The Isles of Hiva Today

Photo right: The Harbor of Taiohae, the Administrative Center of the Isles of Hiva



photo of The Harbor of TaiohaeThe islands are a territory of France, part of French Polynesia, which includes four other groups of islands--Tahiti Nui, the Tuamotus, the Gambiers, and the Australs. Most of the people of Hiva are Roman Catholics.

The people work for "the government, the community, the Catholic church or school system, or for themselves--chopping copra, fishing, raising cattle and other livestock, or sculpting bowls, platters, Marquesan ceremonial clubs, tikis, and ukuleles" ("Marq uesan Travel Guide"). Many of the sculptures and other arts and crafts products are sold to tourists. In fact, tourist-related businesses are becoming the main source of income and employment. Small hotels, restaurants, sightseeing tours, activities for t ourists, and car rentals (mainly four wheel drives in this country of mountainous, unpaved roads) are centered in the main towns such as Taiohae on Nuku Hiva and Atuona on Hiva Oa.

During the 19th century, the Church played a major role in destroying native culture by banning native dress, dancing and chanting, kava drinking, nude-bathing in public, tattooing, embalming the dead, and other religious and cultural practices. Today, a revival of the native culture is taking place. Along with the production of arts and crafts using traditional materials and designs, tattooing, once a sign of wealth and social status, is making a comeback. Ankle tattoos have become fashionable among the aoe ("foreigners" from the Hawaiian word "haole") who visit the Isles of Hiva.

During the last decade, the native language, still spoken at home, has been added to the school curriculum. The Catholic Church has been promoting the study of the language.

Troupes have been formed to revive traditional dance, although when Handy visited the islands in 1921, he noted that "the natives of this generation know practically nothing of the dancing of ancient times." From the information he could gather, he conclu ded that there was "no dance corresponding to the hula of Hawai'i and upaupa of Tahiti, of which the hip and abdominal movements are the characteristic feature" (Handy Native Culture 304; the tradition in Hawai'i is that the hula was brought to Hawai'i fr om Tahiti by La'amaikahiki, a son of the voyager Mo'ikeha). The Hivan dancers of today perform post-contact versions of a pig dance and the haka manu, or bird dance, which is mentioned by Handy as a traditional dance done by young girls "standing stationa ry and making motions with the arms and hands imitative of birds flying" (Handy 306).

Competing with the revival of the traditional culture is the onslaught of colonial consumerism. When the kids of Taipivai come home on weekends from school in Taiohae, they watch TV, which broadcasts American shows like "Dynasty" and "Santa Barbara" (dubb ed into French), games shows, sports events from Paris, and commercials for products the people never knew they needed. And when the kids go off to school during the week, they continue to be indoctrinated in the language, thoughts, and values of the Fren ch. Social programs, such as free medical care and stipends for having children in the underpopulated islands, are designed to help the French hold onto the goodwill of the people.