Now that destination weddings in Tahiti, in particular on the popular and visually breathtaking islands of Moorea and Bora Bora, are legally binding for overseas visitors, couples can marry in a traditional Polynesian wedding on the beach and have it be more than merely ceremonial. But the celebration, inspired by the way local Tahitians have married for centuries, retains the singing, dancing, lore and unique traditions that have made it popular over the past decade with couples celebrating an anniversary or vow renewal and even with honeymooners who enjoy saying "I do" all over again just a few days after their stateside ceremony for an exotic and romantic Tahitian memory.
Ceremonies are slightly different from resort to resort (see The Best Places to Get Married in Tahiti for a selection of settings), but the basic elements will include variations on the following:
Before wedding guests assemble on the beach or in the resort's chapel, assistants to the local Tahitian priest who will perform the ceremony will go to the couple's bungalow to dress the bride and groom in traditional white pareus (sarongs). The groom is typically bare-chested and often a traditional Tahitian tattoo will be painted on his arm or shoulder, while the bride's pareu is tied in a halter style; some resorts offer a coconut-shell top option with the pareu tied around the hips. Both the bride and groom are adorned with floral crowns (either in vibrant tropical hues or white, depending on the resort and the couples' preferences) and leis. Some resorts start the couple in feathered headdresses and switch to floral crowns and leis during the vows.
Arrival of the Bride and Groom
When the ceremony is on the beach, it is typical for either the bride or groom (again this varies by resort) to arrive via traditional dugout canoe, paddled by bare-chested Tahitian men in pareus, to their partner waiting with the priest on the beach. The arrival is accompanied by a Tahitian love song played on the ukulele, guitar and drums. The priest will be dressed in flowing robes (often in shades of red or yellow or dramatic black) and a striking feathered headdress.
Reciting of the Vows
As the couple faces the sea, the priest will read in a combination of Tahitian and English from traditional wedding vows and offer a blessing with the sacred auti flower and coconut milk, while joining their hands together and reading from a certificate of tapa cloth, which is made from the bark of the bread or hibiscus tree.
Giving of Tahitian Names
After the exchange of ceremonial flowers and leis, the priest bestows upon the couple traditional Tahitian names, known only to them.
Wrapping in the Tifaifai
The vows culminate with the wrapping of the couple in a traditional tifaifai, a colorful Tahitian wedding quilt as they are pronounced man and wife.
A Celebration of Song and Dance
The newlyweds are then serenaded by local musicians and dancers-as few as two or as many as a dozen-who invite them to the middle of a circle to imitate their hip-shimmying, leg-shaking traditional Tahitian dance moves as drum beats and joyous chants tell everyone within earshot that a wedding has taken place. Then the couple is escorted to their flower-petal-strewn private overwater bungalow for a romantic dinner with champagne for two and their first night together as husband and wife.