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Culture Reborn

Video clip synopsis – Traditional Polynesian dancing was suppressed by missionaries. It is now an important part of tourism and a means of cultural power.
Year of production - 1983
Duration - 3min 8sec
Tags - civics and citizenship, colonisation, culture, French Polynesia, historical representations, identity, nationalism, Pacific region, Tahiti, see all tags


Culture Reborn

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About the Video Clip


Culture Reborn 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.
  • Investigate the role of cultural expressions and icons in personal identity and nationhood.

The video clip is also linked to the Humanities Level 6 Civic and Citizenship domain in which issues about active community participation are examined.

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 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. Today the Territory of French Polynesia is a self-governing overseas county of France. It consists of 118 islands in five main groups in the South Pacific. The capital is Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Tahiti is still heavily reliant economically on France and heavily influenced by French language and culture.

Many aspects of Tahitian traditional culture were lost under French 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. Generally many aspects of Tahiti’s Polynesian way of life were suppressed under French Colonial rule.

From the 1980s there has been a re-emergence of dancing and other traditional practices in Tahiti as part of a strengthening of Polynesian identity. The revival of customs is always complex and certain aspects of culture were favoured over others. This cultural revival was influenced by other independence movements in the Pacific as well as local disaffection with the French nuclear industry.

In this video clip Oliver Howes, the producer and director of the documentary A Place of Power in French Polynesia, talks about his belief that the call for political independence in Tahiti is linked to the re-emergence and strengthening of its cultural identity.

Classroom Activities

  1. Why do you think the French banned indigenous dancing during the early colonial period in Tahiti? What other forms of indigenous traditions were also banned?
  2. In what ways can dance express the culture and values of a community? What are some other ways a society can express its culture and values?
  3. Cultures are always adapting; whilst dancing is promoted by French tourism it still can be seen as an authentic voice of Polynesian identity through the Heiva festival. In what ways might commercial pressures in French Polynesia compromise traditional practices like dancing and cultural festivals?
  4. Using the internet and other sources investigate indigenous dancing in other countries, for example, Australia.
    1. Are there similarities in dancing styles?
    2. Are the purposes of the dancing similar in both contexts?
    3. What are the threats to the continuation of dancing as a form of cultural expression in both Tahiti and Australia?
    4. Do non–indigenous people in Australia have dance as a cultural expression? If not, why not?

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.