Heiva Festival

The first half of the 1800s rival missionaries- primarily Catholic and the Protestant London Missionary Society in lock step with French and British jockeying for political power-  increasingly arrived to convert the natives.   The Tahitian king Pomaré converted to Christianity, dramatically forbidding traditional dancing and traditions missionaries saw as inappropriate.

Several decades later, Tahitian culture, celebrations and dancing were again permitted  by the colonial French government, especially at the year’s major celebration, commemorating French Independence on Bastille Day, July 14.

The Polynesians asked: why just celebrate one day, when we can celebrate the whole month?! Thus began the “Heiva” celebration, with dancing performances and competition during the whole month of July.

Every Friday and Saturday during July, there are village parties in cultural halls throughout the Marquesas. We attended one in Hakahau; it was a memorable night with a delicious dinner and incredible costumes and dancing . There were virtually no tourists besides us and our fellow cruiser friends from the Azores. Pickup trucks (the Polynesian car of choice) were lined up in the soccer field; kids ran around playing tag; old ladies sat gracefully with flowers in their hair.

Three different dance troops performed. The energy is exceedingly powerful and tribal. Every dancer glistened in monoi oil and was costumed with leaves, bone carvings, and tapa dresses. The men re-enacted scenes of warriors in battles, or hunters searching for wild boar, chanting in raw rhythmic pulsation. Meanwhile the women offered a beautiful contrast with their haunting melodic voices and feminine gestures.

The dancers of Ua Pou are particularly famous for their “warrior mana”, and they held the audience captive in their spell, exploding with iconic male and female energies that reminded us of fairy tales.

The inter-village competition is taken seriously but the vibe is light hearted. The nature of the night was revealed when the troupe was slowly backing up, and one big chiseled man brushed up against 9 year old Asher, who sat entranced on the chair of a corner table. The muscled warrior was sweating head to toe, tatooed chest heaving for air, looking his menacing part; until he looked down at Asher and let out a huge smile, melting with mirth.

He then switched back into dancer role, and started moving with the drums in a powerful, timeless rhythm.

The North Coast of Ua Pou

Sailing between the village of Hakahetau and the north coast of Ua Pou, we found a remote anchorage to spend the night. It was so scenic!  

Then we sailed into Hakahau, which is the main town in Ua Pou, located on the north corner of the island. It is a nice harbor with swirly winds and beautiful views. 

Gusty trade winds funnel down the valley; a catamaran even bumped into us at anchor. So we   moored with a bow anchor and stern bridle at their ship’s wharf. 






The enchanting village of Hakahetau


The boat was repaired, and our new crew was in good spirits. After a month and a half in the southern Marquesas, we were finally heading to the northern group. The island of Ua Pou was our first destination, we set sail just after dark with strong SE tradewinds sending us flying north. 



The island of Ua Pou is not particularly well-known, yet its beauty is tremendous. Every Marquesan island has mind-boggling scenery, usually a mix of vertical rock formation amid steep valleys made dramatic by dark clouds and bands of sunshine. Whereas Fatu Hiva is like a monumental dragon with spikes in its back; and Hiva Oa is a venerable sage; Ua Pou is a crown of jewels. Its 8 granite spires rise at the center of the island, cutting into the thick clouds that spill over the ridgeline. 


Our first stop in Ua Pou was the village of Hakahetau. It sits on a bay with perfect protection from the tradewinds. 


All afternoon, kids are sliding down the boatramp, playing in the water, while goats chomp the vegetation in the rocks above.  We watched a community slideshow, after visiting a waterfall deep in one of Hakahetau’s valleys. It was here that we first met Pascal and learned about the school children’s marine reserve, for whom Green Coco supporters raised $2500. 


Manta Rays love the bright lights next to their wharf, attracting plankton and yacht visitors alike. Standing at the wharf, we could watch them for hours doing gentle backloops directly below us, feeding on plankton. 


Hakahetau is delightful and easygoing. We decided to return here before long.