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Culture

Religions in French Polynesia

Unlike mainland France, religion plays a very important role in French Polynesia. The people are far more devout and observant.

 

  • The Protestant Church (45% of the population)

Once known as the Evangelical Church of French Polynesia (or ECFP), it is now the Maóhi Protestant Church. This particular sect differs from most Protestant sects by the fact that it adopts the theology popularised by Duro Raapoto that places Maóhi identity, the return to the land and to tradition, at the centre of faith. God is presented as the same deity as Ta'aroa (the god of creation in Tahitian polytheism). All Maóhi parishes read from the text, Faraite moa haapaeraa maa no te Hau (liturgy of Good Friday, the day of fasting for peace), which focuses on Maóhi identity, the earth and the placenta.

 

  • The Catholic Church (34% of the population).

There is a strong community of Catholics, which is particularly well-represented in the Marquesas. Polynesian Catholics have merged Polynesian traditions and religion into their faith by translating and adapting scripture and song and organising cultural events with music and dancing.

 

  • The Mormon Church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (6% of the population).

Like other Western religions, the Mormons tailored their message to Polynesian cultural heritage as they went about spreading this pro-American ideology (they commemorate pioneer life from the days of John Smith with log sawing contests). Minority religions include the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (5%) and the Sanitos (or Community of Christ or Reorganised Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (3.5% of the population). Historically linked to the Mormons, this famous church broke off from the main sect to move closer to mainstream Protestantism.

 

  • Popular beliefs and practices

The Maóhi culture and belief in mother earth have been revived through tattooing, ti'i or tiki (ancestral statues that often inspire fear) and restored or contemporary marae (sacred ceremonial sites). On Tahiti, the Arahurahu marae is used to re-enact weddings and investitures of chiefs (Ari'i). On Ra'iātea, the Taputapuatea marae complex is now visited by Maoris. The Maoris organised a pilgrimage there in 1980, 1990, 1995, when a large gathering of sea-going outrigger canoes took place in March, and in 2000, when a tattoo festival was held in the month of April. Kava ceremonies, traditional dance, haka (borrowed from the Maori) and tributes to traditional gods during Matariki festivals take place on some islands. To the delight of tourists, traditional marriage ceremonies are even celebrated by tahau (Tahitian priests). Lastly, the custom of placental burial, widely observed, stems from the islanders' strong attachment to the earth: it marks an essential connection between the child and “mother earth”.

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