Culture in the South Pacific Islands
Destination Review - Ranked by Preference
Competing in world tourism for beach holidays and scuba diving seems easy for the South Pacific islands, but so too should it for cultural holidays. The Pacific has an diverse and extremely rich traditional culture, one that has changed little from the earliest days of European exploration of the region. Chiefs still run villages and ancient beliefs, customs and witchcraft are practised as part of everyday life. In vanuatu you can find cults that reject all aspects of modern living, whilst in Fiji kava is drunk equally voluptuously by taxi drivers waiting for their next ride as it is back in the village. Song and dance form part of village meetings and resort entertainment, whilst the everyday life of farming and fishing remain as they have for centuries with a deep respect and binding with the land.
# 1 - Vanuatu
If staying only in Port Vila head to the Ekasup Cultural Village to see traditional village life. But for the real thing, visit a village on one of the outer islands. Tanna Island has the fascinating rivalry of the big 'uns and little 'uns as well as cargo cults. On Pentecost, between April and June to coincide with the yam harvest, each village in turn performs land diving, the origin of bungee jumping but using natural twisted tree vines instead of elasticated rope.
# 2 - Fiji
The Fijians are renowned as great hosts, exceptionally friendly and great with looking after kids. But they also have a dark side and not just regarding their cannibal past. Visiting a Fijian village is a highlight for many and most resorts organise trips to the local village where you can visit the family plantations, watch women weave baskets or make pottery and listen in to a school calssroom. The best regions to visit for an authentic Fijian village experience are on Kadavu or in the interior of Viti Levu. The most picturesque villages are the fishing settlements along theYasawa Islands and Navala Village, a real beauty on the main island of Viti Levu which exists as a living museum of over 200 thatch houses.
# 3 - Samoa
Whilst fairly modern looking in appearance and usually very tidy, Samoan villages are extremely hierarchical with chiefs having absolute power. If you can, watch a traditional tattooist at work - Samoans sport body tattoos covering from the neck down to the knees and these can take months to complete. Try also paddling a traditional outrigger canoe - these dug out canoes are common in all Samoan villages and used mostly by fishermen in and around the lagoons. But be warned: they are not nearly as easy to master as the Samoans make them out to be.
# 4 - Tonga
Tongans are renowned for their tapa cloth, a bark cloth pounded into a paper and designed in traditional patterns. These are presented as high ranking gifts at important ceremonies. Tongans also wear a woven mat or a woven girdle around the waist as every day wear, usually draping down to the knees but in ceremonial use can cover almost the entire body.
# 5 - French Polynesia
French Polynesia is renowned for its brilliant dancing and rhythmic drum beating which can be witnessed at "Island Nights" performed by professional dancers at the major resorts on Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. This, together with outrigger canoe racing, are the most common aspects of traditional life that remain in the Society Islands which otherwise have a very diluted Polynesian culture - the modern French way of life is heavily engrained into the people's every day life. The remote Marquesas, Gambier and Austral groups of islands have retained a very traditional existence but few holiday-makers venture to these far off islands.
# 6 - New Caledonia
Visit the Jean-Marie Djibaou Cultural Centre outside Noumea mixes contemporary and traditional craft and buildings. For a more authentic experience the region around Hienghene in the north east of Grand Terre is the most traditional and you'll find authentic villages with thatch huts deep in the mountains.
# 7 - Cook Islands
The Cook Islands blends modern and traditional way of life in a subtle way that often defies tourists. The most obvious tradition is the Polynesian dance performances which rival those of Tahiti. For an insight into the old way of life in the Cook islands head to Atiu where you can watch quilt making or try the local bush beer.