French Polynesia is a French collective in the Pacific Ocean made of several groups of islands, the most famous being Tahiti. The Marquesas Islands were the first to be settled by Polynesians in 300 AD. The Society Islands, which include Tahiti, were settled in 800 AD. The culture was centered around chieftain run communities.
Ferdinand Magellan sighted Pukapuka in 1521. The Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen found Bora Bora in 1722. British explorer Samuel Wallis visited Tahiti in 1767, French explorer Louis Antoine du Bougainville visited the island in 1768, and James Cook arrived in 1769. Spanish priests came as missionaries in 1774 but only stayed for one year but Protestants from the London Missionary Society arrived in 1797 and remained.
King Pomare II was forced to leave Moorea in 1803, but he and his subjects converted to Christianity in 1812. French Catholic missionaries came to the islands in 1834 but were banished, provoking France to send a gunboat in 1836 to ensure their missionary’s safety. In 1842 Taluti and Tahuata were considered under French protection to allow Catholics to establish missions without harm.
In 1842 France regarded all of the Marquesas Islands to be French and declared Tahiti a colony in 1880. Rimatara and Rurutu lobbied for British protection but were denied and subsequently claimed by France in 1889. The first postage stamps were issued in the colony in 1892 and the official name became “Settlements in Oceania“. The administration recognized the islands as a French Force in 1940 and Polynesians served during WWII. Japan plotted to invade and take possession of the islands but was unsuccessful. In 1946 Polynesians were given French citizenship and the islands were considered overseas territory. The name was officially changed to French Polynesia in 1957.
French Polynesia became a full overseas collective of France in 2004. The government is a parliamentary representative democracy. The President of French Polynesia is considered the head of the government over a multipartisan system.
There are approximately 130 islands in French Polynesia. The Austral Islands, Bass Islands, Gandier Islands, Marquesas Islands, Society Islands (Tahiti), and the Tuamotu Archipelago represent the 6 different groups. 87.3% of the 264,000 inhabitants were born in French Polynesia. French is the official language but Tahitian, Polynesian and Chinese are also spoken.
Each group of islands has unique areas to visit in addition to the tropical white sandy beaches, waterfalls and exquisite scenery. Tahiti has the Paul Gauguin Museum in honor of the artist who resided here in his latter years. Bora Bora has a famous tranquil lagoon and the Marquesas Islands are filled with cultural and archaeological sights. Visitors have a wide range of water activities to choose from including sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, whale watching and deep sea fishing. Black pearl farms are an important part of island trade and these rare gems are a souvenir favorite.
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