Heiva i Bora Bora – Tu’aro Ma’ohi

The Heiva and Tu’aro Ma’ohi s perhaps best known as the ultimate expression of Tahitian history & culture through its sensational rhythmic, energetic & quite sensual dancing & the associated costumes & floral decorations, yet the richness of the Heiva can be found in the great variety of celebrations undertaken – in the chanting (himene), the orchestras, the outrigger canoe racing (va’a), artisanal works (rima’i), but also in traditional Polynesian sports (tu’aro ma’ohi).

The Tu’aro Ma’ohi is worthy of a special report as this year, for the first time, the Heiva i Tahiti will receive competitors from throughout the Polynesian Triangle with teams coming from Hawaii, New Zealand & Easter Island as well as the Cook Islands & Samoa. They in turn will be joined by competitors from Japan & the USA. As interest in the sport develops internationally this gathering will provide the opportunity to put the know-how & traditions together & to determine the structures & rules necessary to see the sport advance at an international level.

The competitions undertaken in the Tu’aro Ma’ohi are traditional Polynesian pursuits involving great strength & agility, serious, competitive but not without a big dose of enjoyment – the climbing of the coconut tree, the shelling of coconuts for copra, lancing javelins, lifting huge stones, & a race whilst carrying fruit. Men & women compete separately in each discipline.

During the Heiva i Bora Bora 2015 competitions were conducted in shelling copra, the lancing of javelins & in carrying fruit.


The Pa’aro Ha’ari or shelling of coconuts is conducted each year in the white sands which set the scene for the Heiva i Bora Bora’s traditional dancing & chanting. As always the toere, the pahu tari parau (bass) & the fa’atete (snare drum) – handmade traditional Tahitian percussion instruments – are present not only giving great ambience to the event but setting the up-beat tempo for the competition itself. The competition is well underway & toeres can be seen in the background left beating out their intoxicating sound:


The pa’aro ha’ari is a contest of speed; a race against the clock. Competitors must open 50 coconuts, extract the copra before placing all the copra in a sack, all in the minimum of time. It is massively hard work requiring great concentration at the risk of injury & is a certain way to sweat out several kilos in what is a total work-out. Here’s a shot of the ultimate winners of the event filling their pute (sack) & racing towards the finish:



To compete, competitors are required to have a pa’aro (the blade used to extract the copra), a parahira’a (the seat on which each competitor sits to extract the copra), an opa’hi (axe) & a pute (the sack in which the copra is placed).

The competition attracts a big crowd as the event requires expertise & dexterity but also reflects the fact that the production of copra remains the basis of a stable income for many households in the islands.

Nice too to see the winners lending a hand to those that are yet to finish in the spirit of working together for the common good again reflecting how copra plays such an integral role in the community’s income stream:


The smell of victory & the taste of its joy – the winners celebrate in an explosion of emotion:




The Patia Fa (individual) & the Patia Ai (team) are the 2 competitions undertaken in the javelin event.

The test consists of lancing handmade wooden javelins from a predetermined line at a coconut situated at between 7 & 9.5m above ground-level atop a pole. The coconut is divided into 5 horizontal zones with points on a scale of 2 to 10 being allocated in an ascending amount as one’s javelin strikes & holds higher up the coconut.

Normally each competitor throws 8 javelins on 5 to 7 separate occasions. The pole is lowered after each round, the coconut removed & taken to the judges for verification of the points gained. A fresh coconut is then hoisted.

The winner is the person or team which totals the greatest number of points:




The event attracts large crowds as spectators remain dumbfounded by the way the throwers can lance so many successful javelins at such a small target.

Today’s event was conducted along the waterfront in Vaitape, the competition over-looked by the imposing figure of a cloud swept Mt Pahia & the landmark structure of the Protestant Church steeple. The target & the relative placement of competitors can be seen in the following photo & one can readily get a feel for the culture & tradition attached to this spectacular event:


The day’s competition would get under way with a traditional prayer before the women commenced proceedings, their skill & accuracy setting the benchmark for the junior men who followed, the youngest of whom was a mere 8 year old.

Some images from both events:





The ‘firing line’ is moved back considerably for the men who today would be shooting from some 22m for the target which was moved from the 7m pole for the women & junior to a 9.5m placement.

Team psych-up for the event:


Various images taken from differing angles of those participating in the competition tell the story:




Yes, after each round the javelins need to be retrieved – the javelins are clearly marked, some with feathers at their end which can also assist with an accurate flight:


Now here’s a man who loves his javelin – power & grace. The man in question nailed it with a 10 pointer with his very last throw, indeed the actual last javelin launched in the competition. The hit provoked a massive outburst of excited tamure, ‘high fives’ & numerous ground rolls amongst competitors.




The course for the fruit carriers race is a massive favourite amongst locals. Today was no exception as this shot of the ‘run for home’ shows:


The Timau Ra’ua is a competition to determine who can run a predetermined distance – between 1000 & 1300m for men & between 800 & 1100m for women – carrying a load of fruit attached with vegetal fibres on a vegetal support normally made from wood or bamboo measuring between 120 & 150cm long with a diameter of less than 15cm. Competitors normally run barefooted although the use of vegetal ‘shoes’ is permitted. The weights carried are normally 15kgs for women, 20kgs for juniors, 30kgs for ‘beginners’ & masters (open), whilst the aito – the supermen – race with a load of 50kgs.

Some photos of the women’s event:





That’s the winner in black above & photographed finishing below:


Eighteen competitors lined up in the men’s event including the man who finished 2nd last week in Tahiti, plus a very strong va’a outrigger canoe paddler, reigning world va’a champion & just awarded the gold medal at the Pacific Games – they wouyld finish 2nd & 1st respectively.

The men’s field gathers at the starting line before getting away to a powerful start:




Whilst the men attacked the course, spectators were mesmorised as 3 local javelin throwers unexpectedly proceeded to present coconuts to the dignatories present ripped apart by their teeth before the shell was cracked open by hand. INCREDIBLE! The photos tell the story:




The winner storms home:


Shots of some of those who participated:





The Timau Ra’ua is a spectacular event to witness. Although competition is serious the sight & colour of such an event is capable of bringing the ‘fun’ as well as the ‘competition’ components of sport out in both spectators & competitors alike.


For those that are interested the Amora’a Ofai consisists of lifting huge stones set aside uniquely for the competition each year. The stones, suitable rounded in form, are lifted in the shortest possible time from the ground to over the shoulder, the competitor to remain in a stable position. Competitors are categorized according to weight & lift stones exceeding their body weight. The biggest stones lifted weigh 150kgs.


I mentioned at the beginning of this report that teams are coming to compete in the Heiva i Tahiti – here are some shots & a great video of Team Hawaii in training in Oahu. Man the guy in the video training in the soft sand for the race to carry a 50kg load of fruit is flying!



mana- hawaii

This guy is truly motoring!

The Tu’aro Maohi Traditional Sports events merit a ‘must see’ if luck has it that you are here in July each year. What a great day, what a thrilling competition. Those visiting these shores during the Heiva should make enquiries & get out & participate in these wonderful events.

Content copy protection in place on this website...