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Culture

Tahiti Inspired Artists

A number of authors, singers, artists, poets and yachtsmen - all lovers of our islands - made the choice to spend some time here. Some of them even died in Tahiti.

They are part of the Polynesia's historic heritage and most have left traces and testimonies of their island life. They were struck by our islands' charm, hospitality and lifestyle. In their own way, all of them helped promote the fame of our islands worldwide.

Herman Melville (1819-1891), the American author and adventurer, was the first to use the South Seas as a setting for a literary narrative (Typee, 1846 and Omoo, 1847). He spent a few months in Tahiti in 1841 arriving on board an Australian whaler and later spent some time on Moorea.

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), the French painter, began living in Tahiti in 1891 and later moved to the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, where he lived out the last two years of his life. He experienced many misadventures in Tahiti while trying to escape civilisation. He was not always well regarded by the Polynesians, especially the Marquesans. However, he remains one of the most influential painters of his century. He is buried in Atuona Cemetery, Hiva Oa.
The Paul Gauguin Museum in Pape'ete (Tahiti) and the Paul Gauguin Cultural Centre in Hiva Oa provide an outline of the life of this nonconformist, as well as reproductions of some this works.

Pierre Loti (1850-1923), the French naval officer and author, penned an autobiographical novel in 1879 with our islands as the setting titled, Rarahu, a Polynesian Idyll, also known as Le mariage de Loti. You can swim in the Bain Loti next to a statue of the author erected in 1931.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), the Scottish novelist, visited our islands aboard his yacht, Cosco, during his journey to the Pacific in 1888. He wrote In the South Seas in 1891.

James Norman Hall (1887-1951), the American author, who wrote Mutiny on the Bounty and The Hurricane (adapted for the screen) with co-author Charles Nordhoff, made Tahiti his home in the 1920s. He died in 1951 and is buried in Arue on the hillside above his home alongside his Polynesian spouse, Lala, who died in 1985. You can visit the home in which he lived, now converted to a museum and classified as an historic monument: James Norman Hall House in Arue.

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), the English poet, who wrote the famous poem, Manea in 1914 after visiting Tahiti. This classic poem helped carve out a place for Tahiti in modern English literature.

Alain Gerbault (1893-1941), the aviator, WWI hero, tennis champion and solo yachtsman (the first Frenchman to complete an around-the-world journey by sailing boat), lived for six months in Bora Bora in 1932. He returned in 1940. A fierce defender of Polynesia, he wrote eight books condemning colonialism and the destruction the island paradise. In 1941, Gerbault died of malaria in Timor. In 1947, his remains were returned to the main square of Vaitape in Bora Bora where a commemorative plaque was erected in 1951.

Marlon Brando (1924-2004), the American actor and director, purchased Tetiaroa after completing the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty (1961). He married his co-star, Tahitian Tarita Teriipaia, with whom he lived for 10 years until 1972.

Bernard Moitessier (1925-1994), the French yachtsman and author, lived for some 12 years in Tahiti and the Tuamotus. Moitessier moved to the atoll of Ahe, where, together with his wife and son, he devoted himself to cultivating organic fruit and vegetables. He was also a strident critic of nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Jacques Brel (1929-1978), the Belgian singer-songwriter and actor, retired with his partner to the Marquesas at the end of a successful career aboard his sailing yacht, Askoy. Stricken with lung cancer, Brel lived out the last three years of his life on Hiva Oa. Using his private aircraft, Jojo, Brel provided many services to the islanders. He is buried in Atuona Cemetery.
The small Jacques Brel Cultural Centre on Hiva Oa recounts the singer's life in the Marquesas. His song, Les Marquises, describes the simple lifestyle and strength of the inhabitants of "The Land of Men".

Joe Dassin (1938-1980), the American-born French singer-songwriter, died in Tahiti. He lived in Tahaa, where he bought a luxurious villa on the beach between Toretorea Point and Tiamahana (accessible only by boat or on foot). A plaque at La Retro, a restaurant/bar in Pape'ete, commemorates his death on 20 August 1980 following a heart attack.

Alain Colas (1943-1978), the French yachtsman, was the first to complete a solitary round-the-world race in a multihull. He was lost at sea in 1978 during the Route du Rhum yacht race after having passed the Azores. He began living in Tahiti in the 1970s, where he met a Polynesian, Teura Krause, with whom he had three children.

Bobby Holcomb (1947-1991), the poet, singer, musician, dancer and painter, moved to Huahine in 1976. He died 14 years later. Holcomb was heavily involved in the Maohi cultural revival movement alongside other celebrities and artists (Henri Hiro, John Mairai, etc.) and is one of the best-known artists in Tahiti and its islands. He is buried at the foot of the sacred mountain, Mou'a Tapu, in Huahine.

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