The tifaifai is one of the flagships of traditional Polynesian handicraft. There’s not a family inFrench Polynesia that doesn’t have at least one of these works of art spread out on a sofa or bed. Take one home with you to add a splash of exotic Polynesian color to your bedroom or your baby’s crib. It will soon become a cherished souvenir of your visit to The Islands of Tahiti.
The traditional tifaifai is a handsewn bedspread and is an integral part of the culture of French Polynesia. Local craftswomen use colorful and lively designs to make these textiles, which are veritable works of art. For many years, they were made for members of the family, or close friends, but their beauty and utility meant that they were much sought after. The craftswomen of the islands now sell them in markets and shops all over French Polynesia.
A mosaic of fabrics and designs
The tifaifai, or handsewn quilt, is a universally popular piece of bedlinen in French Polynesia. Every family has at least one! You can’t miss their bright colors suspended from rails in markets, boutiques and craft fairs all over The Islands of Tahiti, and like so many other visitors to our islands, you’ll probably want to take one home with you. The colorful designs of flowers, leaves and fruits, will add an exotic touch of the South Seas to your interior decoration.
Keeping you warm at night, covering a drab sofa with a splash of bright color, or serving as a blanket for a picnic in the park, a tifaifai will transport you back to the beauty scenery of The Islands of Tahiti. Each design evokes a story, a legend or an important symbol in Polynesian culture. Some of them even have a tiki statues representing the gods, hidden in the design, and giving it a subtle mystical dimension.
A patchwork of Polynesian art
The traditional tifaifai is handsewn and takes months to complete. This painstaking work is done by the beloved Polynesian māmā (mothers). The result is a bedspread that is a work of art, made with patience, skill and a lot of love. Indeed, an important part of the traditional wedding ceremony in Tahiti is when the couple is enveloped in a tifaifai to ensure fertility and longevity. A tifaifai is also a much appreciated gift for special occasions.
Polynesians are extremely proud of their tifaifai. Like the tapa cloth made from the bark of mulberry trees is considered a product of the Marquesas Islands, so the tifaifai is above all associated with the Austral Islands. During the Tere Matahiti procession to ring in the new year, families display their most beautiful quilts for all to see. The māmā of Rurutu, Tubuai, Rimatara, Raivavae and Rapa are veritable haute couture fashion designers!
Where to buy a tīfaifai in The Islands of Tahiti?
On the island of Tahiti, you can find a tīfaifai at the Papeete Market. Don’t hesitate to head upstairs too, to take a look at the craft stores. Throughout the year, various cultural fairs and exhibitions take place in Papeete, most often at the Parc-expo de Mamao, near Place To’ata or in the hall of the Assembly of French Polynesia. You’ll also be able to see the work of local artisans. If you’re traveling outside Tahiti, you should know that most other islands have a fare artisanat or craft center. Don’t hesitate to visit one to find what you’re looking for.