Sculpture and engraving have a significant place in the art and culture of The Islands of Tahiti. They are closely linked to the Polynesian identity and tradition. During your visit, you’ll be able to learn about the significance of these objects and the meanings of the designs etched into them.

In The Islands of Tahiti, sculpture was the work of master sculptors. They carved wood, stone or bone to create complex works of art, and were also responsible for making tools and weapons. To create jewelry, they used a wide range of materials, such as mother-of-pearl nacre, pigs teeth and sharks teeth. The two arts, engraving and sculpture, are also practiced on the flowered stone. This volcanic rock, also called “Garnet Phonolite”, is very rare. It is found only in Ua Pou in the Marquesas Islands, Brazil, Ethiopia and the Massif Central. The engravings usually represent images and designs that make reference to legends from Polynesian mythology or cultural symbols. The possession of certain sculptures was once a sign of a person’s social status and occupation. They were also used as instruments and as symbols in religious ceremonies .

A long artistic tradition

The most famous artist connected with The Islands of Tahiti is undoubtedly, Paul Gauguin. But centuries before the French genius came to Polynesia, Marquesans and Tahitians had been producing magnificent works of art, in the form of sculptures and engravings in stone, bone, wood and seashells. These skills have been passed down from generation to generation, and today’s artists exhibit their creations in markets, galeries and cultural centers throughout French Polynesia.

These works of art are a window into the age-old traditional culture of The Islands of Tahiti. Small, decorative objects, such as jewelry, engraved seashells or coconut shells are wonderful souvenirs or gifts to take home, as is a magnificent umete, a long wooden bowl that would make a superb fruit bowl on your dining room table. An endearing carved tiki would be at home on your mantlepiece, or you can also buy small version to carry as a lucky charm on your keyring.

Sculpture and engraving through the ages

Master sculptors were also responsible for building the traditional Tahitian outrigger canoes, or va’a. These boats were carved from a single, long tree trunk, with a shorter trunk or large branch carved to make the outrigger spar.

Today, the transmission of these ancestral arts is guaranteed by the Centre des Métiers d’Arts (Arts and Crafts Guild). Craftsmen and women pass on their skills in a range of disciplines, such as sculpture, painting and engraving. It is a school where the young generation learns the techniques and skills of traditional Tahitian arts and crafts. Polynesians are very proud of this ancestral culture and are delighted to share it with visitors. Cultural activities will make your vacation in our islands a more authentic experience.


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