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Culture of French Polynesia


French Polynesia attracted many European painters and continues to support painters of island landscapes and residents. Indigenous graphic arts such as sculpture in wood, stone, and coral; the creation of hats, mats, and baskets; tattooing; the making of patchwork quilts; and decorative shell work continue to thrive. The practice of decorating bark cloth has largely disappeared, but several artists are attempting to revive this ancient art form.



In rural areas, people provide much of their own food through fishing, animal husbandry, and gardening of indigenous staple foods such as taro, breadfruit, sweet potatoes, and manioc. These local foods are supplemented with imported goods such as rice, canned goods, and fresh bread. In most rural households, only one meal is cooked each day (either lunch or supper) and leftovers are eaten at the other meals. In larger villages and urban areas, Chinese food is available at the local Chinese-owned general store, and in small restaurants. Islands with hotels have restaurants that serve local Polynesian seafood and French-inspired cuisine.


A majority of the residents speak both French and Tahitian, the dominant Polynesian language. On the more isolated islands, older residents continue to speak a local Polynesian language; and in the isolated Austral Islands, languages differ from island to island. These languages have become more homogeneous, and Tahitian is beginning to replace local languages. Older Chinese residents speak the Hakka dialect, but younger generations speak French and often Tahitian.


Nearly all fiction is written by expatriate European and Americans. Indigenous Polynesian genres such as storytelling, political and religious oratory, and song writing continue to be popular.


The dominant style of domestic and commercial architecture is International Modern with concrete walls with metal roofs and decorative wood or masonry. Many homes, while built of imported materials, retain traditional spatial organization with a single large sleeping room and an outdoor kitchen. The architecture of public buildings often reflects one of the two regional architectural traditions: Polynesian-style construction from plant materials or colonial construction.


Soccer is the national sport, but Tahitians participate in many others, such as boxing, volleyball, basketball, canoeing, windsurfing, swimming, fishing, and diving.


Public holidays are 1 January (New Year’s Day), 5 March (Arrival of the first missionaries), Good Friday, Easter, Easter Monday, 1 May (May Day), 8 May (V-E Day), the last Thursday in May (Ascension), the first Sunday and Monday in June (Pentecost and Pentecost Monday), 29 June (Internal Autonomy Day), 14 July (Bastille Day), 15 August (Assumption), 1 November (All Saints’ Day), 11 November (Armistice Day), and 25 December (Christmas). Other popular holidays are Chinese New Year, the Tahiti festival in July, and the Hawaiki Nui Canoe race.


Traditional subsistence agriculture—formerly the mainstay of French Polynesia’s economy—was displaced in the mid-1960s by the growth of two very different industries: tourism and nuclear testing. The economy of French Polynesia is also heavily dependent on economic aid from France.

Most of the territory’s food is imported. Aside from food products, major imports include petroleum products and machinery. Cultured black pearls are French Polynesia’s leading export, accounting for more than 50 percent of export revenues. Other exported products include coconuts, mother-of-pearl, and vanilla. French Polynesia’s principal trade partner for both imports and exports is France, followed by the United States and Australia.