Tahitian greetings differ from those of most Western people, both in semantic content and above all in conceptual representation. Generally, a Westerner greets someone by wishing a good or pleasant day or part of the day, or some such recurrent formulation. There are no similar expressions in Tahiti and Her Islands where salutations focus more on a person’s health or on a wish for longevity.
Thus, a Tahitian will say “ia ora” or “ia ora na”, literally “let there be life” or “let your life be”. In everyday language, “ia ora” is used for “hello, I greet you” and “ia ora na”, a more emphatic expression, to say “good morning, good evening...”.
“Manava” and “maeva”, two fundamental notions derived directly from the great Tahitian spirit of hospitality, are deeper expressions of the concept of salutation. They convey the feeling and state of mind of the host towards his guest, the very type of hospitality that he is extending.
“Manava” (literally, prestige or power residing in the viscera) represents the seat of great emotions, sentiments and sensations, what Westerners call the heart. Hence, when a Tahitian greeted a visitor by saying “manava!” he opened his house, his home and above all his heart. The guest was then obliged to accept food and lodging, but also-and above all-to share the good times and the bad times his host lived through on a daily basis. The visitor was welcomed, pampered, but roles reversed and in turn the guest became the host who greeted and welcomed. From then on he was asked to become a receptacle himself.