Sculpture is one of the major arts of French Polynesia. Initially, pieces of art were produced on all 5 archipelagos. Nowadays, most sculptures you will find along your trip are produced in the Marquesas islands.
Polynesia sculpture is characterised by some kind of mystical power that seems to emanates from the subjects chosen by the artist, often inspired by old original designs and patterns.
The Tiki is a human representation of a divinity. It will be frequently encountered on markets. But you will also find some weapons such as spears and “head blowers”, musical instruments (toere,ukulele) and cooking ustensils (umete).
The material used for sculpture is mostly wood and sometimes stone, mother-of-pearl or bone.
Tapa used to be produced in all Oceania. This kind of vegetal cloth is obtained from the bark of a tree and it is used for clothing as well as for some rituals. Today, the nicest pieces are encountered in the Marquesas (especially Fatu Hiva) and if you are lucky at Papeete municipal market.
How tapa is made ?
You start by collecting the bark of young trees (mostly breadfruit tree and banyan) and you let it soak in water for 2 or 3 days. Then you scrape away the outside bark with a seashell to keep only the internal layer. The strips obtained are laid out on an anvil to be hammered with a wooden beater. Once the piece of tapa is thin enough (several hours are required), it is dried and dyed.
Originally, this was a specialty of the Austral islands. It can now be found on most Polynesian markets. The wood used for weaving is usually pandanus, although you may see some pices made out of coconut leaves (niau) or local bamboo (ofe). Common articles are hats, baskets and mats (peue).
For your shopping, the Municipal Market of Papeete has the largest choice of articles for a reasonable price.
The tifaifai history began with the arrival of the first missioners in Polynesia. Indeed, this decorative cloth is a direct heritage of the patchwork made by the wives of English missioners. Designs are often inspired from vegetation. All sizes of tifaifai can be found, from the pillow to the bed cover.
Traditionally, tifaifai were given as a wedding present.