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Rescuing the Past

Video clip synopsis – The French colonists discouraged and suppressed Tahiti's traditional culture but it is now re-emerging.
Year of production - 1983
Duration - 4min 2sec
Tags - civics and citizenship, colonisation, culture, French Polynesia, historical representations, identity, nationalism, see all tags


Rescuing the Past

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About the Video Clip


Rescuing the Past is an excerpt from the documentary A Place of Power in French Polynesia, an episode of the six-part series The Human Face of the Pacific, made in 1983.

A Place of Power in French Polynesia
Tahiti is a rugged, forest-clad South Pacific island, surrounded by coral reefs. Its traditional Polynesian way of life has been swamped over the years by foreign influences, particularly that of France. However, the long-awaited re-emergence of traditional culture is the focus of this documentary.

The Human Face of the Pacific
This series is composed of six documentaries covering six Pacific nations and territories, giving a wide-ranging view of contemporary Pacific society. It shows the variety of ways of life from subsistence to urbanisation and the challenges from outside to what has been called ‘the Pacific way’.

A Film Australia production in association with Cinema Enterprises.

Curriculum Focus


Historic knowledge and understanding
Historic reasoning and interpretation

In Level 6 History, students have the opportunity to

  • Use the case study of French Polynesia to investigate the issue of a community’s struggle for cultural maintenance and renewal.
  • Enhance their historical skills by using a range of sources, especially film, and the higher order thinking skills of reasoning and interpretation

The video clip is also linked to the Humanities Level 6 Civic and Citizenship domain in which issues of leadership, rights and responsibilities as a citizen, and practices that underpin political systems are examined in this case study.

Other Links to VELS:
Physical, Personal and Social Learning
Interpersonal Development – working and learning in teams, values as social constructs, resolving conflicts
Personal learning – ethical considerations, manage own learning
Civic and Citizenship – Concept of democracy, personal identity, knowing rights and responsibilities as a citizen, human rights, social justice

Interdisciplinary Learning
Opportunities for enhancing

  • Communication skills
  • ICT skills
  • Higher order thinking skills
This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


In 1843 France had established a protectorate over Tahiti and the neighbouring island of Moorea and in 1880 it extended its rule to the remaining island groups. In 1957 the area became known as the overseas territory of French Polynesia.

The people of Tahiti share with many other peoples the experience of their lives changing rapidly at the hands of ‘colonial masters’. Many aspects of Tahitian traditional culture were lost under colonial rule. European missionaries discouraged or banned traditional music and dance. The writing of Ma’ohi language was limited and the language of government was French.

Life changed rapidly for the colonised Tahitians with the opening of an international airport in 1960 and with the installation in 1963 of the Centre for Nuclear Experiment in the Pacific (CEP). French testing of Nuclear bombs from 1966 to 1996 and the associated military spending transformed French Polynesia into a nuclear dependency of metropolitan France.
The French dominated not only the economy but also wider society. As shown in the video clip, through television, French culture was spread at the expense of local culture.
A new era in politics began with the election of Oscar Temaru in 2004. He opposed French nuclear testing in French Polynesia, supported independence from France and the use of Ma’ohi language in everyday life. Ma’ohi is now taught in French Polynesian schools.
In this video clip, we see Tahitian Henri Hiro wanting to show fellow Tahitians about the traditional and important spiritual notion of ‘the sacred’ — through filming the enthronement of a high chief of Tahiti. Henri Hiro was born into a Tahitian speaking family and was instrumental in redefining an indigenous identity through his films, theatre and writing in the Ma’ohi language. His work was seen by some as propaganda for an independence movement. Henri Hiro died in 1990.

Classroom Activities

  1. What evidence is there in the video clip of French influence over local Tahitian cultural practices? Would you describe the influence as domination? What reasons and evidence would you use?
  2. Call a Tahitian village meeting in your classroom. In student groups, representing different village groups, draw up a list of complaints about the impact of French colonialism to local traditions. Present this list to another student group representing French officials. Allow the French officials group to respond to the list of complaints.
  3. What are the reasons the Tahitian filmmaker Henri Hiro had in making a film about local Tahitian cultural customs? Is film making an effective method of preserving customs? What are some other ways of preserving cultural traditions? Who do you think should decide which cultural traditions and practices in any society should be preserved?
  4. Henri Hiro – a leader of a nationalist movement? Using the video clip, collect data about each of these images of Hiro. On balance, what description do you think best suits Hiro?
    1. a dreamer?
    2. a bush poet?
    3. a cultural hero?

Further Resources


Go to Pacific Stories Learning for Interactive Compass Map with facts about the Pacific region.

For interview transcripts, books and references for this Digital Resource go to Pacific Stories, choose A Place of Power in French Polynesia, select INDEX, and go to MORE INFORMATION.