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Monoi Oil from Tahiti

By Andrew Burgon / phoenix@projectfellowship.com
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December 16, 2013

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Captain James Cook (1728-1779)  *oil on canvas  *127 x 101.6 cm  *1775-1776

Monoi Oil: An Integral Part of Polynesia’s Traditions and Culture

Monoi oil is a scented oil made from soaking the petals of Tiare flowers in unrefined coconut oil for several days. It has played an important role in the Polynesians’ long standing traditions and culture. Many Tahitians rub it on their skin for both medical and beauty care on a daily basis. It’s use can be traced back 2000 years to the Maori tribes of New Zealand.

Captain James Cook first arrived in Tahiti on the HMS Endeavour in 1769. He made a second trip a few years later. He mentioned in his log the Tahitian’s use of manoi oil for medicinal, cosmetic and religious purposes.

He described the islanders as “very cleanly people both in their persons and diet, always washing before and after meals and bathing in fresh water three times a day; and they anoint themselves with monoi, as they call it, this is made of coconut oil in which some sweet herbs or flowers are infused.

It was used in their lives from the time they were born till just after their death. Newborns had it applied to their bodies to keep them from dehydrating in hot weather. When a person died, their body was embalmed and perfumed with manoi oil to help facilitate their journey into the afterlife.

Monoi Oil in Traditional Medicine

In traditional medicine, it was a popular remedy to soothe a variety of ailments such as earaches, headaches and mosquito bites. It was also used in therapeutic massages to help relax and soothe the muscles as well as the mind.

Monoi Oil in Ritual Ceremonies

The ancient Tahitians were polytheists meaning they worshiped a number of gods. Chief among these stood Taaroa, the supreme creator god.

Priests would conduct their cermonies and rituals on ancient temples called ‘maraes’ built of stone. During elaborate religious ceremonies they used a chant to invoke the presence of the gods. Calling them down to inhabit carved tikis or other objects.

These gods were then asked to influence events such as the quality of harvests, victories against enemies or plentiful fishing. Also, to give the people “mana.” That is, the divine strength from which they derived health, fertility, power and authority.

They believed that making acceptable offerings to the gods was necessary to win their favor. So they purified not only these offerings with manoi oil but the sacred objects in the ritual as well.

Extraordinary Mariners Use of Monoi Oil

The Polynesian’s from ancient times showed remarkable endurance in crossing thousands of miles of ocean. They travelled in large, double-hulled canoes that could hold many people, animals and plants.

They navigated by the stars, the wind, the clouds, the shape of the waves and the flight patterns of birds.

Sometime after manoi oil was invented they used it to cover the exposed parts of their body to help protect them from the cold, harsh winds and the salt water.

General Uses of Monoi Oil Today

Skin Moisturizer

Monoi oil is used as a moisturizer and bath oil. It massages quickly into the skin, making it soft and supple and enveloping you in a sweet frangrance of island flowers.

Hair Conditioner

Monoi oil is suitable for conditioning dry hair giving it a nice body and sheen.

Dark Tanning Oil

It can be used as a dark tanning oil helping you to speed up the tanning process. As the skin absorbs it, you won’t feel oily or greasy. Applying it on after being out in the sun will help protect your skin against dryness and peeling.
 
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