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We know that ancient chants were often sacred and sung by priests within the enclosures of the marae or during specific ceremonies.

Other chants were secular and accompanied the events of everyday life. There are sound reminiscences of collective activities such as beating tapa (bark cloth). In the Marquesas Islands, the chants in religious ceremonies were often only understood by the priests, and were accompanied by drums and handclaps.

During festivals the chants progressively accompanied the beat initiated by the pahu drums. The rupture with the cultural past is most profound in the domain of music. Perhaps because no one bothered to write it down or else because the European influence was imposed very early on without violence.

The European influence started with sailors and their profane songs and music. It continued with the missionaries who brought their canticles and hymns. The himene is a cross between the religious hymns imported by the first Protestant missionaries and polyphonic Tahitian chants that were sung before the arrival of Europeans.

The main forms of himene are himene tarava, himene ru’au and ute. The first two are rooted in English Protestant liturgy and in the pre-European period. Both types of musical expression generally praise a legendary god, a famous chief, or protective animals and use very poetic lyrics. Each island, each district has its specific interpretations.