French Polynesia is a French overseas collectivity in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is made up of several groups of Polynesian islands, the most famous island being Tahiti in the Society Islands group, which is also the most populous island and the seat of the capital of the territory (Papeete). Although not an integral part of its territory, Clipperton Island 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 Islands in AD 300 and the Society Islands in AD 800. The Polynesians were organized in loose chieftainships.
European communication began in 1521 when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sighted Pukapuka in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen came across Bora Bora in the Society Islands in 1722, and the British explorer Samuel Wallis visited Tahiti 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 Moorea 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 Tahuata were declared a French protectorate, to allow Catholic missionaries to work undisturbed. The capital of Papeete 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 Archipelago, 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 Islands 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 Rimatara 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 Ã‰tablissements de l’OcÃ©anie (Settlements in Oceania); in 1903 the general council was changed to an advisory council and the colony’s name was changed to Ã‰tablissements FranÃ§ais de l’OcÃ©anie (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 Japan on September 16, 1940 included French Polynesia among the many territories which were to become Japanese possessions in the post-war world â€“ 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 PolynÃ©sie FranÃ§aise (French Polynesia). In 1962, France’s early nuclear testing ground of Algeria 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 Fangataufa 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.
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 Tahiti.
The island groups are:
* Austral Islands
* Bass Islands often considered part of the Austral Islands
* Gambier Islands often considered part of the Tuamotu Archipelago
* Marquesas Islands
* Society Islands (including Tahiti)
* Tuamotu Archipelago
Aside from Tahiti, some other important atolls, islands, and island groups in French Polynesia are: Ahe, Bora Bora, Hiva `Oa, Huahine, Maiao, Maupiti, Mehetia, Moorea, Nuku Hiva, Raiatea, Tahaa, Tetiaroa, Tubuai, and Tupai.
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 Zealand, Hawaii, and New Caledonia. 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.
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 Tahiti alone. The urban area of Papeete, 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 Tahiti, particularly in the urban area of Papeete, 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 Lorraine 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 Tahiti, mother from the Cook Islands), 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.
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.
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 tÄrava, recorded by French musicologist Pascal Nabet-Meyer. This form of singing is common in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, 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.
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 Papeete, 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.