The Tahiti Traveler

The Niau

Polynesia’s natural building material

The niau is prepared with coconut palms that are collected in the coconut plantations of French Polynesia. The Tuamotu Archipelago has particularly large coconut plantations that allow abundant harvests of palms.

First, the coconut palm is immersed in sea water to eliminate insects that live on it. This treatment also permits the niau to be more resistant to the ravages of time. The palm is dried in the sun and each leaf is separated from the palm. The niau leaves are now ready to be used !

In French Polynesia, the niau is mainly used as roofing for traditional fares (tahitian houses). Leaves are folded and woven together to create panels for thatching. These niau thatches are used as roofing that is weatherproof and gives good thermal insulation to the fare. This natural roofing has traditionally protected polynesian houses for ages. It lasts around 4 years, after such time it needs to be replaced.
Even if the niau thatches tend to be replaced with new durable materials as sheet steel, it is still widely used for bungalows in most luxury hotels of French Polynesia. It gives a traditional flair to bungalows especially appreciated by visitors and locals alike.

The use of the niau leaves is extended to other areas. It is considered to be part of the polynesian’s everyday life. Tahitian artisans use the niau to create a large range of objects like baskets, sun hats, traditional dance costumes, purses, necklaces or jewels…the possibilities are limitless and the niau seems to be in itself, a source of creativity.