This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use
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 - colonisation, French Polynesia, heritage, identity, indigenous cultures, see all tags


Rescuing the Past

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 rescuing_pr.mp4 (29.8MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 rescuing_bb.mp4 (14.0MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

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


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following Outcomes:

H1 explains the interaction between persons, societies, cultures and environments across time
H3 accounts for cultural diversity and commonality within societies and cultures
H4 evaluates continuity and change and assesses social futures and strategies for change and the implications for societies and cultures
H10 communicates information, ideas and issues using appropriate written, oral and graphic forms

This Digital Resource gives students the opportunity to learn about the fundamental concepts of the course and about key concepts such as continuity, change, values, tradition, westernisation, beliefs, identity, modernisation and empowerment.

Students can explore continuity and change through examination of the following questions in respect to Tahiti:

  • is all change necessarily progress in Tahiti?
  • which groups in Tahiti benefit from change and which do not?
  • are westernisation, modernisation and industrialisation inevitable in Tahiti?
This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies 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. # Why, do you think did Henry Hiro wants to remind his fellow Tahitians about their traditional notion of the sacred?
    1. What function do cultural activities such as dancing traditional dances and playing traditional music play in a society?
    1. Outline the changes that have occurred in Tahiti as a result of colonisation. Which of these would you consider to be ‘progress’ and which may have had a negative impact on Tahitians?
    2. To what extent have changes in Tahiti been part of a process of modernisation and of westernisation?
  2. After viewing the video clip do you have an optimistic or pessimistic view of the future for Tahitians? Explain.

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.