Live and breathe Marquesan culture and discover the true sense of Mana in these remote and mysterious islands. At the three day Marquesas Islands arts festival you’ll have a unique experience that you’ll never forget.

The first edition of the Marquesas Islands arts festival was held in 1986 to promote Marquesan culture in French Polynesia. Originally held every four years, with the the three main islands, Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa and Ua Pou taking turns as host, it is now a biennial event. The other inhabited islands, Ua Huka, Tahuata and Fatu Hiva also take part in the festival. Up to 1,600 artists from the Marquesas Islands participate, as well as artists from throughout the rest of the Polynesian triangle. The festival is launched with the arrival of the committee from the previous host island in an outrigger sailing canoe. The event is a chance to discover all aspects of the thriving Marquesan culture and its importance to the people of these remote and isolated islands.

Highlighting Marquesan culture

Three days of thrilling sights and sounds rhythmed by the reverberating pahu, the loud Marquesan drum. Admire the bird dance and the costumes of the dancers who seem to fly like birds. Observe the local craftsmen and women as they trace traditional designs on tapa cloth, made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. Enjoy some kaaku, a breadfruit paste cooked in an earth oven. Marvel at the magnificent tiki sculpted from the flower stones of Ua Pou and the tattoos on the bodies of almost everyone present. All this is part of the spirit of the Marquesas Islands, it is the Mana!

The festival is called Matavaa o te Fenua Enata in the Marquesan language and it is a famous cultural event throughout French Polynesia and beyond. If you have the chance to attend the festival, it will be an occasion that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Artists from all over the the Polynesian triangle gather to celebrate their common origins. Traditional music and dances bring color and vivacity to what is a veritable melting pot of Polynesian cultures. At the end of the festival, the totoko pioo, a symbolic baton, is transmitted to the island where the next festival is to be held.

The Marquesas Islands, an archeological treasure house

The Marquesas Islands lie to the northeast of Tahiti and are a place of rugged and spectacular beauty. Known as the ‘Land of Men’ they are home to a thriving ancestral culture, which manifests itself in tattooing, tapa painting, tiki sculptures and the haka dances that were once performed by Marquesan warriors.

Mountainous landscape with a sunset at Nuku Hiva © Grégoire Le Bacon
Mountainous landscape with a sunset at Nuku Hiva © Grégoire Le Bacon

Even if you can’t come during the arts festival, you’ll still find plenty of activities to do in these mythical, mystical islands. Follow in the footsteps of Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel on the island of Hiva Oa. These two internationally renowned artists were so inspired by the Marquesas Islands that they decided never to leave.

Was this content helpful?