Take out my soul from my body. Now lay it out on a fine Tahitian Tifaifai quilt and look at its composition. As you peel away layer after layer; patience, understanding, resilience, ignorance, fury. Among those ingredients in a deep red, you will see the words, HEIVA, sketched and tangled with roots that were attached to the chords of my heart.
What is it about the Heiva I Tahiti that makes me feel so much more alive? I think about this question a lot. Especially when I speak about my experiences with other people on what it was like to travel to Tahiti and start preparing for a huge Ori Tahiti Competition and Cultural celebration. Why does it make me feel so alive, so fulfilled, so different from my day to day self? And why does it feel like there is nothing else compared to it in the world?
Because there isn’t.
It’s been less than a week since I returned from Tahiti to compete with the group Hitireva under the direction of Kehaulani Chanquy. I can’t believe the life I just traded in for the last. Goodbye humidity, goodbye people with neverending humility. I stayed in Tahiti for three months and I would be lying if I didn’t mention that from start to finish it was a struggle for me. Emotionally, physically, I went to sleep tired, somehow waking up even more tired. Which is only normal if you think of the number of hours we spend training per week, the heat, and the pure flow of dedication to learn the dance moves, the words to the song, always with an intense concentration to go beyond your best. When it comes to the Heiva I Tahiti and stepping on stage to perform in front of thousands of people, you are led to the path of excellence. Anything else just will not do.
A doctor once estimated that the average dancer spends more than 500 hours preparing for this grandiose event in Tahiti. He started his study when he began to notice how many young beautifully fit specimens came in fatigued and sick. ” You dancers are all crazy,” said the French doctor behind the desk on my third visit. It’s true; I was madness trying to hold everything together with a nose which refused to stop running. My bones ached. It hit me deep being so far away from my immediate family and trying to cope with the nights of dancing for three hours, completely drench, then getting cold when the sea breeze mingled air hits you as you start to cool down. Everything is Go! Go! Go!! And then the costume making creeps up behind you and shouts, Stop! Stop! Stop!! There is nothing like sewing shells to a costume to make the resemblance of a baby turtle to teach you patience. But it’s the passion that stops you from rolling your eyes and makes you concentrate like your life depended on this little baby turtle tail.
So many times I whispered to myself, this is my LAST Heiva. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who spoke those words. Yet, I knew one minute after I finished performing our one hour show on Toata stage, that I wanted to do it again and again, please let me do it again! The group I prepared with for the past 3 months became my new family. Kehau our Queen and mother. Only they understood my biggest fear of not getting all my costumes on in time. We learned our dances and became so in sync with each other that I could make eye contact with the Vahine besides me and read her mind as she could read mine. The bonds had already begun. When you take that first step on stage, dances that you can now do in your sleep, costumes that fit a body tanned and trained, you are engulfed with an absolute feeling of magic. It’s not only in the air, but it’s also in your heart.
Dancing in the Heiva is magic. In the past, our ancestors had another word for this magic. They use to call it MANA. For this word, I’d do it again, again, and again.