With summer in full swing, many of us are drawn to beaches, sun and sand. This article features Monoi Tiare (also called Monoi de Tahiti), the fabulous Tahitian oil featured in intoxicating soaps, shampoos, conditioners, oils and even styling pomades -- all designed to protect the hair and skin from the ravages of salt water, overexposure to sunlight and everyday dryness we curly tops are all too familiar with.
What is Monoi Tiare?
Monoi (pronounced moh-noy) means scented oil in the R’eo-Maohi language. Tiare (pronounced tee-ray) refers to the gardenia with the Latin botanical name Gardenia Tahitensis. Gardenia Taitensis is native to the highland shores of Melanesia and Western Polynesia. It is an aboriginal introduction to the Cook Islands, French Polynesia and possibly Hawai’i.
Tiare is considered the queen of Polynesian flowers, and its delicate perfume is akin to the heady scent of tuberose or other species of gardenia. The flower is pure white, shaped like a pinwheel and set off by dark green. shiny foliage. A member of the fragrant family Rubiaceae, tiare grows on a small 4-meter shrub and it is nontoxic. Traditionally it is used in leis and placed behind the ears of vahines (Tahitian women) and tane (men).
Monoi Tiare is exotic, aromatic oil created by soaking the tiare (Gardenia Tahitensis) flower in carefully refined coconut oil. Typically the male plants are cultivated and utilized to create the scented oil since they produce profuse flowers.
Coconut oil is the foundation of Monoi Tiare. It is excellent carrier oil useful for dry, itchy and sensitive skin. Carrier oil is the vehicle oil to which other more precious oils are typically added in much smaller amounts (for example essential oils). Coconut oil is easily absorbed and astringent -- thus, it doesn’t clog pores.
Genuine Monoi Tiare must have the label "Appellation d’origine," which specifies that a minimum of 15 tiare flowers are soaked in each liter of refined coconut oil. Monoi Tiare products with “appellation d’origine,” are authentic, and the designation is only granted to the finest products with a guarantee of superior-grade products. Appellation d’origine contributes to fair-trade and local money-making enterprises of Tahitians and other groups. It recognizes local traditions and customs involved with preparing Monoi Taire. Finally, buying Monoi Tiare products with Appellation d’origine means you are purchasing cosmetics that are richly imbued with the unique qualities of regional soil of the atolls, islands and archipelagos that yield the ingredients for the scented oil.
Monoi Tiare in Polynesian Tradition and Lore
Monoi is a traditional natural remedy beloved by various groups of Polynesians. Monoi is a very popular remedy in Polynesian traditional medicine. It is one of the main substances in French Polynesia’s traditional pharmacopoeia. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including earaches, migraine and headaches, mosquito bites, joint and muscular pain.
It has been important in ceremony and ritual as well. Monoi is traditionally used in religious rites and ceremonies that take place in “maraes,” an open-air consecrated stone temple. Maori priests of New Zealand in traditional ceremonial attire use Monoi to anoint sacred objects and to purify the offerings placed on the stone altars to honor various deities.
The flower is important at the inception of life, following one through life’s passages. The entire bodies of newborn babies are traditionally slathered with Monoi oil. During traditional funerals the body of the deceased is embalmed and perfumed with Monoi to ease passage to the next life. It is an essential element of a rich culture, and the flower that scents the coconut oil creating Monoi Tiare is the national flower and emblem of Tahiti.