Who We Are:
Vairea's seafaring ancestors left major regions such as Apia (Samoa) & Tongareva (the Cook Islands) to start families across the territory known today as French Polynesia (specifically Rurutu, Maupiti, Tubuai & Kaukura: the islands where her 4 grandparents were born). Her link to modern day 'ori Tahiti can be traced back to both her paternal grandfather: Adorator "Ato" Tupana & her maternal grandfather: Teaia Naea. Both men were Ra'atira (group leaders) of their own traditional Polynesian dance troupes.
Vairea’s paternal grandfather is Adorator “Ato” Tupana. After his second marriage to Vairea’s grandmother Tehinaoimihia Hauata from Tubuai, the two settled on Manihi in the Vahitu region of the Tuamotu islands & had 7 children. It was here that Ato was endorsed by the island's mairie (city hall) to create a delegation & pupu ‘ori called “Turipā’ō’ā”, in which he was the Ra’atira (leader). He was well respected for organizing the first major voyage for Manihi drummers & athletes to travel to Tahiti in the 1960’s for the Tiurai competition (previous name of Heiva i Tahiti). It was here, Ato Tupana claimed a name for himself by becoming the champion of the “Pati’a Fa” spear throwing sport as well as his trademark sound on the “Ha’akete Punu” drum.
Left: a photo of Ato Tupana, grandfather of Vairea.
Right: (holding photo) - Philippe Tane Tupana, father of Vairea.
Vairea’s maternal grandfather Teaia Naea was born on Rurutu but spent a lot of time between both his island home & in Tahiti. During his time spent in Tahiti in the mid-1950’s, he was one of the Tō'ere drummers for Madeleine Moua & her legendary troupe HEIVA. He & his drummers were victorious in the Tiurai (previous name of Heiva i Tahiti) winning the award for "Best Orchestra" several times. Later on, he moved to the island of Makatea to work with his father & brother. There, he was Ra'atira of his own pupu ‘ori “Tamariki Makatea”, which he co-founded with his brother. As a result, dancing and drumming was highly encouraged by Teaia & his wife Haupea Tauaroa, as they raised their 8 children back & forth between Faa’a Puurai in Tahiti & Auti district in Rurutu.
Teaia Naea, with his group leader Madeleine Moua
Dance & Language
Vairea was born in 1988 right in Pape'ete: the capital of French Polynesia. At age 3, Vairea's parents placed her into her first 'ori Tahiti children's group in Punaauia where she was introduced to the dance of her ancestors. Around the age of 12 & into her lycee years, she had participated every year with her church's Tahitian dance group in Pa’ofa’i & learned directly from many of her relatives of whom are renowned dance masters. At age 18 (in 2007), she left home to tour the Marquesan Islands with her older brother Hamautea dancing for the group Tamariki Oparo (under the direction of Pierrot Faraire). However, 2009 was her landmark year, as she & her mother participated together in Vairea's 1st Heiva i Tahiti at the To'atā stage with the innovative KEI TAWHITI. Since then, Vairea has continued to participate in the Heiva every year. If she is not on the dance floor as a "feia 'ori" (dancer), she is part of one of the group's costume making teams working alongside her mother & sister.
Vairea's love for her culture comes directly from her immediate family & their lifestyle. Reo Tahiti was taught to her as her 1st language. French came 2nd. Being raised by her mother's side & going to Rurutu every year, Vairea quickly became fluent in the Rurutu dialect, which is subtly different than Tahitian. With the birth of her niece in 2009, she also quickly learned the distinct dialect from Rapa-iti & before leaving Tahiti in 2017, Vairea was working for many years to learn ‘eo Enana (the Marquesan language) from a few of her close colleagues.
Mom & Dad
Vairea's father, Philippe "Tāne" Tupana was born on Manihi island. Growing up, he was Vairea's main influence to learn Tahitian music. He taught her every song he knew on the keyboard & guitar. In addition, he taught Vairea the Pa'umotu importance of canoeing, something he & she still love to practice together when she is home in Tahiti.
Her mother Fabiola Naea (Madame Tupana, current President of the Federation Faa'a i Te Rima Ve'ave'a), still actively dances, sings & plays the Ukulele when she is not busy with her traditional crafts. In her youth, Fabiola danced for her family’s group Tauraatua. Since the early 2000’s she has served several times as Vice President for Tōmite Tahiti i Te Rima Rau, the major traditional arts committee of whom bi-annually hosts the HEIVA RIMA'I (official Heiva for the traditional handcrafts & tattooing in both July & December).
At the end of 2001, Vairea worked diligently with her mother to establish their own association & shop at Faa'a City Hall, "Heituitevaianitea", which is on its 20th anniversary strong to this day. Being a craftswoman, designer & composer adds to a long list of pillars which lay the foundation for Vairea's identity as a Vahine Mā'ohi; she often places great importance to live with her passion + cultural heritage on a daily basis - & for this she credits her mother & father .
Fabiola Naea Tupana with Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, Minister of Culture (French Polynesia)
Vairea & Ryan
In 2015, Vairea met the love of her life: Ryan Samn. Ryan was already a student of ‘ori Tahiti (Tahitian dance) in the United States for several years & in 2013 was the 1st American male dancer to represent the legendary HEIKURA NUI at the Heiva i Tahiti. In 2015, he was sent to live in Faa’a Pamatai as an apprentice Ra'atira to master orator Gerard Tepehu. Gerard brought Ryan to dance in the Heiva i Tahiti with him again, this time with the troupe Tefana i Ahura’i. Here, Ryan & Vairea were paired as Pā’ō’ā dance partners. They fell madly in love. Out of this connection, a mutual passion to grow as cultural practitioners kept them close in contact & as their relationship bloomed, so did the creation of their family. In 2017, Vairea immigrated to the U.S. to live with her husband. Today, they are situated in the San Francisco Bay Area with their two sons. Although she is far from her island home, Vairea continues to perpetuate her culture. Tānera'i i Ni'a has become a bridge that links folks in the United States to the true Mā'ohi culture, languages & design as a reflection of the Tahitian culture that also grows outside of French Polynesia.
Ryan Samn (left) with his mentor Gerard Tepehu (right).
Picture taken during the Heiva i Tahiti 2016, which was
Ryan & Gerard's 3rd time doing the Heiva together.
Although Gerard had many students both young & old,
Ryan was his only foreign apprentice to learn the
'orero (traditional Tahitian oratory arts). Sadly, Gerard
passed away in February of 2017.