Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Beauty of Tahitian women...myth or reality?

Tahiti Tourisme @ Tim McKenna

In my post about Mono'i, I mentioned the myth of the vahine (woman in Tahitian). As Tahiti and her islands have long relied on the myth associated with the destination in the popular imagination to attract visitors, I ponder on one of its greatest myths: the vahine. For centuries, westerners have contributed to the myth of the beautiful, uninhibited, sensual, bewitching exotic creatures, relating encounters with free-loving women shedding their clothes in welcome. 

Two Tahitian Women, Paul Gauguin

Was it the myth of the beautiful Tahitian women that drew Paul Gauguin to Tahiti and her islands in the late 19th century or did Gauguin create the myth of a forgotten paradise where women are mysterious, beautiful and timeless? What most people are unaware of is that by the time Gauguin arrived in Tahiti, the French had thoroughly colonized and christianized the islands and women no longer walked around half naked, but wore missionary gowns.

@ Adolphe Sylvain

Photographer Adolphe Sylvain's black and white images are both a tribute to Tahitian women's spell binding sensuality and a testimony of their actual beauty and allure. Marlon Brando, the rebel lover himself, succumbed to the beauty of the mesmerizing Tarita Teriipaia during the making of the film Mutiny on the Bounty.

Marlon Brando and Tarita Teriipaia on the poster of mutiny of the Bounty

Until this day, one Tahiti and her islands' most alluring attributes remains without any doubt the myth of the vahine. In every foreigner's imagination, the Tahitian woman has long raven hair and soft golden skin. If the beauty of Tahitian women is undeniable, I wonder if visitors are deluded or even disappointed when they arrive in Tahiti and discover that the pure Tahitian sirene is no more and, thanks to modernization and the encounter of cultures and races, has been replaced by a generation of witty, alluring yet more modern European / Chinese Tahitians. If they take the time to look closer, they will find that a discreet exotic touch remains and that, as Cook described, "their eyes, especially, are full of expression, sometimes sparkling with fire, and sometimes melting with softness". They remain mysterious and exotic with a touch of modernity and westernization. 

Poster of Miss Tahiti 2010 featuring Puahinano Bonno, Miss Tahiti 2009

The legendary vahine survived civilization and the Tahitians take pride in the beauty of the girls of the south seas. Their beauty is celebrated every year as the Polynesian population searches for its beauty queen. The now 51 year old Miss Tahiti beauty pageant is the opportunity for one of the most beautiful girls of Tahiti and her islands to become the ambassador of Tahitian beauty and grace.

What do YOU think? Is the beauty of Tahitian women a myth or reality?


  1. My dear Gina, I can assure that the myth was a reality until the 1980's...

  2. Dear Francisco I believe the myth has survived, you just have to look for it :)

  3. The allure of my Tahitian grandmother who captured the heart of my Swedish grandfather is a testament to this "myth".

  4. Tahitians are better described as "handsome" rather than beautiful. Most of the girls I saw in Papeete were Eurasian, rather than Polynesians.

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