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Danses polynésiennes dont le tamure en Polynésie française

Tahitian danse or 'Ori Tahiti!

In pre-European Polynesia, dances ‘were many and varied’ (W. Ellis, 1831) but little else is known about them. All we know is that both men and women danced, together or separately. Certain dances were performed standing up, others sitting down. Musicians used to accompany the dances with a limited number of instruments, essentially the pahu (drum with two skins) the vivo, a nasal flute.

Associated, as was tattooing, with nudity and therefore with immodesty, dancing was forbidden by missionaries. It was not until the 1950s that this ancestral art found its place again among Polynesian customs, and was reborn thanks to oral transmission and the writing of travellers.

Types of Dancing

In Tahitian dancing today there are, four types of dance.

  • The Otea : this must have been originally a somewhat military dance, reserved for men. It has become the most famous of the Tahitian dances. It is choreographed around a theme and its musical accompaniment is performed on percussion and made up of rhythmical motifs called pehe.
  • The Aparima :in this dance, the hands of the dancers mime history. The aparima can be either vava (silent) and consist of pantomime, generally performed while kneeling and accompanied by percussion or it can be sung, aparima himene, and the movements are in time to the chant which is accompanied by stringed instruments.
  • The Hivinau : during this choreography, male and female dancers wend round in a circle and a male soloist voices a phrase that the choir takes up. The orchestra is made up of various drums and the pace is maintained by the dancers’ songs.
  • The Pa’o’a :this dance seems to be derived from the movements used to make tapa (a sort of parchment made from vegetable matter). Male and female dancers crouch down in a semi-circle. A male soloist voices a theme that the choir answers. A couple get up and perform a short dance in the circle to the sound of ‘hi’s and ‘ha’s.

The other archipelagos were greatly influenced by Tahitian dancing,but they have preserved certain of their own dances such as the bird dance in the Marquesas, kapa in the Tuamotus and pe’i in the Gambiers.

Traditional Instruments

Today’s orchestras use percussion and stringed instruments. Among the percussion is the to’ere; the fa’alete; the pahu with two skins and beaten with a stick and the pahu tupa’i rima, with one skin, that is played with the hands. The stringed instruments consist of the ukulele and the guitar.

Other instruments that had long disappeared have progressively made a come-back, those such as the ihara, a split bamboo drum and the vivo, a nasal flute. Finally, all sorts of sounds are obtained by clacking stones, from shells, by using penu (piion) or coconuts.