The Tahiti Traveler

The Marquesas Festival: back to beginnings on Hiva Oa

The island of Hiva Oa hosts the 10th Marquesas Islands Art Festival from the 16th to the 19th of December. A common thread for this year’s festivities should reunite more than a thousand performers: “back to beginnings”, a repetitive choice of words for these magical and timeless islands.

It is THE most important cultural event for the Marquesas. Every four years an island hosts delegates from all over the archipelago to celebrate traditional Marquesas art, dance and music. The perfect opportunity for these ends of the earth islands, a description that does not easily illustrate the extent to which these islands possess a powerful and rich cultural identity that will take your breath away. Truly hair-raising…

Video presentation of the 2015 edition of the Marquesas Art Festival

Discovery the “other Polynesia”

The remoteness of the Marquesas Archipelago (Hiva Oa is about 1600 kilometres from Tahiti!) makes it one of the less visited and thus very protected from change… The Islands have remained virtually untouched and here one can come across students from a neighboring valley, taking the road to school in the morning on horseback…or wonder rocky shores that brave the force of the ocean swell and trade winds that transition further along into sheer cliffs or sand marking majestic valleys that dive into more sheltered waters. It is in these valleys that one finds the main villages.


In the heart of these villages, is a revived culture that the successive waves of missionaries had seemed to bury. Far from it, in fact. The Festival of the Marquesas Islands and the theme of the 2015 edition Haahua i te tumu (Back to Beginnings) well illustrates this fact.

Embodied in tradition, this return to roots is evident and particularly visible in the arts. Generations of tattoo artists (and tattooed!), dancers and musicians have rekindled the ashes and express themselves today with an incredible and powerful passion that cannot leave one indifferent. The traditional dances, bird (haka manu), pig (mahau) and especially that of the warrior (putu); inevitably sweep you away, drama incarnated through beautifully tattooed bodies (and sometimes even faces!), frenetic in music and song, in which one cannot escape the emotion…

A trip to Polynesia without visiting the Marquesas is similar to learning about Portugal but not the Fado, or China without its wall. Suffice it to say that the stopover is essential! And the Marquesas Art Festival is a perfect opportunity to do so. Watch out, it is only held once every four years!

The entire program of the 10th edition of the Marquesas Arts Festival, from December 16th to the 19th, can be found here: