February 8, lasting a fortnight, the heart of Tahiti and its islands will beat to the rhythm of Chinese drums. More than just folklore, Chinese New Year is here, this authentic and grandiose celebration gathers well more than just the Chinese community of French Polynesia …

Two weeks of festivities

In the aisles formed by the famous food-trucks of the Vaiete square of Papeete, “the famous ” roulottes “; visitors are sometimes surprised by all chinese culinary specialties on the menus. Countless variations of chao mein, kai fan (fried rice) or Maa tinto (stewed pork with red bean) …  telltale signs that highlight a strong cultural fusion. And for good reason: the Chinese community has been present for a century and a half in French Polynesia!

It is therefore not surprising that the Chinese New Year is celebrated in style. And the nerve center of the Chinese New Year is obviously in Papeete, where reside a large population of Polynesians of Chinese origin.

Every year, the festivities are spread over a fortnight coming to a climax at the end of the period, the big finalé is held in the heart of Papeete, Vaiete Square. During this evening, the traditional Lion Dance attracts crowds looking for a colorful presentation and mostly to seeking good luck! Tradition dictates that is one touches one of the lions of the parade it would ward off the evil spirits throughout the lunar year to come. Many merchants have the Lion dance performed in their shops to ensure a prosperous year.

The Chinese influence in Tahiti

Chinese New Year is the perfect time to recognize cultural ambiances of the Middle Kingdom that drive Papeete.  The Chinese presence is felt and observed throughout the year. After savoring the succulent famous Peking duck at a renowned Chinese restaurant Dahlia, in Arue, about ten minutes east of Papeete, one finds the fascinating Chinese cemetery, overlooking the height of the East coast. Hundreds graves adorned with small pagodas face northwest, in the direction of the ancestral land.  This structure constitutes a striking architectural and cultural curiosity.

Closer to downtown Papeete, in the district of Mamao the temple of Kanti has a captivating scene. Guarded by two dragons this imposing jade green structure with a double pagoda, (the color of hope), is carried by large red columns, a lucky color for the Chinese. Not one detail suggest to the visitor that he is in Polynesia! Calligraphy scrolls and other art objects adorn the walls, smoke of incense curls floating in the air, prayers chanted in the Hakka dialect of the first Chinese Tahitian … the atmosphere is clearly Chinese.

Rebuilt in 1987 after a fire destroyed the old building, the Kanti temple was dedicated to the famous eponymous warrior, embodied by a statue on display in the gardens.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, it is customary that one makes offerings in the temple, through a strict ritual: after a tour of the temple to present one’s wishes, one shakes a wish stick box drawing out a wish corresponding to a decrypted number from an ancient book.

If the omen is bad, one seek protection in the temple of Kanti, at least for the year 2017, the fire cock …

The Chinese New Year festivities schedule in 2016

Saturday, 6 February: Dinner Dance New Year in the hall of the Chinese Philanthropic association

Monday, February 8, 2016: Official opening of the Year of the Monkey
8:30 Lion Dance at the headquarters of the association Sinitong

Sunday, February 14, 2016: cultural day
8:30 Opening of the Cultural Day in the Gardens of Temple Kanti in Mamao

Saturday, February 20, 2016: Lanterns Parade
5:30 p.m. Gathering at the Papeete Town Hall
19h Closing show of the New Year festivities, Vaiete Square.