Madeleine Moua, the Queen of Heiva


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He is credited with the rebirth of Tahitian dance, which nearly disappeared into oblivion in 18th century history because of Puritan missionaries who had banned it on the island of Tahiti. Portrait of a woman apart and meeting with her grandson, musician Guy Laurens. - Nathalie Leseine, Tahiti.

In Europe, nobody knows the name of Madeleine Moua, but in Tahiti, she is a historical figure whose photo is found on a postage stamp. It is to it that the archipelago owes the rebirth of the Tahitian dance which almost disappeared because of the puritanism of the missionaries, in the eighteenth century.

Madeleine Teroroheiarii Moua, descendant of the Tahitian royal family, was born on 5 Avril 1899. Her middle name means "Crowned Queen". His father belonged to the Tamatoa family, which preceded the Pomare dynasty. Early, Madeleine Moua started dancing at the age of 6 years. Pupil in the Gambier Islands, she danced with her friends in the forest of the orange trees. The touques of guava wood, which served to make orange wine, became drums, on which they beat rhythmically the movements. "I danced to have fun as it inspired me. It came alone. We all have a background of atavism, I think: a little joy and we dance, "she said.

Became a teacher at the age of 18 years, then school principal, she loved to transmit all kinds of knowledge, up to that of cultivating trees and vegetables on the sand, seemingly infertile. During the summer 1956, while she had gone to France for health reasons, Madeleine Moua attended a festival of Auvergnates, Breton, Alsatian folk dances, which would change the course of her life. In front of these identity dances, which she found so beautiful, she felt the urgent need to bring back the traditional Tahitian dance called Ori Tahitiwho had been banning for centuries. And his life has rocked.

We do not know the origins of the Tahitian dance. The testimonies of the first European explorers of the eighteenth century describe dance costumes as being essentially made of Top, that stuff of bark of beaten tree, which dressed dancers and musicians. The women, who danced topless, wore tapa skirts adorned with braided vegetable fiber. When the missionaries landed on the island, they were horrified by so much "indecency" and in 1819, they banned any representation of Tahitian dance.

The population tried to resist, but it could not do anything against the power of the powerful allies to that of the priests. In 1849, Queen Pomare herself has forbidden any overflowing that could endanger the public order and, little by little, 'orira'a, the Tahitian dance, was confined to a few evenings, bars and special places. She could have disappeared ...

It will be necessary to wait for 1880, when Polynesia became French, so that the dance is reborn during the official festivals. But very shyly. The imposed costumes, far from being able to accompany the natural gestures, had to respect certain rules: loose long dresses for the women, long pants under a shirt for the men. In 1928 the movie Tabu of Friedrich Willhem Murnau, shot in Bora Bora, includes costumes in Sea, made of bark of young shoots of purau, and gradually the dresses and trousers fade.

It is in 1956 that Madeleine Moua, after returning from her trip, restores her nobility to Tahitian dance, by founding her dance group called Heiva. She created for this purpose beautiful costumes based on leaves, flowers, mother-of-pearl, shells, pandanus leaves, tapa, feathers, etc ... All the products of the land and the sea were represented.

She revolutionized the image of dance by reinventing gestures, choreographic norms and rethinking the costumes, the nudity of the body. She set footsteps and sequences of Ori Tahiti. For Madeleine Moua, this dance was born from the rhythm of nature, the sound of the waves, the sound of the wind and it made a significant parallel between swinging hips and movement of the ocean.

"What do you want, here there is a lot of noise: the rhythm of the waves beating the reef, the rhythm of the winds that hit the walls of the valley to the Gambier Islands and which returns in such a way imitating the drums, ... And naturally the little girls are swaying. I firmly believe that dance was born from there, from this beating of the waves, from the sound of the winds. Is not the pace of nature the most true? "Said Madeleine Moua.

Author, composer, performer, Guy Laurens, grandson of Madeleine Moua and creator of the group Fenua, very famous in Tahiti and recognized abroad, remembers his childhood with the one he called Mamie. "His whole house was dedicated to dancing. I was rocked by music and rehearsals daily. She was also known for the beauty of her costumes and when I came back from school there was always someone who was working on the costumes in the garden. In fact, it was with my dad, Gérard, that she had the idea to use coconuts to make bras, nicknamed coco titi. His troop was the first to wear them. "

In his early days, the Heiva cast counted 24 dancers, all from good families who appreciated the Art of Dance. The group welcomed the first 40 tourists coming to Tahiti with two dances: Vahine Tahiti which can be translated as "The woman of Tahiti in the Joy of Life", and Ori Tahiti, literally "Tahitian dance". Madeleine Moua has always wanted to keep the tradition in the dance, otherwise the Ori Tahiti had no meaning. "It's a two-beat, four-stroke dance, a little abrupt, like the winds that capsize the boats. It's all that rhythm that we dance, "she said. It is in this sense that she has taught and created her shows, with a great concern for perfection, purity and respect for the old dance steps.

With the creation of Faa'a Airport, on the island of Tahiti, the development of tourism, globalization, Ori Tahiti crossed the borders. Madeleine Moua and her troupe have performed in a number of countries: France, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, England, Denmark, North and South America, New Zealand and even Australia. They went around the world.

Madeleine Moua, is considered as the mother of the Polynesian dance: she revolutionized the image. As a sign of recognition, the first prize of the annual festival Heiva i Tahiti bears his name. This festival, which takes place in July, has changed over the years and now includes not only dance groups, but also public speaking events, coconut shelling, javelin throwing, braiding, carrying fruit or stones, etc. Madeleine Moua died in 1989, when French Polynesia lost the main representative of the Ori Tahiti.

In 2009, the city of Papeete, capital of Tahiti, decided to give the name of Madeleine Moua to a street, in his honor. This is the first street bearing the name of a Polynesian civil woman, a woman who embodies the flourishing of dance.

In 2016 the OPT (the post office), which creates a stamp in connection with the Heiva festival every July, has decided to honor Madeleine Moua. "We had already approached the event from different angles: musical instruments, costumes, dances ... We wanted something more human, more historical. The choice of Madeleine Moua was then imposed. No one has forgotten his name, "says Moana Brotherson, Head of Philatelic Design and Communication at OPT.

In July 2016, a stamp of 100 Fcfp (franc of the French collectivities of the Pacific) was thus printed in sepia with his effigy. This stamp reflects the proud side of Madeleine Moua. "She always had incredible headdresses," says Moana Brotherson. Headdresses worthy of "the queen with a crowned head. "

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