Traditions in Tahiti

Polynesian Flowers

Common flowers and how they are used

One of the things I love about Tahiti is their devotion for their traditions and their nature. Some that I appreciate the most, are connected to various polynesian flowers that accompany me all along the journey of discovering French Polynesia.


The Polynesian islands hold today a huge number of exotic flowers (imported or not). When we first think of Tahiti, Bora Bora or Polynesian islands in general, we immediately refer it to the myth of a Vahine with flowers, blue turquoise lagoon, white sand and the smell of monoï… However, behind this heavenly image about Tahiti, it’s a whole set of traditions and culture that is going on.  In this post, we are going to focus on some of the uses of flowers in French Polynesia and I believe that there exist still a lot of other ways to use flowers that I couldn’t experience yet.

Plumeria Flower

Lilium Flower

Plumeria Flower

The symbolic “Tiare Tahiti” 

Its delicate scent of jasmine is a true invitation to the Polynesian islands. The Tiare is the emblem flower of Tahiti and can be found nearly in every inhabited island of French Polynesia. The Tiare Tahiti is an important symbol in the Polynesian lifestyle and culture. It is also one of the most used flowers for traditions like the flower necklace or the flower crown that will be showed later in this post. 

Tiare Tahiti with 8 petals

The flower necklace “Te hei” 

The “hei” which literally means the flower necklace is the symbol of love, friendship, appreciation or affection in Polynesian culture. Nowadays, it is seen as a gesture of hospitality as in Tahiti you receive it around your neck when you arrive following by a “Iaorana” or a “Maeva” which means welcome.  “Iaorana” literally means “long life to you” but today it is mostly used as a “hello” or a “welcome”. The smell of flowers, a smile on the face and a welcoming word already  immerse you into the magical scent of French Polynesia, especially after a long and tiring flight.

When I received my first flower necklaces on my arrival in Tahiti, I was amazed by the quantity and the smell of those colorful flowers. However at that time, I didn’t really understand the real value of it.  After I learned to do a flower necklace myself, I felt overwhelmed by all the efforts and love that were put in all of the flower necklaces I received over time.

What I learned from this wonderful experience is that a flower necklace does not last a long time but a lot of efforts is needed just to make one. Therefore, with this in mind, I always remind myself that I should appreciate every single flower around my neck every time I will have the chance to receive a flower necklace. 

First arrival in Tahiti

My arrival in Raiatea

The flower crown “Te hei upo’o”

The flower crown is often worn by local women for festivities such as wedding, dance, ceremony and even at the church. There are as many ways as nature allows us to craft our own flower crown. It is done with several different flowers, colors and leaves in all sorts of combinations and depends mostly on your own preferences. Certainly it is a lot of work to make one and requires a lot of practice, creativity as well as patience.

As men are usually not dressed with flower crowns, I still haven’t made one yet. Just let me say that when I observed Rika doing it, I already felt like if it was me, I would need to have at least 3 hands to be able to hold everything together! If still you would like to learn how to do it, you can let me know and we can give it a try together! ^_^

Rika’s Flower Crown for the tahitian dance in Raiatea

The flower behind the ear

Polynesians usually wear a flower behind the ear as an everyday accessory especially for women. 

In addition to its lovely smell and look, the Tiare Tahiti can also send a signal of heart availability.  Yes you read it right! Usually the women (Vahine) wear an open flower and the men (Tane) wear a flower bud as you can see on the pictures.  Wearing it on the left side ear (the heart side) means that you are engaged in a relationship. However, on the right side of the ear, it means that you are single and available right now. But of course this is an old tradition. So don’t be too fast to judge as especially the younger generation does not always follow this tradition and wears the flower just on their preferred side. And maybe your crush is still available even with a flower on her/his left side 😉   

The flower for decoration

We already saw some of the ways flowers are used in the Tahitian culture but flowers hold almost endless possibilities of use and it is only up to our imagination. But what we are sure is that a decoration with flowers will always give the last touch to the set-up and provide a lively environment that makes people feel welcomed and at ease (except if you are allergic to flowers) 😛 . 

Coconut’s decorated with flowers

Drinks decorated with flowers

How to make your own flower necklace in French Polynesia

In this post we certainly won’t be able to show you all the fascinating ways how the Tahitian people craft their necklaces but we can at least give you an insight of one of it. 

This is one of many other ways to create your own flower necklace. Here, we used the Tiare Tahiti. In general, you can use every type of flowers or leaves depending on your preferences. 

The first requirement is that you need a lot of flowers depending on the thickness of your necklace. The thicker it is, the more flowers you will need. 

The Tiare Tahiti on the picture have been picked early in the morning the day before and wrapped in a big leaf. Why? Well, it’s because in the morning the flowers are still closed and wrapping them with a leaf allows us to keep the flowers for 3 to 4 days with its wonderful perfume until you decide to use it.

Appart from the flowers, you will also need a needle and a measured thread depending on the size of your necklace.  

Once you have all of this, pierce the Tiare one by one with the needle and arranged them like crosses. 

Depending on the thickness of the necklace, we should always pierce the flower at the same spot and place them like crosses. If not the necklace would not be proportionate :/


When you are satisfied with the length of your necklace, you tie both ends of the thread together and voilà! Your Tiare Tahiti Flower Necklace is finished and is ready to enlighten someone’s day!  

This is it! We hopefully learned again a little more about French Polynesia and its traditions. Of course there is many more to discover and this was probably not the last post about the world of the flowers in French Polynesia. Its unique charm in nature is one of the things that makes this country so special in my eyes. I personally discovered many interests since I started to learn about French Polynesia. And one of those interests is to appreciate nature as a powerful gift.

We really hope that you enjoyed reading this post and maybe learned new things!

See you soon! Mauruuru!

"All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today"

Indian proverb


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