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
Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands