Marquesas: Hiva Oa

Hiva Oa is the second largest of the Marquesas Islands, which comprise a portion of French Polynesia. The islands’ religion says that the Gods created them as their home; each island name is related to the building of a house. “Hiva Oa” translates to “long ridgepole.” Inhabitants of Hiva Oa speak the southern Marquesan language as well as French.


Two celebrated Europeans, Jacques Brel and Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin, are buried on the island. The former was a Belgian, Gallic singer-songwriter, who later inspired artists like David Bowie and John Denver. Brel stumbled upon Hiva Oa as part of a sailing journey, deciding to live out his life there after finding out that he was considerably ill. Although he passed away in France, his body was flown back to the island to be buried. Gauguin was a French post-impressionist who spent the last ten years of his life painting the people and landscapes of the island.