Relatively isolated from the rest of the world well into modern times, the people of Tahiti had centuries to develop a rich and unique culture.

The quintessential art in this society is dance. Ancient Tahitians danced for many occasions: in worship, as a show of hospitality, to challenge an enemy or, of course, to woo a love. The otea is a fast, hip-shaking line dance for males. Women sometimes do the slow, hand-focused dance called the hura (known in its Hawaiian form as the hula).

Traditional music is largely performed with drums, such as the pahu, made of a log and sharkskin, and the to'ere, a hollowed-out log with a slit in it, sized for the desired pitch and played with sticks.

The canoe brought Tahitians to Tahiti, and so it naturally became a celebrated part of local life. The large outriggers called tipairua can still be seen in festivals and races throughout the year.

The Heiva festival is the biggest party of the year. Each July, from all over Polynesia, locals come together to celebrate their culture, with traditional athletic competitions, joyous dancing and handicrafts. Local specialties include wooden sculptures, bowls, drums, tapa cloth, carvings and the wraparound skirt known as the pareu. The more intrepid traveler might want to leave with a tattoo (one of the few Tahitian-language words to pass into everyday English).

If you're going to Tahiti, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. A colorful blossom is a classic talisman of Tahitian culture, whether worn in a lei, in a crown of palm fronds atop the head, or behind the left ear to signal that the wearer is in a romantic relationship (not unlike a wedding ring).

And romantic is certainly the word for Tahiti. No visitor can fail to be touched by the charms of this place and its people.

Find a Bargain