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French Polynesia (French: Polynésie française, Tahitian: Pōrīnetia Farāni) is a Frenchmarker overseas collectivity in the southern Pacific Oceanmarker. It is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahitimarker in the Society Islandsmarker group, which is also the most populous island and the seat of the capital of the territory (Papeetemarker). Although not an integral part of its territory, Clipperton Islandmarker was administered from French Polynesia until 2007.


The island groups that make up French Polynesia were not officially united until the establishment of the French protectorate in 1889. The first of these islands to be settled by indigenous Polynesians were the Marquesas Islandsmarker in AD 300 and the Society Islandsmarker in AD 800. The Polynesians were organized in loose chieftainships.

European communication began in 1521 when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sighted Pukapukamarker in the Tuamotu Archipelagomarker. Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen came across Bora Boramarker in the Society Islands in 1722, and the British explorer Samuel Wallis visited Tahitimarker in 1767. The French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville visited Tahiti in 1768, while the British explorer James Cook visited in 1769. Christian missions began with Spanish priests who stayed in Tahiti for a year from 1774; Protestants from the London Missionary Society settled permanently in Polynesia in 1797.

King Pomare II of Tahiti was forced to flee to Mooreamarker in 1803; he and his subjects were converted to Protestantism in 1812. French Catholic missionaries arrived on Tahiti in 1834; their expulsion in 1836 caused France to send a gunboat in 1838. In 1842, Tahiti and Tahuatamarker were declared a French protectorate, to allow Catholic missionaries to work undisturbed. The capital of Papeetemarker was founded in 1843. In 1880, France annexed Tahiti, changing the status from that of a protectorate to that of a colony.

In the 1880s, France claimed the Tuamotu Archipelagomarker, which formerly belonged to the Pomare dynasty, without formally annexing it. Having declared a protectorate over Tahuatu in 1842, the French regarded the entire Marquesas Islandsmarker as French. In 1885, France appointed a governor and established a general council, thus giving it the proper administration for a colony. The islands of Rimataramarker and Rurutu unsuccessfully lobbied for British protection in 1888, so in 1889 they were annexed by France. Postage stamps were first issued in the colony in 1892. The first official name for the colony was Établissements de l'Océanie (Settlements in Oceania); in 1903 the general council was changed to an advisory council and the colony's name was changed to Établissements Français de l'Océanie (French Settlements in Oceania).

In 1940 the administration of French Polynesia recognised the Free French Forces and many Polynesians served in World War II. Unknown at the time to French and Polynesians, the Konoe Cabinet in Imperial Japanmarker on September 16, 1940 included French Polynesia among the many territories which were to become Japanese possessions in the post-war world – though in the course of the war in the Pacific the Japanese were not able to launch an actual invasion of the French islands.

In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and the islands' status was changed to an overseas territory; the islands' name was changed in 1957 to Polynésie Française (French Polynesia). In 1962, France's early nuclear testing ground of Algeriamarker became independent and the Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago was selected as the new testing site; tests were conducted underground after 1974. In 1977, French Polynesia was granted partial internal autonomy; in 1984, the autonomy was extended. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2004.

In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing at Fangataufamarker atoll after a three-year moratorium. The last test was on January 27, 1996. On January 29, 1996, France announced it would accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and no longer tests nuclear weapons.


Politics of French Polynesia takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic French overseas collectivity, whereby the President of French Polynesia is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Assembly of French Polynesia (the territorial assembly).

Political life in French Polynesia has been marked by great instability since the mid-2000s. On September 14, 2007, the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru, 63, was elected president of French Polynesia for the 3rd time in 3 years (with 27 of 44 votes cast in the territorial assembly). He replaced former President Gaston Tong Sang, opposed to independence, who lost a no-confidence vote in the Assembly of French Polynesia on 31 August after the longtime former president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, hitherto opposed to independence, sided with his long enemy Oscar Temaru to topple the government of Gaston Tong Sang. Oscar Temaru, however, had no stable majority in the Assembly of French Polynesia, and new territorial elections were held in February 2008 to solve the political crisis.

The party of Gaston Tong Sang won the territorial elections, but that did not solve the political crisis: the two minority parties of Oscar Temaru and Gaston Flosse, who together have one more member in the territorial assembly than the political party of Gaston Tong Sang, allied to prevent Gaston Tong Sang from becoming president of French Polynesia. Gaston Flosse was then elected president of French Polynesia by the territorial assembly on February 23, 2008 with the support of the pro-independence party led by Oscar Temaru, while Oscar Temaru was elected speaker of the territorial assembly with the support of the anti-independence party led by Gaston Flosse. Both formed a coalition cabinet. Many observers doubted that the alliance between the anti-independence Gaston Flosse and the pro-independence Oscar Temaru, designed to prevent Gaston Tong Sang from becoming president of French Polynesia, could last very long.

At the French municipal elections held in March 2008, several prominent mayors who are member of the Flosse-Temaru coalition lost their offices in key municipalities of French Polynesia, which was interpreted as a disapproval of the way Gaston Tong Sang, whose party French Polynesian voters had placed first in the territorial elections the month before, had been prevented from becoming president of French Polynesia by the last minute alliance between Flosse and Temaru's parties. Eventually, on April 15, 2008 the government of Gaston Flosse was toppled by a constructive vote of no confidence in the territorial assembly when two members of the Flosse-Temaru coalition left the coalition and sided with Tong Sang's party. Gaston Tong Sang was elected president of French Polynesia as a result of this constructive vote of no confidence, but his majority in the territorial assembly is very narrow. He offered posts in his cabinet to Flosse and Temaru's parties which they both refused. Gaston Tong Sang has called all parties to help end the instability in local politics, a prerequisite to attract foreign investors needed to develop the local economy.

High Commission of the Republic
Despite a local assembly and government, French Polynesia is not in a free association with France, like the Cook Islandsmarker with New Zealandmarker or the Federated States of Micronesiamarker with the United Statesmarker. As a French overseas collectivity, the local government has no competence in justice, education, security and defense, directly provided and administered by the French State, the Gendarmerie and the French Military. The highest representative of the State in the territory is the High Commissioner of the Republic in French Polynesia ( ).

French Polynesia also sends two deputies to the French National Assembly, one representing the Leeward Islandsmarker administrative subdivision, the Austral Islandsmarker administrative subdivision, the commune (municipality) of Moorea-Maiaomarker, and the westernmost part of Tahitimarker (including the capital Papeetemarker), and the other representing the central and eastern part of Tahiti, the Tuamotu-Gambiermarker administrative division, and the Marquesas Islandsmarker administrative division. French Polynesia also sends one senator to the French Senatemarker.

French Polynesians vote in the French presidential elections and at the 2007 French presidential election, in which the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru openly called to vote for the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal while the parties opposed to independence generally supported the center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, the turnout in French Polynesia was 69.12% in the first round of the election and 74.67% in the second round. French Polynesians voters placed Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of Ségolène Royal in both rounds of the election (2nd round: Nicolas Sarkozy 51.9%; Ségolène Royal 48.1%).


Between 1946 and 2003, French Polynesia had the status of an overseas territory (French: territoire d'outre-mer, or TOM). In 2003 it became an overseas collectivity (French: collectivité d'outre-mer, or COM). Its statutory law of 27 February 2004 gives it the particular designation of overseas country inside the Republic ( , or POM), but without legal modification of its status.

Administrative divisions

French Polynesia has five administrative subdivisions ( ):


Map of French Polynesia

The islands of French Polynesia have a total land area of 4,167 square kilometres (1,622 sq. mi) scattered over 2,500,000 square kilometres (965,255 sq. mi) of ocean. There are around 130 islands in French Polynesia.

It is made up of six groups of islands, the largest and most populated of which is Tahitimarker.

The island groups are:

Aside from Tahitimarker, some other important atolls, islands, and island groups in French Polynesia are: Ahemarker, Bora Boramarker, Hiva `Oamarker, Huahinemarker, Maiaomarker, Maupitimarker, Mehetiamarker, Mooreamarker, Nuku Hivamarker, Raiatea, Tahaamarker, Tetiaroamarker, Tubuaimarker, and Tupaimarker.


The GDP of French Polynesia in 2006 was 5.65 billion US dollars at market exchange rates, the fifth-largest economy in Oceania after Australia, New Zealandmarker, Hawaiimarker, and New Caledoniamarker. The GDP per capita was 21,999 US dollars in 2006 (at market exchange rates, not at PPP), lower than in Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia, but higher than in all the independent insular states of Oceania.

French Polynesia has a moderately developed economy, which is dependent on imported goods, tourism, and the financial assistance of mainland France. Tourist facilities are well developed and are available on the major islands. Also, as the noni fruit from these islands is discovered for its medicinal uses, people have been able to find jobs related to this agricultural industry.

The legal tender of French Polynesia is the CFP Franc.

Agriculture: coconuts, vanilla, vegetables, fruits.

Natural resources: timber, fish, cobalt.

In 2008 French Polynesia's imports amounted to 2.2 billion US dollars and exports amounted to 0.2 billion US dollars. The major export of French Polynesia is their famous black Tahitian pearls which accounted for 55% of exports (in value) in 2008.


Tahitian girls.
Total population on January 1, 2009 was 264,000 inhabitants, up from 259,596 at the August 2007 census. At the 2007 census, 68.6% of the population of French Polynesia lived on the island of Tahitimarker alone. The urban area of Papeetemarker, the capital city, has 131,695 inhabitants (2007 census).

At the 2007 census, 87.3% of people living in French Polynesia were born in French Polynesia, 9.3% were born in metropolitan France, 1.4% were born in overseas France outside of French Polynesia, and 2.0% were born in foreign countries. At the 1988 census, the last census which asked questions regarding ethnicity, 66.5% of people were ethnically unmixed Polynesians, 7.1 % were Polynesians with light European and/or East Asian mixing, 11.9% were Europeans (mostly French), 9.3% were people of mixed European and Polynesian descent, the so-called Demis (literally meaning "Half"), and 4.7% were East Asians (mainly Chinese). The Europeans, the Demis and the East Asians are essentially concentrated on the island of Tahitimarker, particularly in the urban area of Papeetemarker, where their share of the population is thus much greater than in French Polynesia overall. Race mixing has been going on for more than a century already in French Polynesia, resulting in a rather mixed society. For example Gaston Flosse, the long-time leader of French Polynesia, is a Demi (European father from Lorrainemarker and Polynesian mother). His main opponent and former president, Gaston Tong Sang is a member of the East Asian (in his case Chinese) community. Oscar Temaru, the current president, is ethnically Polynesian (father from Tahitimarker, mother from the Cook Islandsmarker), but he has admitted to also have Chinese ancestry.

Despite a long tradition of race mixing, racial tensions have been growing in recent years, with politicians using a xenophobic discourse and fanning the flame of racial tensions. The pro-independence politicians have long pointed the finger at the European community (Oscar Temaru, pro-independence leader and former president of French Polynesia, was for example found guilty of "racial discrimination" by the criminal court of Papeete in 2007 for having referred to the Europeans living in French Polynesia as "trash", "waste"). More recently, the Chinese community which controls many businesses in French Polynesia has been targeted in verbal attacks by the newly allied Gaston Flosse and Oscar Temaru in their political fight against Gaston Tong Sang, whose Chinese origins they emphasize in contrast with their Polynesian origins, despite the fact that they both have mixed origins (European and Polynesian for Flosse; Polynesian and Chinese for Temaru). In April 2008, after the government of Gaston Flosse was toppled in the Assembly of French Polynesia and Gaston Tong Sang became the new president of French Polynesia, two French Polynesian labor union leaders made anti-Chinese remarks ("I'm not hiding from the fact that I wouldn't like our country to be ruled by someone who's not a Polynesian"; "a Chinese only thinks of the business leaders, because he is a businessman"). These anti-Chinese remarks caused a political furor and were widely condemned in French Polynesia.

Historical population

1907 1911 1921 1926 1931 1936 1941 1946 1951 1956
30,600 31,900 31,600 35,900 40,400 44,000 51,200 58,200 63,300 76,323
1962 1971 1977 1983 1988 1996 2002 2007 2009
84,551 119,168 137,382 166,753 188,814 219,521 245,516 259,596 264,000
Official figures from past censuses.


Cemetery in the Tuamotus
French is the official language of French Polynesia. An organic law of April 12, 1996 states that "French is the official language, Tahitian and other Polynesian languages can be used." At the 2007 census, among the population whose age was 15 and older, 68.5% of people reported that the language they speak the most at home is French, 29.9% reported that the language they speak the most at home is any of the Polynesian languages (four-fifth of which Tahitian), 1.0% reported a Chinese language (half of which Hakka), and 0.6% another language. At the same census, 94.7% of people whose age was 15 or older reported that they could speak, read and write French, whereas only 2.0% reported that they had no knowledge of French. 74.6% of people whose age was 15 or older reported that they could speak, read and write one of the Polynesian languages, whereas 13.6% reported that they had no knowledge of any of the Polynesian languages.


Christianity is the main religion of the islands, a majority (54%) belonging to various Protestant churches and a large minority (30%) being Roman Catholic.


While most major roads are paved and well-maintained, many secondary roads are not. Traffic is brisk and all types of vehicles and pedestrians jockey for space on narrow streets. Crosswalks are marked and the law requires that motor vehicles stop for pedestrians; however, this is not always done. Tourists should exercise caution when driving, particularly at night.

There are 51 airports in French Polynesia, 39 are paved. [1322]

Famous people of French Polynesia


French Polynesia came to the forefront of the world music scene in 1992, with the release of The Tahitian Choir's recordings of unaccompanied vocal Christian music called himene tārava, recorded by French musicologist Pascal Nabet-Meyer. This form of singing is common in French Polynesia and the Cook Islandsmarker, and is distinguished by a unique drop in pitch at the end of the phrases, which is a characteristic formed by several different voices; it is also accompanied by steady grunting of staccato, nonsensical syllables.

Miscellaneous topics

French Polynesia has one of the lowest crime rates within France and its territories. However, petty crime, such as pickpocketing and purse snatching, occurs.

Medical treatment is generally good on the major islands, but is limited in areas that are more remote or less/sparsely populated. Patients with emergencies or with serious illnesses are often referred to facilities on Tahiti for treatment. In Papeetemarker, the capital of Tahiti, two major hospitals as well as several private clinics provide 24-hour medical service. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.

As an overseas territory of France, defence and law-enforcement are provided by the French Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force) and Gendarmerie.

Charles Darwin visited French Polynesia on his five year trip around the world. PDF file of his journal


Image:Moorea baie cook.JPG|Baie de Cook in MooreamarkerImage:Bora-Bora.png|Mont Otemanu in Bora-BoramarkerImage:Îles Gambier image satellite.jpg|Satellite view of the Iles GambiermarkerImage:Plage.sable.noir.Tahiti.JPG|Black sand beach in TahitimarkerImage:Mooreamotu766.jpg|Motu Tiahura, MooreamarkerImage:Fakarava-ponton-rotoava.jpg|Fakaravamarker lagoonImage:HivaOa BaieDesTraitres 20061110.jpg|Baie des traîtres, Hiva `OamarkerImage:Présidence.Papeete.JPG|Presidence of the Government (Papeetemarker)Image:Mangareva.jpg|MangarevaImage:Hotelhibiscus1.jpg|Bungalows of Hôtel Hibiscus, Hauru Point, MooreamarkerImage:Matira Beach, Bora Bora, French Polynesia.jpg|Plage de Marita, Bora BoramarkerImage:Bora-bora_from_air.jpg|Bora Bora from the airImage:Haut commissariat Papeete.JPG|High Commissionership of the Republic (Papeetemarker)Image:Polynesia Tahiti Tautira.JPG|TahitimarkerImage:Paul Gauguin 056.jpg|Tahitian women on the beach, by Paul Gauguin (1891)Image:Boraboraluft gerade.jpg|Bora BoramarkerImage:PolinesiamooreaY7 bordercropped.jpg|Sunrise over MooreamarkerImage:Borabora Tahaa Raiatea.jpg|Bora Boramarker, Tahaamarker and Raiatea from spaceImage:Polynesia Tahiti iti beach.jpg|Black sand beach, Tahitimarker

See also


  1. The Japanese claim to the French Pacific islands, along with many other vast territories, appears in the September 16, 1940, "Sphere of survival for the Establishment of a New Order in Greater East Asia by Imperial Japan", published in 1955 by Japan's Foreign Ministry as part of the two-volume "Chronology and major documents of Diplomacy of Japan 1840-1945" - here quoted from "Interview with Tetsuzo Fuwa: Japan's War: History of Expansionism", Japan Press Service, July 2007
  2. BBC NEWS, French Polynesia gets new leader
  3. Polynésie : Gaston Flosse présente un gouvernement d’union
  4. Kingfisher Geography Encyclopedia. ISBN: 1-85613-582-9. Page 546
  5. Flosse s'efface après 20 ans de règne sur la Polynésie
  6. Victoire de Gaston Tong Sang
  7. Portrait du Président Oscar Manutahi TEMARU
  8. Logiques « autonomiste » et « indépendantiste » en Polynésie française
  9. Temaru-Flosse: le rebond du nationalisme tahitien
  10. Temaru Found Guilty Of "Racial Discrimination"
  11. Politique : Toujours pas de gouvernement
  12. Anti-Chinese Remarks Cause A Political Furor
  13. Propos "anti-chinois": les réactions se multiplient
  14. 2002 census
  15. 1971, 1977, 1983, 1988, and 1996 censuses
  16. Censuses from 1907 to 1962 in Population, 1972, #4-5, pp. 705-706, published by INED


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