Some say Tahiti is not a place to visit for shoppers – and to some degree they are correct. It is not a Rodeo Drive, Milan Fashion Hub or Hong Kong shopping spree. After all, you are in the middle of the South Pacific and most goods are imported. However, there are some incredible Polynesian souvenirs you can pick up for gifts or memories of your time in the islands.
Here is a list of my Top 10 Polynesian gifts and souvenirs to purchase while in French Polynesia:
1. Tahitian Cultured Pearls
Everywhere you go you will see these stunning pearls. Tahiti is famous for their black pearls or as they are more accurately called ‘Cultured Pearls’ as they come in many different shades not just black. You can get them set as earrings, necklaces, pendants, bracelets or just pick up single pearls to bring home. The quality varies as does the pricing, so pick your budget and choose a piece you love for a great memory and souvenir.
2. Wood carvings
The Polynesians, especially in the Marquesas Island group, are famous for their intricate wood carvings. From ceremonial paddles, wooden bowls or life size Tiki statues you and get some beautiful pieces. There is no problem bringing any finished wood product back to North America – just don’t bring any untreated raw wood. Smaller items can be packed however, if you fall in love with a large Polynesian Tiki shipping arrangements can be made!
3. Tahitian Vanilla
Known as being the best quality vanilla in the world, be sure to pick some up for all your baking needs or to give to your favourite baking friend – a good way to score some home baked goods! Even more meaningful is to buy some from a vanilla plantation that you visit on one of your tours. You can purchase full beans, paste or liquid vanilla.
4. Monoi Oil
This oil comes in various scents and sizes and is made from the petals of the gardenia flower soaked in coconut oil. Monoi is a Tahitian word that means ‘Scented oil’ and it is commonly used by the locals to keep their skin soft and as a hair conditioner. For me, just keeping a small bottle on my desk to open and smell takes me back to the islands.
The local Tahitian Mamas (mamas are the elderly Tahitian women) traditionally would work together to hand sew a Tifaifai which is similar to a patchwork quilt, but with a tropical look and feel to it. Today, they are both hand made or machine made. And you can get them full sized for a bed, pillow cases, bed runner, table cloth etc.
Small, lightweight, colourful – the locals wear a pareo in many styles and fashions – both women and men. Around the islands you can find Artisians that hand paint and create stunning pareos or in our modern world you can pick up less expensive mass produced pareos. Either way they are an easy souvenir and gift with many uses. For more have a look at my “Dress like a Tahitian” blog post on my website or this video with a local hand painting a Pareo – watch here.
7. Stone carvings
Not as common and a bit heavier to bring home, however you can pick up some beautiful Polynesian stone carvings as souvenirs. Again the artists that make these are primarily located out in the Marquesas group of islands but they are sold back throughout all the islands. If your trip includes a visit to the Marquesas this is the best place to purchase these and your wood carvings.
8. Woven Items
Most of the talented weavers come from the island group called the Australs. Using pandas and coconut leaves the Mamas weave baskets, hats, purses, fans, matts and more. These make a popular, lightweight and affordable souvenirs to bring home.
9. Mother of Pearl
Less expensive than the Tahitian pearls, the Mother of Pearl is often used by jewelers to create beautiful pieces – earrings, bracelets, pendants and more. Again you can buy a completed piece of jewelry in wide range of price points and styles available all over the islands.
This I like to call the ultimate Polynesian souvenir. It is rare to find a local that does not have any tattoos. Tattoos are a strong part of their history and culture and you will find talented artists throughout the islands to create your ultimate vacation souvenir. I recommend planning this in advance and creating a tattoo that has some meaning to you as each symbol in Polynesian tattoos have meaning. For more on Polynesian tattoos visit my blog post “Tahitian Body Art”