Tahiti is the largest
island in the Windward group of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean.
The island has a population of 178,133
according to an August 2007 census. This makes it the most populous island of
for 68.6% of the total population. The capital, Papeete, is located
on the northwest coast.
Tahiti has also been known as
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
Districts of Tahiti
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
("big Tahiti"), while the much smaller
southeastern portion is known as Tahiti Iti
Tahiti") or Taiarapu
. Tahiti Nui is heavily populated
along the coast (especially around Papeete) and
benefits from roads and highways.
The interior of Tahiti
is almost entirely uninhabited. Tahiti Iti
remained isolated, as its southeastern half (Te Pari
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
, although some estimates
place the date earlier. The fertile soil combined with fishing
the first European sighting of the islands
was by a Spanish ship in
1606, Spain made no effort to trade with or colonise the
island. Samuel Wallis,
an English sea captain,
sighted Tahiti on 18 June 1767, and is considered the first
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
followed in April 1768 by the French explorer
Bougainville, completing the first French
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
thoughts of philosophers such as
the French Revolution
In April 1769 Captain James Cook
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
, whose crew mutinied after leaving Tahiti in
1789. The European influence disrupted traditional society,
, venereal disease
, and Christianity
. The London Missionary Society
in 1795, instructed its Tahitian missionaries to intervene in what
they saw as wretched conditions and demonic influence. Introduced
diseases including typhus
killed so many Tahitians that by 1797, the population was only
16,000. Later it was to drop as low as 6,000.
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
In the same year, between the 15 and 19
November, it was visited by HMS
on her circumnavigation, captained by Robert FitzRoy
and carrying Charles Darwin
as a passenger.
a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain when Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting
independently of the French government, convinced Tahiti's Queen
Pomare IV to accept a French protectorate. George Pritchard, a Birmingham-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
, supported by King Louis-Philippe of France
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
(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
Tahiti in the 1890s
and painted many Tahitian
subjects. Papeari has a small Gauguin museum.
the First World War, the Papeete region of
the island was attacked by two
German warships. A French 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
for the Assembly of French Polynesia, the Territorial Assembly of French Polynesia, were
held on May 23, 2004 (see French Polynesian
legislative election, 2004).
In a surprise result,
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
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
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
people from metropolitan France
live in Papeete and its
suburbs, notably Punaauia where they make up almost 20% of the
Two Tahitian girls with a hibiscus
|50,000 Robert C. Schmitt in Population Trends in Hawaii
and French Polynesia to
|Official figures from past
Tourism is a significant industry, mostly to the
islands of Bora
Bora and Moorea.
the Heiva festival in Papeete celebrates Polynesian culture and the
commemoration of the storming of the Bastille 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 France for about
40% of imports and about 25% of exports, the other ports that are
traded with are in USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
pearl farming is also a substantial source of
revenues, most of the pearls being exported to Japan, Europe and the US.
Tahiti also exports vanilla
, copra oil
, and noni
Unemployment affects about 13% of the active population, especially
women and unqualified young people.
Tahiti’s currency, the French
(CFP, also known as XPF), is pegged to the
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
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.
is a popular sport in
International Airport 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
that operates from Papeete.
There are also several ferries that transport people and goods
throughout the islands.
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