Visiting Tahiti instantly conjures up images of heaven on earth: over-water bungalows, bright hibiscus flowers, bronzed dancers, blue lagoons, and beastly waves. Our 18 favourite Tahiti facts showcase its beauty, history, and culture (found outside of the honeymoon-marketed romance).
18 Awesome Tahiti Facts
1. The islands of Tahiti were among the last places on Earth to be settled by humans.
One of my favorite Tahiti facts is its discovery in the first place.
Some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, the Early Polynesians (probably from Taiwan or Southeast Asia) ditched their homes and sailed towards the blue horizon until they stumbled upon the Tahitian islands.
Imagine throwing everything you own – chickens, dogs, children, and all – into a canoe and sailing into the vast Pacific Ocean with no end in sight. People have been living in Tahiti ever since.
2. Tahitian people journeyed through the Pacific Ocean aboard massive double-hulled outrigger canoes.
Tipairuas are Tahitian traditional canoes, and they play an important role in the Tahiti population’s everyday culture. If you end up visiting Tahiti, definitely make sure to watch a tipairuas race.
3. Early Polynesians discovered the Tahitian Islands by reading cloud reflections, wave formations, and bird flight patterns.
One of the most unique facts about Tahiti: Early Polynesians founded Tahiti through Celestial Navigations. The Polynesians could find these tiny islands in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean through cloud reflections and wave formations as easily as today’s modern aerial technology!
While an important part of the history of Tahiti, this navigational method is now forgotten.
Where is Tahiti? These 118 islands span across the vast Pacific Ocean, thousands of kilometres from mainland Asia, so you can imagine how difficult it must have been to track these islands down!
4. There is a theory that ancient South American and Tahitian cultures made some type of contact, despite thousands of miles of ocean between them.
This theory is held together because of one vegetable: the sweet potato. The sweet potato originates from Peru and Colombia, yet was found on the Tahitian islands sometime around 300 AD. This is hundreds of years before Europeans made contact with Tahitians.
It is suggested that Polynesians travelled to South America and back, or South Americans brought it to the Pacific.
Moreover, in 2006, archaeologists discovered chicken bones in South-Central Chile that radiocarbon-dated to somewhere between 1304 and 1424, before Europeans discovered South America. Because chickens originate from Asia, this suggests that ancient South Pacific cultures had contact with South America.
5. Tahitians wear their national flower behind one’s ear to represent one’s relationship status.
One of the more fun facts about Tahiti is the symbolism of the Tiare. The Tiare is both a beautiful white flower and interesting symbol of Tahiti culture. Both men and women wear a Tiare behind their left ear if they’re taken, and their right ear if they’re available.
6. There is no word for “Please” in Tahitian.
There is no word for “Please” because in ancient times French Polynesian culture genuinely shared almost everything, and there was no need for the word!
7. The Tahitian alphabet consists of 13 letters.
The Tahiti language consists of a 13 lettered alphabet. Its vowels are a, e, i, o, u, and its consonants are f, h, m, n, p, r, t, v.
Because the letter ‘B’ does not exist in the Tahiti language, Bora Bora is actually called Pora Pora (first-born), but Pora Pora is heard as Bora Bora when pronounced.
8. Tahitian dance and music is the cornerstone of their traditional culture.
Tahitian dance, called tamure, is not just a tourist attraction. Dance is a vibrant expression linked to many aspects of Tahitian life since ancient times. The history of Tahitian dance suggests that Tahitians dance for joy, sadness, to pray to a god, to challenge an enemy, and to seduce a mate.
Modern Tahitian music combines contemporary Western melodies with the traditional nasal flutes, drums, and conch shells. Dance is still an integral tradition of the island Tahiti.
9. The word “tattoo” originates from the French Polynesian word “tatau”.
Another one of my favorite Tahiti facts is the legend of Tohu, the god of tattoo, who painted all the oceans’ fish in beautiful colours and patterns. In ancient times tattoos were significant symbols of social status, initiation rites, and representations of community, geographic origin, and clan membership. Warriors also tattooed their faces to intimidate their enemies.
In present day, modern tattoos represent style and beauty.
10. The Tahiti islands were among the last territories to be colonised by Europeans.
The Europeans colonised Tahiti long after they reached Asia, and their colonisation had both negative and positive influences among the Tahitians. They introduced guns, alcohol, and many fatal diseases to the population of Tahiti, many of whom died from smallpox, influenza, or typhus.
However, the Europeans also gave Tahiti greater economic stability and a written language. Moreover, ancient Tahitians practised child sacrifice and cannibalism, which came to an end with European missionary conquest.
11. Tahiti invented overwater bungalows.
One of the little known facts about Tahiti is that Tahiti built the world’s first overwater bungalows in the 1960s!
12. French Polynesians are tolerant, accepting people.
Homophobia is not common in Tahiti. In fact, if you visit Tahiti you’re likely to meet men, women and a third sex (mahu or raerae) on the islands. Men raised as girls, Mahu are men who continue to behave and dress like women throughout their lives. The Tahitian people regard Mahus as people who combine the best of both the male and female gender. Raerae refers to more flamboyant transvestites and can be less accepted by society than mahu.
13. Hawaii receives more tourists in a day than Tahiti does in a year.
One of the more interesting facts about Tahiti is how little people visit Tahiti despite its immense beauty. Tahiti is one of the hardest places to reach in the world, but once you do you will be able to travel the island with relative ease and little crowds.
14. Polynesians like to eat and like to eat well.
Tahitians consume a lot of seafood, such as tuna, swordfish, korori (pearl oyster meat), and prawns. Their preferred meat is Pua (pork), and most chicken and beef is actually imported.
Vegetarians can easily find mangoes, avocados, papayas, bananas, and exotic fruit like soursop and star fruit throughout the islands.
A popular Tahitian dessert is poe, a sweet pudding made of taro root flavoured with banana, vanilla, papaya, or pumpkin and topped with coconut milk.
Tahiti demographics also suggest that the Tahiti is one of the most obese countries in the world!
15. Va’a (outrigger-canoe) racing is Tahiti’s national sport.
One of the many things to do in Tahiti is watching the pirogue (va’a) teams training on the lagoons. Be sure to catch the traditional races and festivities in October and November.
Other sports in Tahiti include amoraa ofae (rock lifting!), and of course surfing, an ancient Tahitian sport, which attracts surfers from around the world.
16. The official languages of Tahiti is French and Tahitian
While Tahitians official languages are French and Tahitian, they also speak English on most of the islands.
17. It should come as no surprise that most of Tahiti’s wildlife lives in the sea.
A few Tahiti facts about their wildlife:
Anything that can’t swim, float, or fly was probably introduced to Tahiti Island.
Tahiti snakes aren’t poisonous, and while you will see plenty of bugs – mosquitoes, flies, etc. – only one is poisonous: the centipede. Moreover, their centipedes can grow up to 20cm long and have venom-injecting fangs that cause swelling and pain for several hours.
Your Tahiti travels would not be complete without exploring the underwater animal world. Under the sea, you will find hundreds of species of fish, manta rays, stingrays, moray eels, several species of sharks, and five of the seven species of sea turtles.
Dolphins can be seen year-round, and Electra dolphins gather in groups of several hundred around Nuku Hiva, a phenomenon seen nowhere else in the world.
18. Tahiti’s capital is Papeete.
French Polynesia’s capital, Papeete, is the biggest city in Tahiti; however, it is not a large city, but a medium sized town by Western standards.
Things to do in Papeete, Tahiti includes: shopping at the markets, eating at the infamous food vans (the original food trucks), and exploring the nightlife.
As you can see, there are tons of interesting Tahiti facts that will make you want to travel Tahiti, and learn more about French Polynesian people. No matter where you go, you’re bound to be greeted by friendly, local people and learn more about Tahiti history (while you’re getting a tan).
Many of the places to visit in Tahiti can be expensive (like Bora Bora and Moorea), but there are many islands that guarantee backpackers can find raw beauty, empty beaches, and Tahiti nature, even on a budget. If these Tahiti facts inspire you to visit more of the South Pacific Islands, check out our ultimate Galapagos Islands Budget Travel Guide.
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