In ancient Polynesian culture, communities would come together in open-air, sacred sanctuaries called marae to bond, worship, and practice their rituals. These forbearers also believed in the spirit of mana—a life force that connects all living things, surrounds us, and can be touched, tasted, and felt. That communal culture and deep-rooted sense of tradition still reverberates throughout The Islands of Tahiti, in everything from the historic roots of its dialects and the symbolism of its tattoo culture to the fishing trips that are part of daily village life. Connect to this fascinating part of the world—and feel the mana for yourself—with these 5 “live like a local” activities. Just one word of caution: side effects may include the desire to chuck it all and move to paradise.
1. Become a Part of the Family
There’s no shortage of luxurious resorts in The Islands of Tahiti, yet on many smaller or more remote islands, staying in a family-owned pension, B&B or homestay is the best (and sometimes only) option for overnights. Along with creature comforts and warm hospitality, these smaller lodges enable you to really get to know local residents, sample traditional home cooking, and gain insight into daily life on the islands. Choose from a wide variety of settings and styles: depending on the island, you may be unpacking in a beachside bungalow, a lagoon-view villa, or even your own treehouse.
2. Change Your “Out of Office” to “Gone Fishing”
In many villages around The Islands of Tahiti, fishing is everything—a food source, a bonding ritual, a link to ancient traditions, and a daily activity. Join in an early morning fishing expedition; many hotels or tour operators can arrange for the unforgettable experience, during which you’ll head out with a group of locals to some insider favorite sites. To make for an even more memorable day, take your fresh catch to the nearest motu, fire up the grill, and tuck into the most satisfying picnic ever.
3. Taste the Many Flavors of the Islands
Part of the fun of island hopping is sampling their various homegrown products, be it vanilla on Taha'a or Vin de Tahiti wine on Rangiroa. Dining experiences are equally varied, from rustic, beachside spots to impeccable French fine dining. Take a cooking class to learn how to craft a signature dish like Poisson Cru, a Tahitian favorite in which fresh tuna is marinated in lime juice, then mixed with fresh veggies and coconut milk—perfect to savor back home as a reminder of your trip.
4. Twist Your Tongue
Ia ora na! Eaha te huru? While English and French are spoken throughout the islands, learning a bit of Tahitian will help connect you to your new local friends. Key phrases like "maururu" (thank you), "aita pe'ape'a" (no problem), and "manuia" (cheers, and to your health) should have you covered to start; visit http://tahiti-tourisme.com/planner/speaktahitian.asp for more useful phrases and a primer on pronunciation. The Tahitian language can be traced back to Polynesian tongues, so speaking it will also link you to a longstanding culture.
5. Make it Permanent
Fun fact: the word "tattoo" originated in French Polynesia. Here, the concept of decorating the body goes back to the ancient legends, when Tohu—the God of tattoos—described "painting" the body with "all the ocean's fishes," in vibrant colors and patterns. As a result, tattoos here have deep significance, and are considered both beautiful and a rite of passage, often being applied during adolescent ceremonies. Find your own meaningful Polynesian symbol and take home a (semi)permanent souvenir.