Tahitian Himene Tarava

When Christian missionaries arrived in French Polynesia several centuries ago, most considered the music as primitive and too seductive in nature; colonial authorities regularly banned much Polynesian music, replacing it with hymns and other forms of “more appropriate” songs. French Polynesians took quickly to Christian music, called “himene” (hymns), and by the early 20th century several types of himene had developed. For example, “himene tarava” features a large choir — up to 80 singers — composed of men and women who sing in complicated multi-part, multi-tone harmonies. According to National Geographic’s writing on the music of Tahiti, “this form of singing…is distinguished by a unique drop in pitch at the end of the phrases, which is a characteristic formed by several different voices; it is also accompanied by steady grunting of staccato, nonsensical syllables.”

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