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Tahiti is the largest island in the Windwardmarker group of French Polynesiamarker, located in the archipelago of Society Islandsmarker in the southern Pacific Oceanmarker. The island has a population of 178,133 according to an August 2007 census. This makes it the most populous island of French Polynesiamarker, accounting for 68.6% of the total population. The capital, Papeetemarker, is located on the northwest coast. Tahiti has also been known as O'tahiti.


Tahiti-Moorea map
Districts of Tahiti

Tahiti measures 45 km across at its widest point and covers an area of 1,045 km2 , with a maximum elevation of 2,241 m (Mount Orohenamarker). Mont Roonui in the southeast rises to 1,332 m. The island consists of two roughly round portions centered on volcanic mountains, connected by a short isthmus named after the small town of Taravao located there. The northwestern portion is known as Tahiti Nui ("big Tahiti"), while the much smaller southeastern portion is known as Tahiti Iti ("small Tahiti") or Taiarapu. Tahiti Nui is heavily populated along the coast (especially around Papeetemarker) and benefits from roads and highways. The interior of Tahiti Nui is almost entirely uninhabited. Tahiti Iti has remained isolated, as its southeastern half (Te Pari) is accessible only to those traveling by boat or on foot. The rest of the island is encircled by a main road which cuts between the mountains and the sea. An interior road climbs past dairy farms and citrus groves with panoramic views. Tahiti's landscape features lush rain forests and many swift streams, including the Papenoo in the north.

November to April is the wet season, the wettest month of which is January with 13.2 inches (335 mm) of rain in Papeete. August is the driest with 1.9 inches (48 mm). The average temperature ranges between 70 °F (21 °C) and 88 °F (31 °C) with little seasonal variation. The lowest and highest temperatures recorded in Papeete are 61 °F (16 °C) and 93 °F (34 °C), respectively.


Tahiti is estimated to have been settled between AD 300 and 800 by Polynesians, although some estimates place the date earlier. The fertile soil combined with fishing provided food.

Although the first European sighting of the islands was by a Spanishmarker ship in 1606, Spain made no effort to trade with or colonise the island. Samuel Wallis, an Englishmarker sea captain, sighted Tahiti on 18 June 1767, and is considered the first European visitor. The relaxed and contented nature of the people and the characterisation of the island as a paradise impressed early Europeans, planting the seed for a romanticisation by the West that endures to this day.

Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the Frenchmarker explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, completing the first French circumnavigation. Bougainville made Tahiti famous in Europe when he published Voyage autour du monde. He described the island as an earthly paradise where men and women live happily in innocence, away from the corruption of civilization. His account illustrated the concept of the noble savage, and influenced utopian thoughts of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the French Revolution.

In April 1769 Captain James Cook visited the island on secret orders from the Lords of the Admiralty to view the Transit of Venus on 2 June. He set up camp at Matavai Bay and stayed on until 9 August. The population was estimated to be 50,000 including all the nearby islands in the chain. After Cook, European ships landed with greater frequency. The best-known was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied after leaving Tahiti in 1789. The European influence disrupted traditional society, bringing prostitution, venereal disease, alcohol, and Christianity. The London Missionary Society, founded in 1795, instructed its Tahitian missionaries to intervene in what they saw as wretched conditions and demonic influence. Introduced diseases including typhus, influenza and smallpox killed so many Tahitians that by 1797, the population was only 16,000. Later it was to drop as low as 6,000.

In 1839 the island was visited by the United States Exploring Expedition; one of its members, Alfred Thomas Agate, produced a number of sketches of Tahitian life, some of which were later published in the United Statesmarker.In the same year, between the 15 and 19 November, it was visited by HMS Beagle on her circumnavigation, captained by Robert FitzRoy and carrying Charles Darwin as a passenger.

In 1842, a European crisis involving Moroccomarker escalated between Francemarker and Great Britainmarker when Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting independently of the French government, convinced Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV to accept a French protectorate. George Pritchard, a Birminghammarker-born missionary and acting British Consul, had been away at the time. However he returned to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French. In November 1843, Dupetit-Thouars (again on his own initiative) landed sailors on the island, annexing it to France. He then threw Pritchard into prison, subsequently sending him back to Britain.

News of Tahiti reached Europe in early 1844. The French statesman François Guizot, supported by King Louis-Philippe of France, had denounced annexation of the island. However, war between the French and the Tahitians continued until 1847. The island remained a French protectorate until June 29, 1880, when King Pomare V (1842–1891) was forced to cede the sovereignty of Tahiti and its dependencies to France. He was given the titular position of Officer of the Orders of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit of France. In 1946, Tahiti and the whole of French Polynesia became a Territoire d'outre-mer (French overseas territory). Tahitians were granted French citizenship, a right that had been campaigned for by nationalist leader Marcel Pouvana'a A Oopa for many years. In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of Collectivité d'outre-mer (French overseas community).

French painter Paul Gauguin lived on Tahiti in the 1890s and painted many Tahitian subjects. Papeari has a small Gauguin museum.

During the First World War, the Papeetemarker region of the island was attacked by two Germanmarker warships. A Frenchmarker gunboat was sunk in the harbor and the two German warships bombarded the colony.


Tahitians are French citizens with nearly full civil and political rights. French is the official language but the Tahitian language and the French language are both in use.

Tahiti is part of French Polynesia. French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous territory of France with its own assembly, president, budget and laws. France's influence is limited to subsidies, education and security. The former President of French Polynesia, Oscar Temaru, advocates full independence from France. However, only about 20% of the population is in favour.

During a press conference on June 26, 2006 during the second France-Oceania Summit, French President Jacques Chirac said he did not think the majority of Tahitians wanted independence. He would keep an open door to a possible referendum in the future.

Elections for the Assembly of French Polynesiamarker, the Territorial Assembly of French Polynesia, were held on May 23, 2004 (see French Polynesian legislative election, 2004).In a surprise result, Oscar Temaru's pro-independence progressive coalition formed a Government with a one-seat majority in the 57-seat parliament, defeating the conservative party led by Gaston Flosse (see also List of political parties in French Polynesia). On October 8, 2004, Flosse succeeded in passing a censure motion against the Government, provoking a crisis. A controversy is whether the national government of France should use its power to call for new elections in a local government in case of a political crisis.


The people are of Polynesian (Pacific Islander) ancestry, so-called Demis, as well as of European ancestry and the people of East Asian (essentially Chinese) ancestry are concentrated in Tahiti, making up a larger share of the population in Tahiti than in French Polynesia overall (see Demographics section at French Polynesiamarker). Most people from metropolitan France live in Papeetemarker and its suburbs, notably Punaauiamarker where they make up almost 20% of the population.

Two Tahitian girls with a hibiscus flower

Historical population

1767 1797 1848 1897 1911 1921 1926 1931 1936 1941
50,000 Robert C. Schmitt in Population Trends in Hawaii and French Polynesia to
16,000 8,600 10,750 11,800 11,700 14,200 16,800 19,000 23,100
1951 1956 1962 1971 1977 1983 1988 1996 2002 2007
30,500 38,100 45,400 79,494 95,604 115,820 131,309 150,721 169,674 178,133
Official figures from past censuses.

Tahitian coast
Tourism is a significant industry, mostly to the islands of Bora Boramarker and Mooreamarker. In July, the Heiva festival in Papeete celebrates Polynesian culture and the commemoration of the storming of the Bastillemarker in Paris.

After the establishment of the CEP (Centre d'Experimentation du Pacifique) in 1963, the standard of living in French Polynesia increased considerably and many Polynesians abandoned traditional activities and many emigrated to the centre at Papeete. Even though the standard of living is elevated (due mainly to France's FDI investment), the economy is reliant on imports. At the cessation of CEP activities, France signed the Progress Pact with Tahiti to compensate the loss of financial resources and assist in education and tourism with an investment of about US$150 million a year from the beginning of 2006. The main trading partners are Francemarker for about 40% of imports and about 25% of exports, the other ports that are traded with are in USAmarker, Japanmarker, Australia and New Zealandmarker.
Black pearl farming is also a substantial source of revenues, most of the pearls being exported to Japanmarker, Europe and the USmarker. Tahiti also exports vanilla, fruits, flowers, monoi, fish, copra oil, and noni.

Unemployment affects about 13% of the active population, especially women and unqualified young people.

Tahiti’s currency, the French Pacific Franc (CFP, also known as XPF), is pegged to the Euro at 1 CFP = EUR .00838 (approx. 81 CFP to the US Dollar in January 2008). Hotels and financial institutions offer exchange services.

There is no sales tax in Tahiti. However, a 2% reduced rate Value Added Tax (VAT) applies to rented accommodation (hotel rooms, pensions and family stays), and room and meal packages for tourists. A 4% rate applies to purchases in shops, stores and boutiques. A 6% rate applies to bars, excursions, car rentals, snacks and restaurants.


Tahiti hosts a French university, the University of French Polynesia. It is a growing university, with 2,000 students and 60 researchers. Many courses are available such as law, commerce, science and literature.


Tahitian training a ʻupaʻupa dance
One of the most widely recognised images of the islands is the world famous Tahitian dance. The ʻōteʻa, sometimes written as otea, is a traditional dance from Tahiti, where the dancers, standing in several rows, execute different figures. This dance, easily recognized by its "fast hip-shaking," and "grass skirts" is often confused with the Hawaiian hula, a generally slower more graceful dance which focuses more on the hands and story telling than the hips.

The ʻōteʻa is one of the few dances which already existed in pre-European times as a male dance. On the other hand, the hura (Tahitian vernacular for hula), a dance for women, has disappeared, and the couple's dance ʻupaʻupa is likewise gone but may have reemerged as the tāmūrē. Nowadays, however, the ʻōteʻa can be danced by men (ʻōteʻa tāne), by women (ʻōteʻa vahine), or by both genders (ʻōteʻa ʻāmui = united ʻō.). The dance is with music only, drums, but no singing. The drum can be one of the different types of the tōʻere, a laying log of wood with a longitudinal slit, which is struck by one or two sticks. Or it can be the pahu, the ancient Tahitian standing drum covered with a shark skin and struck by the hands or with sticks. The rhythm from the tōʻere is fast, from the pahu it is slower. A smaller drum, the faʻatētē, can also be used.

The dancers make gestures, reenacting daily occupations of life. For the men the themes can be chosen from warfare or sailing, and then they may use spears or paddles. For women the themes are closer to home or from nature, combing their hair, or the flight of a butterfly for example. But also more elaborate themes can be chosen, for example one where the dancers end up in a map of Tahiti, highlighting important places. In a proper ʻōteʻa the story of the theme should pervade the whole dance.


Rugby union is a popular sport in Tahiti.


Faa'a International Airportmarker is the international airport of Tahiti with Air Tahiti Nui being the national airline while Air Tahiti is the main airline for inter-island flights.The Moorea Ferry is also a notable ferry that operates from Papeete. There are also several ferries that transport people and goods throughout the islands.

See also


[10186], the French Polynesian webtv

External links

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