French Polynesia: the “Hawaiki nui va’a”, the Dug-Out Canoe Contest

This is a major event in the cultural life of the French Polynesia. The "Hawaiki nui Va'a" is the region’s largest dug-out canoe race. But besides the competition, it is also an example of the strong ties that the Polynesians have always had with the sea.

The dug-out canoe race is the Polynesians "national" sport. Atavism, tradition, a respect for their ancestors who have populated the region (and perhaps the mythical island of Hawaiki nui) for several thousand years, a desire to excel and the Ma'ohi passion for this discipline are all rooted deep within. This passion takes the form of the Va'a, the local dug-out canoe. This small boat which requires just a single oar has a beautiful elongated shape, making it a little thinner than its Hawaiian cousin.
In the autumn, the Bay of Huahine, in the Leeward Islands (west of Tahiti), becomes the site for a huge gathering of these dug-out canoes. This is the time when theHawaiki nui Va'a begins, which is now an international event with New Zealand and U.S. participants. Here are a few facts and figures: it has an average of 150 teams (over 2000 rowers in 2007), a 130 km race spread over four islands - Huhaine, Raiatea, Tahaa and Bora Bora - a speed of 15 km per hour at a rate of 60 rowing strokes per minute. So the Hawaiki nui va'a is a race that empties the stomach quickly. Which works out just fine since the Polynesians prepare for the event by making their traditional festive meal in a Tahitian oven, cooked in the ground and served in a large tree leaf. To be savoured along with the races!

Useful information

The tourist attractions mentioned

Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands
Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands