What Tahitian Costumes Are Made Of
When used as Halloween costumes and party wear, Tahitian costumes obviously won't be as elaborate as the traditional ones used for dance performances in Tahiti. Traditional, elaborate costumes are often made of-believe it or not-vegetable fibers. Why, you ask? They're glossy! Want to make your own Tahitian-inspired costume for Halloween or a get-together with friends? Collect some shells from the beach, choose some mother-of-pearl pieces, and maybe even gather up some seeds. The types of embellishments to the costumes are quite eclectic. Don't discount feathers or dyes from Tahitian ginger and hibiscus flowers. You won't have to use the same vegetable fibers as mentioned above; you can use other materials.
Some costumes, like the pareu for example, are made of cloth. During the course of a traditional Tahitian dance performance, the dancers may change costumes, going from one type to the other. You could see a woman in a costume made of a glossy material, then see her in brightly colored, almost matte, cloth.
If you ever find yourself in Tahiti during July, try to track down a performance so that you may enjoy the beauty of the costumes and admire the gestures and codification of the dancers. They practice hard and adhere to strict rules in order to compete for a winning title.
Tahitian costumes are similar to the Hawaiian hula costumes most people are fairly familiar with. Some use vegetable fiber and others use cloth. In fact, on some costume sites, the terms are used synonymously. The costumes are brightly colored and used most often in dance performances, just like the hula outfits.
When They're Worn
Kids may wear costumes similar to the Tahitian ones for Halloween (though they'll be toned down to a more modest level in most cases). Tahitian dance costumes may also be worn for theme parties (in some cases, they're confused with the clothing worn for Hawaiian luaus).
In the most traditional cases, these costumes are worn for dance performances such as the Heivas in Tahiti. There, they're meant to be more of a representation of history and culture than a fun way to dress up and go out.
Tahitian dance has lost quite a bit over time since the British missionaries abolished it in 1820. Nearly 100 years later, it began to creep back into the society, but the traditional costumes were compromised in favor of more modest attire, and the movements were still restricted. Even though the restrictions were mostly wiped away by the end of the 20th century, so much had been lost since the abolishment that some of the cultural aspects could never be recovered.
Heiva contests began in 1998 in an effort to restore the cultural aspects. They are exercises in creativity and showcasing tradition.
Heivas consist of different styles of dance: the ote'a, the aparima, the hivinau, and the pa'o'a. Some are more structured; others are more expressive and depend on gestures to tell a story.
No matter which dance you witness or perform, the costumes play an important role. They're cultural trademarks, but they also establish differences between the members of the performance. The chief's costume is not like everyone else's. The musicians also wear different costumes from those of the dancers. Tahitian costumes are not only pretty to look at, but they also have an important function in the dance and culture of Tahiti.