The Heiva

French Polynesia's most exciting event, which runs from late June to late July, began in 1881, the year after France annexed Tahiti, to mark Bastille Day (July 14). Originally known as Tiuri (the Tahitian word for July), the festival excluded dancing as that had been banned by the missionaries in the 1820s.

Today, though, lavish dance performances dominate the program, and the festival begins with performances by various dance schools, building up to a week of song and dance competitions, each with several categories. It culminates with spectacular shows by the winning troupes, which can number up to 100 dancers. The performances take place at To'ata Square on Pape'ete's waterfront.

Other events include outrigger canoe races around Pape'ete Harbour and across to Moorea and back, and displays of physical prowess including stone lifting, fruit carrying races, coconut cracking, and palm-tree climbing—some events have women's divisions. There's even a contest for Mr. and Miss Heiva, which is based on the contestants' appearance and their ability to perform some of the aforementioned feats.

An arts-and-crafts program runs at the same time involving artists from across French Polynesia, who display their work and demonstrate their weaving, patchwork, painting, and carving skills. Works are displayed at the Aorai Tini Hau Exposition Hall in Pira'e and the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands west of Pape'ete. Individual song and dance competition tickets range from 1,000 to 2,500 CFP. Heiva celebrations also take place in Bora Bora and Raiatea.

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