‘Heiva’ (amusements) including dancings, singing, playing music was banned by king Pomare II in 1819 because they were seen as shameful activities. It all started with European contacts especially missionaries and religious people. Artistic expressions, although inherently tied to the cultural identity, were firmly prohibited for thirty years after it was legal again under certain conditions. On July 14th, 1881, the Bastille Day was first celebrated in Tahiti, for the occasion, the governor officially opened the cultural festivities where groups of dancers, singers, and athletes could publicly display their skills around a contest called the ’tiurai’.
In the middle of XXe century, Madeleine MOUA, Coco HOTAHOTA and others ‘ori tahiti’ aficionados paved the way and structured what was to become a culminating event in French Polynesia. ‘Heiva i Tahiti’ then became a serious competition with a well-curated jury. And when eyes from all over the Pacific were focused on them, artists eagerly danced and sang their pains, frustrations caused by colonization conflicts as well as their love and fascination for the culture of their ancestors.