Careful, things are going to get very hot! Welcome to the mystical and fascinating world of umu ti, firewalking in The Islands of Tahiti. An extraordinary ritual that is a mixture of courage, tradition and festive spirit. This captivating ceremony is one of the emblematic rituals of Polynesian culture. Take a closer look at this ancestral ceremony, but be careful, you might get burned!
Imagine walking across red hot stones, heated by the burning embers of aito fir tree logs, driven by an energy that comes from the earth and connects you to the very essence of what it means to be a Tahitian. A seemingly impossible feat designed to test your interior strength and capacity to overcome any challenge.
A bold challenge: walking on red hot volcanic stones
The ritual of firewalking in The Islands of Tahiti dates from many centuries ago. It was intended to put the participant’s courage and purity of spirit to the test. During ceremonial displays where the general public is invited to take part, the stones aren’t heated too much, to avoid accidents. The firewalkers can cross them without danger, and the secret, as in life, is ‘don’t look back!’ Take the first step and then keep going until you reach your goal!
The firewalkers are guided by a Tahua, the master of ceremonies. Assisted by his disciples, he prepares each individual for his own personal challenge. Before the firewalking can begin, there are prayers and traditional singing and dancing to sanctify the ceremony and the place. It is a mystical and spiritual ceremony that had an important role in the ancestral ma’ohi culture of The Islands of Tahiti.
“Fire is a destructive element of change that can have positive effects on a man.” Tahua Raymond Teriierooiterai Graffe
A festive and joyful ceremony
Organized in June and early July, the umu ti signals the start of the heiva. The ceremony is orchestrated by a tahua, a Tahitian priest. Raymond Graffe is a well-known figure in the world of firewalking and tattooing. Having isolated himself in the mountains in order to be spiritually prepared, the priest oversees the digging of a long trench that is filled with dry wood, coconut palms and volcanic stones. The fire is lit and left to burn for 24 to 48 hours, until the stones are red hot. Then the ceremony can commence. After a series of incantations, the priest invites volunteers to walk across the stones as an act of purification of the body and soul.
Firewalking isn’t just a test of courage, it is also an occasion for amusement and celebration. Having walked across the red hot stones, the participants gather together to celebrate and share their moment of success. Music, dancing and food are all part of the ceremony. You can watch a firewalking display by Marquesan warriors at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort & Spa as part of an evening of traditional entertainment.