Everything you need to know about the traditional Polynesian wedding ceremony in Bora Bora
Bora Bora is a magical and romantic place to celebrate your love. The pristine lagoon, the peak of Mount Otemanu and the awe-inspiring sunsets will take your breath away while the traditional customs will lend meaning and originality to your ceremony. The Polynesian wedding ceremony is beautiful but especially when you know the meaning and tradition behind it.
Where is the Wedding Held?
Depending the resort, you have different options. Your weeding planner will help you to choose the best one for you.
Amongst the available options, barefoot in the beach is one of the favorites (so romantic 🙂 )
Most resorts also offer a chapel if you are looking for a more symbolic ceremony. However, keep in mind that from a photographic point of view, the space is very limited, reducing the possibilities for more powerfull pictures. Finally, the light is much harder to control.
Traditionally, the bride and groom wear a white pareo (tahitian name to describe a piece of cloth worn wrapped around the body). Women will usually wrap it around their upper body, covering it from breasts to above the knees. Either they rely on their breasts for it not to slide down, or they may wrap a corner around their shoulder or their neck. In more traditional surroundings the covering of the upper body is less important, but the covering of the thighs is. Then it is worn as a longer skirt. Men wear it as a short skirt.
Althought nowadays lots of couples prefer to wear classical western wedding outfits.
And of course there is no bride without a bouquet made with fresh polynesian flowers.
Stages of the Polynesian Wedding Ceremony
The traditional Polynesian wedding ceremony includes a conch blower, musicians, dancers and a Tahitian priest or Tahua. The priest will be dressed in flowing robes (often in shades of red or yellow or dramatic black) and a striking feathered headdress.
When the ceremony is at the beach, an outrigger canoe or va’a paddled by a bare-chested Tahitian man in pareo transports the bride to the wedding location, but sometimes it can be the groom or both, depending on the resort.
Traditionally, the bride awaits her groom on a secluded beach . Upon arrival on the beach, the groom meets his bride and escorts her into a circle or heart of flowers and leaves, then the ceremony begins.
Before the ceremony starts, the conch blower will sound the conch shell or Pu in all directions in an effort to summon the Gods to be present at the wedding and all the Mana (power and energy).
This long, deep call of the pu is also believed to summon the land, air, fire, and sea to be witnesses to the ceremony.
The Master of Ceremony will conduct the ceremony in Tahitian and English.
He will start by blessing you with sacred Auti leaves, cordyline fruticosa, a member of the lily family. From ancient up to this day the leaves of the Auti plant have been used for spiritual protection, purification and healing. In old times, only the royalty and high priests were allowed to wear Auti leaves during their ceremonial rituals to ward off evil spirits and invoke the blessings of the gods.
The priest will cut one Auti leaf making two bracelets and he will put them around your wrists to tie the knot, rather like the hand-fasting ceremony but with a local twist! You can tie the knotted leaves to the outside of our bungalow door when you returned which means ‘private’, do not disturb! 😉
With the hands bound together you will get blessed and your sins washed away with pure water from the lagoon.
The bride and groom will exchange Leis and Flower Crowns. In French Polynesia a Lei is given at every joyous occasion and certainly in the celebration of a wedding, the Lei represents the Joy of Life. Like a wedding ring, the Lei is an unbroken circle that represents your eternal commitment and devotion to each other. The beauty of each individual flower is not lost when it becomes a part of the lei, but is enhanced because of the strength of its bond.
Tahitian gardenia or Tiare Tahiti, Tipanier, and Hibiscus are the most traditional used flowers. If you want the flowers and your bouquet to match any particular color, don’t forget to mention to your wedding planner.
You will exchange your vows and then the rings. You can either read your own vows or repeat the Polynesian ones. My suggestion is to write your own but keep them secret, that will give your ceremony more emotion.
To symbolize the union, you will find yourselves wrapped in a Tifaifai (a traditional handcrafted blanket or quilt). These beautiful works of art were traditionally offered by the grandmothers as a symbol of love, honor and respect.
To be wrapped in a Tifaifai is to be wrapped in warmth, acceptance and love.
The groom may kiss her bride 🙂
The priest will then give you a Tahitian name similar to ancestral tradition.
Sipping cocktails in freshly cut coconuts ,you will then attend a Polynesian show especially in your honor. Polynesian music is so romantic.
The slack-key guitar and ukelele are the regional instruments that make the music of the islands famous.
To start, the dancers will interpret your own “Tahitian Wedding Song” with your own Tahitian name followed by Tane (husband) and Vahine (wife), at the sound of Aparima, slow dance where the hand motions represent the words in a song or chant. For example, hand movements can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling / emotion, such as fondness or yearning.
Then you will attend the big Otea (hip-shimmying, leg-shaking traditional Tahitian dance moves). Pay attention because you will be invited to join the dancers too so don’t be shy! 🙂
Your ceremony will be official after signing the wedding certificate prepared on tapa. Made of local tree bark, the tapa is considered by Polynesians to be a symbol of wealth and was used in ancient times as a luxurious fabric.
I will be there to tell the story of this very special day, to capture every single moment, I specially enjoy shooting every single detail, so you can go back in time whenever your feel like.
Thinking those images will be just as important now, as they will be in 10,20,30… years. Pictures are pretty magical that way 🙂