The Tahiti Traveler

The Chinese community in Tahiti : 150 years of History.

Temple Kanti © Sinitong

The Chinese community in Tahiti just celebrated the start of the Goat/Sheep New Year and is now about to celebrate 150 years of presence in French Polynesia.

Everything started in 1865, when about 300 Chinese (Hakka and Punti) arrived from HongKong to Tahiti, in Papara as workers for the Tahiti Cotton and Coffee Plantation Cys Ltd. The company found in them a cheap and obedient workforce for the cotton fields, coffee and sugar plantations.

1 year later, they are 1000 Chinese « coolies » (farmers with asiatic origins) living in very hard conditions with neverending days at work, strained relationships and fights. Among them, Chim Soo King has been the very first guillotined in Polynesia after giving himself up for a murder that he perhaps didn’t commit. For some people he then became a martyr and he is still honored at the Arue cemetery.

In 1870, the coolies have been left to their own when the plantation closed. Some were able to go back to China, others stayed and became farmers or small shopkeeper in remote places. Their integration started and soon the first Chinese-Tahitian interbreeding appeared.

©G.Boissy_Tahiti tourisme

Different migration waves have grown the community between 1907 and 1914 with about 2000 more Chinese people. Some tensions and racial discriminations temporarily prevented their integration. In 1973, all the Chinese people of Tahiti received the French nationality.

The tinito (Chinese in tahitian) of Tahiti and their rich history are fully part of the Polynesian society. That’s why it is not rare to find some « little pieces of China » in Tahiti and the islands. Tahitian cuisine is a very good example of the mix of local products with flavour from Asia, wich is obvious when you go to the popular « Roulottes » on Vaiate Square in Papeete or count the numerous Chinese restaurants of the city. Even some cookbooks have been edited on this topic.

The New Year that we just celebrated is an opportunity for the community to keep its culture alive.

Miss dragon © La Dépêche de Tahiti

During several weeks many celebrations are taking place with martial arts demonstrations, exhibitions and the lanterns procession. The Kanti temple is open for initiations and cultural demonstrations, you can ask for the reading of oracles and protection.

The Lion dance which is dispeling the bad spirits and brings luck is very popular. The lion appears in the city, in the shops with dancers, drums and firecrackers, everyone enjoys the show !

Every year, Miss Dragon is selected among the most beautiful Chinese girls in Tahiti, an important event for the community to celebrate and honour its culture.

On March 25th 2015, the Chinese community will celebrate 150 years of presence in Tahiti. They will meet at Atimaono, Papara which was the symbolic starting point of their history on the territory.

Source : Magazine Hiro’a