Heiva i Bora Bora – the ultimate cultural expression

The Heiva is Bora Bora’s ultimate expression of it’s rich culture, its profound heritage & its deep history. It’s a reflection on Tahitian life, a spontaneous outpouring of joy & a moment not to be missed by the population nor by anyone visiting these shores from afar.

Amongst the most popular of events are the otea (dancing) & himene (chanting) danced lagoon-side in the white sands for which Bora Bora is famous. The background to these events is extensively covered in an excellent article on the Heiva i Bora Bora with specific details available at an article headed Behind the Heiva.

You can see in this series of photos taken by leading Bora Bora Photographer, Stephan Debelle, the intricate workmanship that goes into the vegetal costumes that each dancer prepares for themselves. You can also see the youth participating in the event, assuring the Heiva’s continuity. It has been estimated (source: Guide – Heiva I Tahiti 2015) that a dance performance at the Heiva involves an average of 3,360 hours of preparation:






The dances performed are mostly otea & aparima.

The otea – eg, photos 1 & 4 above is a dance whose origins can be found in the ancient war dances of warriors. Dancers dress in flamboyant, hand-made vegetal costumes dancing to a theme unique to each group expressed by gestures & movements at times quite abstract. It is fast & furious, danced to the intoxicating beat of traditional Tahitian percussion instruments –  toere, faatete, pahu – & creates an ambience that is quite capable of taking spectators to another world!

The aparima (photo 3 above) is a graceful performance danced at a slower rhythm & telling a certain story through gestures that are quite precise. The toere & pahu are often accompanied by the ukulele & guitar.

One of the most popular nights is that on which the Best Solo Dancers – male & female – are judged & when the Best Orchestra prize is determined. It was no exception this year & every seat was filled & every viewing position taken.

The otea (dancing) is something everyone should see once in their life. This is a mind-boggling, gob smacking event which of itself has done so much to promote the legendary Tahiti – the new Cythere, the land of Aphrodite. Those present were again blessed with a performance of exception:




A special entry was reserved for this competitor:





The beat of the orchestras is simply intoxicating. Played on local instruments uniquely fabricated from natural materials such as toere (which leads the orchestra as well as the dancers), fa’atete (snare drum), tari parau (bongo), pahu tapa’i (bass), pu (conch shell), pu’ofe (bamboo sticks played as a drum), vivo (nasal flute) amongst others the tempo & rhythm linger with you long after the performance.

Playing for their champions:


Lining up for the final encore:




Tradition holds that all the orchestras who accompany their individual champions remain on stage for a united final encore for all those who have danced. It is a special moment:



The following is taken from a most insightful Report into the Himene:

Derived from the English word ‘hymn’, the himene are strongly influenced in both verse & harmony by Protestant hymns. Himene are contrapuntal compositions in as many as six voices producing a powerful, pumping, unique & quite mesmorising sound sung with great gusto. In 1911, during a visit to Tahiti, Henri Lebeau reflected on the himene in these terms:

“Words have never succeeded in conveying the impression made by this music. Some have said that it was like an ocean wave coming in with growing strength as the voices increased in intensity, breaking and rolling and bounding and then the dying down and disappearing in a long, sustained note. The women’s voices carried the melody while the men provided a deep, rhythmic counterpoint, one of them with a great voice sometimes throwing out cries and appeals. All the people rocked back and forth as they sang, many with their eyes shut, entirely lost in the music.” 








The Heiva sees locals partying for over a month – here’s the programme for this year in case you are in town, perhaps a visitor who has just arrived in Bora Bora. The programme outlines this sensational smorgasbord of entertainment that is open to everyone. The Heiva office is right alonside the dance area where staff can give you all the details you need. Be there, you will never forget it:


It would be remiss of me not to add a note for visitors on the ‘barracks’, the locally designed & constructed, traditional Tahitian theme restaurants & bars that surround the Heiva each year. Check it out – you can see a small band strumming away in the background creating heaps of ambience & the food is as good as it looks & very reasonable. It all adds up to a great outing:



I can not recommend strongly enough that you grab the chance to participate in this most marvellous of events.

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