FIDES and a History of Tahiti

French Oceania - Scott #181 (1956)
French Oceania – Scott #181 (1956)

In 1956, many French colonies around the world participated in what is known as an omnibus issue to commemorate the 10th anniversary of an organization identified on the stamps as FIDES. In philately, an omnibus is an issue of stamps by several countries with a common subject and which may share a uniform design. Omnibus issues have often been made by countries under common political control or groups of colonies due to the close co-operation required to produce the issue. Omnibus issues are distinguished from joint issues which are usually much smaller in scope. The first omnibus has been said to be the issue of 1898 by Portugal and her colonies to commemorate the quatercentenary of Vasco de Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India.

FIDES is an acronym for Fonds d’Investissements pour le Developpement Économique et Social which was a French organization established in 1946 to finance and coordinate the provision of facilities and delivered aid for the French overseas territories, particularly in Africa. It was widely criticized for having failed in many development programs.

In 1962, René Dumont wrote of FIDES:

“…within the framework of FIDES very large sums were granted to French-speaking Africa. In face of the immense needs, however, they seemed quite modest. The aid could in fact have been increased many times without a corresponding tax pressure, had France had the courage politically to decolonize more rapidly. Forty-six percent of the FIDES grants, particularly in the first four-year plan, were used to build roads, ports and airports. These were indispensable to open up the countries, but could have been achieved at less cost.

In the book Africa Since Independence, published in 2004, author Paul Nugent wrote that,

The consensus among historians is that FIDES amounted to much more than an ideological figleaf. It did channel substantial resources into the African colonies — initially (as in the British case) into infrastructural development, but later also into industrial enterprises and agricultural projects.”

The French colonies that participated in the 1956 omnibus used the stamps to publicize FIDES activities in their particular area. French Oceania, officially Établissements Français de l’Océanie (French Establishments in Oceania — the islands’ name would be changed to French Polynesia the following year) released a single stamp on October 22, 1956, depicting a drydock slipway in the capital city of Papeete on the island of Tahiti (Scott #181). The 3-franc greenish blue stamp was recess printed and perforated 13 x 12½.

Map of Tahiti, French Polynesia
Map of Tahiti, French Polynesia
Map of Papeete, capital of Tahiti.
Map of Papeete, capital of Tahiti.

Today, Papeete remains the capital of French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the Pacific Ocean, and is also the administrative capital of the subdivision of Windward Islands. The French High Commissioner also resides in Papeete. It is the primary center of Tahitian and French Polynesian public and private governmental, commercial, industrial and financial services, the hub of French Polynesian tourism and a commonly used port of call. The Windward Islands are themselves part of the Society Islands. The name Papeete means “water from a basket”.

The urban area of Papeete had a total population of 136,771 inhabitants at the August 2017 census, 26,926 of whom lived in the commune of Papeete proper. It is located on the northwest coast of Tahiti. The only international airport in the region, Fa’a’ā International Airport, is on Tahiti near the city. Tahiti is divided into two parts: the bigger, northwestern part, Tahiti Nui, and the smaller, southeastern part, Tahiti Iti. The island was formed from volcanic activity and is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs.

French Polynesia was one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans. Scientists believe the Great Polynesian Migration happened around 1500 BC as Austronesian people went on a journey using celestial navigation to find islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The first islands of French Polynesia to be settled were the Marquesas Islands in about 200 BC. The first Tahitians arrived from Western Polynesia in about 200 AD, after a long migration from South East Asia or Indonesia, via the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan Archipelagos. This hypothesis of an emigration from Southeast Asia is supported by a number of linguistic, biological and archaeological proofs. For example, the languages of Fiji and Polynesia all belong to the same Oceanic sub-group, Fijian-Polynesian, which itself forms part of the great family of the Austronesian Languages.

Tautira beach in Tahiti. Photo taken in October 2003.
Tautira beach in Tahiti. Photo taken in October 2003.

This emigration, across several hundred kilometers of ocean, was made possible by using outrigger canoes that were up to twenty or thirty meters long and could transport families as well as domestic animals. In 1769, for instance, James Cook mentions a great traditional ship (va’a) in Tahiti that was 108 feet (33 meters) long, and could be propelled by sail or paddles In 2010, an expedition on a simple outrigger canoe with a sail retraced the route back from Tahiti to Asia.

Before the arrival of the Europeans the island was divided into different chiefdoms, very precise territories dominated by a single clan. These chiefdoms were linked to each other by allegiances based on the blood ties of their leaders and on their power in war. The most important clan on the island was the Teva, whose territory extended from the peninsula in the south of Tahiti Nui. The Teva Clan was composed of the Teva i Uta (Teva of the Interior) and the Teva i Tai (Teva of the Sea), and was led by Amo and Purea.

A clan was composed of a chief (ari’i rahi), nobles (ari’i) and under-chiefs (‘Īato’ai). The ari’i, considered descendants of the Polynesian gods, were full of mana (spiritual power). They traditionally wore belts of red feathers, symbols of their power. The chief of the clan did not have absolute power. Councils or general assemblies had to be called composed of the ari’i and the ‘Īato’ai, especially in case of war.

Each district or clan was organized around their marae, or stone temple. Anne Salmond quotes John Orsmond, an early missionary, as stating, “Marae were the sanctity and glory of the land, they were the pride of the people of these islands.” This was especially true for the ancestral and national marae associated with the royal line. “It was the basis of royalty; It awakened the gods; It fixed the red feather girdle of the high chiefs.”

Tahiti is famous for black sand beaches. Photo taken in 2006
Tahiti is famous for black sand beaches. Photo taken in 2006.

Followers of ‘Oro were called ariori, and each district in Tahiti had an ariori lodge led by the avae parae, black leg. These leaders had legs tattooed from thigh to heel. The first ‘Oro lodge was established around 1720 by Mahi, a representative of the high priest of Taputapuatea marae and Tamatoa I, the high chief of Ra’iatea. The first ‘Oro marae was established at Tautira.

Around 1750, war broke out between Atehuru and Papara, forcing Te’e’eva, the daughter of the Papara chief, to flee to Raiatea. She then married Tamatoa I’s eldest son, Ari’ima’o, from which their son Mau’a was born. When Borabora warriors, led by Puni, invaded Raiatea in 1763, both Mau’a and the Taputapuatea priest Tupaia, were forced to flee to Tahiti, where the new Papara chief Amo and his wife Purea gave them refuge. This led to the building of the Mahaiatea marae at Papara. However, the marriage of Amo and Purea, and their status as black leg ariori, ended with the birth of their son Teri’irere. Tupaia then became Purea’s lover. Tupaia would eventually sail with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, while Mau’a would sail with Lietuenant Gayangos on Aguila.

Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, serving the Spanish Crown in an expedition to Terra Australis, was perhaps the first European to set eyes on the island of Tahiti. He sighted an inhabited island on February 10, 1606, which he called Sagitaria (or Sagittaria). However, whether the island that he saw was actually Tahiti or not has not been fully ascertained. It has been suggested that he actually saw the island of Rekareka to the south-east of Tahiti. According to other authors the first European to arrive in Tahiti was Spanish explorer Juan Fernández in his expedition of 1576–1577.

The meeting between Captain Wallis and Queen Oberea, 1767. Scanned from Howell, Signe & Marit Melhuus (1996). Fjern og nær. Oslo: Ad Notam Gyldendal, Page 12.
The meeting between Captain Wallis and Queen Oberea, 1767. Scanned from Howell, Signe & Marit Melhuus (1996). Fjern og nær. Oslo: Ad Notam Gyldendal, Page 12.

The first European to have visited Tahiti according to existing records was Lieutenant Samuel Wallis, who was circumnavigating the globe in HMS Dolphin, sighting the island on June 18, 1767, and eventually harboring in Matavai Bay. This bay was situated on the territory of the chiefdom of Pare-Arue, governed by Tu (Tu-nui-e-a’a-i-te-Atua) and his regent Tutaha, and the chiefdom of Ha’apape, governed by Amo and his wife “Oberea” (Purea). Wallis named the island King George’s Island. The first contacts were difficult, since on June 24 and 26, 1767, Tahitian warriors in canoes showed aggression towards the British, hurling stones from their slings. In retaliation, the British sailors opened fire on the warriors in the canoes and on the hills. In reaction to this powerful counter-attack, the Tahitians laid down peace offerings for the British. Following this episode, Samuel Wallis was able to establish cordial relations with the female chieftain “Oberea ” (Purea) and remained on the island until July 27.

On April 2, 1768, it was the turn of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, aboard Boudeuse and Etoile on the first French circumnavigation, to sight Tahiti. On April 5, he anchored off Hitiaa O Te Ra, and was welcomed by its chief Reti. Bougainville was also visited by Tutaha. Bougainville only stayed about ten days on the island, which he called “Nouvelle-Cythère“, or “New Cythera (the island of Aphrodite)”, because of the warm welcome he had received, the sweetness of the Tahitian customs, calling it a “sailor’s Paradise.” Ahutoru accompanied the French on the return voyage, becoming the first Tahitian to sail on a European vessel. The account Bougainville and Philibert Commerson gave of his port of call would contribute to the creation of the myth of a Polynesian paradise and nourished the theme of the noble savage, so dear to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, which was very much in fashion. Between this date right until the end of the 18th century, the name of the island was spelled phonetically “Taïti“. Beginning in the 19th century, the Tahitian orthography “Tahiti” became normal usage in French and English.

In between the visits of Bougainville and Cook, in December 1768, a war of succession amongst the Tahiti’s clans took place for who would assume the role of paramount chief. Tutaha’s Pare-‘Arue army allied with Vehiatua’s Tai’arapu army, Pohuetea’s Puna’auia army, To’ofa’s Paea army, and Tepau-i-ahura’i (Tepau) of Fa’a’a, to defeat Amo and Purea in Papara. The warriors, women and children of Papara were massacred, while their houses, gardens, crops and livestock destroyed. Even the Mahaiatea marae was ransacked, while Amo, Purea, Tupaia and Teri’irere fled into the mountains. Vehiatua built a wall of skulls (Te-ahu-upo’o) at his Tai’arapu marae from his war trophies.

Captain Cook witnessed the ceremony of human sacrifice in Tahiti, circa 1773. Published 1827.
Captain Cook witnessed the ceremony of human sacrifice in Tahiti, circa 1773. Published 1827.

In July 1768, Captain James Cook was commissioned by the Royal Society and on orders from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to observe the transit of Venus across the sun, a phenomenon that would be visible from Tahiti on June 3, 1769. He arrived in Tahiti’s Matavai Bay, commanding HMS Endeavour on April 12. On April 14, Cook met with Tutaha and Tepau, the following day picking the site for a fortified camp at Point Venus along with Banks, Parkinson, Daniel Solander, to protect Charles Green’s observatory. The length of stay enabled them to undertake for the first time real ethnographic and scientific observations of the island. Assisted by the botanist Joseph Banks, and by the artist Sydney Parkinson, Cook gathered valuable information on the fauna and flora, as well as the native society, language and customs, including the proper name of the island, ‘Otaheite‘. On April 28, Cook met Purea and Tupaia, and Tupaia befriended Banks following the transit. On June 21, Amo visited Cook, and then on June 25, Pohuetea visited, signifying another chief seeking to ally himself with the British.

Cook estimated the population to be 200,000 including all the nearby islands in the chain. This estimate was later lowered to 35,000 by anthropologist Douglas L. Oliver, the foremost modern authority on Tahiti, at the time of first European contact in 1767.

The Viceroy of Peru, Manuel de Amat y Juniet, following the instructions of the Spanish Crown, organized an expedition to settle and colonize the island in 1772, largely to prevent other powers from gaining a base in the Pacific from which to attack the coast of Peru, but also to evangelize. He sent two expeditions under the command of navigator Domingo de Bonechea, the first in 1772, aboard Aguila. Four Tahitians, Pautu, Tipitipia, Heiao and Tetuanui, accompanied Bonechea on his return voyage to Peru in 1773.

Cook returned to Tahiti between August 15 and September 1, 1773, greeted by the chiefs Tai and Puhi, besides the young ari’i Vehiatua II and his stepfather Ti’itorea. Cook anchored in Vaitepiha Bay before returning to Point Venus where he met Tu, the paramount chief. Cook picked up two passengers from Tahiti during this trip, Porea and Ma’i, with Hitihiti later replacing Porea when Cook stopped at Raiatea. Cook took Hitihiti to Tahiti on April 22, 1774, during his return leg. Then, Cook departed Tahiti on May 14. During his final visit, Cook returned Ma’i to Tahiti on August 12, 1777, after Ma’i’s long visit in England. Cook first harboured in Vaitepiha Bay, where he visited Vehiatua II’s funeral bier and the prefabricated Spanish mission house. Cook also observed a human sacrifice, ta’ata tapu, at the ‘Utu-‘ai-mahurau marae, and 49 skulls from previous victims.


William Bligh overseeing the transplantation of breadfruit trees from Tahiti. Painted and engraved by Thomas Gosse. London, 1796.
William Bligh overseeing the transplantation of breadfruit trees from Tahiti. Painted and engraved by Thomas Gosse. London, 1796.

On October 26, 1788, HMS Bounty, under the command of Captain William Bligh, landed in Tahiti with the mission of carrying Tahitian breadfruit trees (‘uru) to the Caribbean. Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist from James Cook’s first expedition, had concluded that this plant would be ideal to feed the African slaves working in the Caribbean plantations at very little cost. The crew remained in Tahiti for about five months, the time needed to transplant the seedlings of the trees. Three weeks after leaving Tahiti, on April 28, 1789, the crew mutinied on the initiative of Fletcher Christian. The mutineers seized the ship and set the captain and most of those members of the crew who remained loyal to him adrift in a ship’s boat. A group of mutineers then went back to settle in Tahiti.

Although various explorers had refused to get involved in tribal conflicts, the mutineers from Bounty offered their services as mercenaries and furnished arms to the family which became the Pōmare Dynasty. The chief Tū knew how to use their presence in the harbors favored by sailors to his advantage. As a result of his alliance with the mutineers, he succeeded in considerably increasing his supremacy over the island of Tahiti. In 1791, HMS Pandora under Captain Edward Edwards called at Tahiti and took custody of fourteen of the mutineers. Four were drowned in the sinking of Pandora on her homeward voyage, three were hanged, four were acquitted, and three were pardoned.

In the 1790s, whalers began landing at Tahiti during their fishing expeditions in the southern hemisphere. The arrival of these whalers, who were subsequently joined by merchants coming from the penal colonies in Australia, marked the first major overturning of traditional Tahitian society. The crews introduced alcohol, arms and illnesses into the island, and encouraged prostitution, which brought with it venereal disease. These first exchanges with Westerners had catastrophic consequences for the Tahitian population, which shrank rapidly, ravaged by diseases. So many Tahitians were killed by disease in fact that by 1797, the population was only 16,000. Later it was to drop as low as 6,000.

On March 5, 1797, representatives of the London Missionary Society landed at Matavai Bay on board Duff, with the intention of converting the pagan native populations to Christianity. The arrival of these missionaries marked a new turning point for the island of Tahiti, having a lasting impact on the local culture.

In about 1810, Pōmare II married Teremo’emo’e daughter of the chief of Raiatea, to ally himself with the chiefdoms of the Leeward Islands. The conversion of Pōmare II to Protestantism in 1812 marks the point when Protestantism truly took off on the island.  On November 12, 1815, Pōmare II won a decisive battle at Fe’i Pī (Punaauia), notably against Opuhara, the chief of the powerful clan of Teva. This victory allowed Pōmare II to be styled Ari’i Rahi, or the king of Tahiti. It was the first time that Tahiti had been united under the control of a single family. It was the end of Tahitian feudalism and the military aristocracy, which were replaced by an absolute monarchy. At the same time, Protestantism quickly spread, thanks to the support of Pōmare II, and replaced the traditional beliefs.

Tahitian girls wearing missionary robes between 1860 and 1879. Photo from Photothèque du Musée de l'Homme via French National Library
Tahitian girls wearing missionary robes between 1860 and 1879. Photo from Photothèque du Musée de l’Homme via French National Library

In 1818, the minister William Pascoe Crook founded the city of Papeete, which became the capital of Tahiti. The first Tahitian legal code consisting of 19 laws, known under the name of the Pōmare Legal Code, was established in 1819. The missionaries and Pōmare II imposed a ban on nudity (obliging Tahitians to wear clothes covering their whole body), banned dances and chants, described as immodest, tattoos and costumes made of flowers. In the 1820s, the entire population of Tahiti converted to Protestantism.

In November 1835, Charles Darwin visited Tahiti aboard HMS Beagle on her circumnavigation, captained by Robert FitzRoy. He was impressed by what he perceived to be the positive influence the missionaries had had on the sobriety and moral character of the population. Darwin praised the scenery, but was not flattering towards Tahiti’s Queen Pōmare IV. Captain Fitzroy negotiated payment of compensation for an attack on an English ship by Tahitians, which had taken place in 1833. In September 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 States.

In 1836, the Queen’s advisor Pritchard had two French Catholic priests expelled, François Caret and Honoré Laval. As a result, in 1838 France sent Admiral Abel Aubert Dupetit-Thouars to get reparation. Once his mission had been completed, Admiral Du Petit-Thouars sailed towards the Marquesas Islands, which he annexed in 1842. Also in 1842, a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain, souring their relations.

Dupetit Thouars taking over Tahiti on September 9th, 1842. Lithograph by Louis Le Breton, 1850. Currently at Musée national de la Marine, Paris, France.
Dupetit Thouars taking over Tahiti on September 9th, 1842. Lithograph by Louis Le Breton, 1850. Currently at Musée national de la Marine, Paris, France.

In August 1842, Admiral Du Petit-Thouars returned and landed in Tahiti. He then made friends with Tahitian chiefs who were hostile to the Pōmare family and favorable to a French protectorate. He had them sign a request for protection in the absence of their Queen, before then approaching her and obliging her to ratify the terms of the treaty of protectorate. The treaty had not even been ratified by France itself when Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout was named royal commissaire alongside Queen Pōmare.

Within the framework of this treaty, France recognized the sovereignty of the Tahitian state. The Queen was responsible for internal affairs, while France would deal with foreign relations and assure the defense of Tahiti, as well as maintain order on the island. Once the treaty had been signed there began a struggle for influence between the English Protestants and the Catholic representatives of France. During the first years of the Protectorate, the Protestants managed to retain a considerable hold over Tahitian society, thanks to their knowledge of the country and its language. George Pritchard had been away at the time. He returned however to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French.

Queen Pomare and her Family on the Verandah of Mr. Pritchard's House, during the French Invasion of Tahiti. From the Missionary Repository for Youth and Sunday School Missionary Magazine, 1847.
Queen Pomare and her Family on the Verandah of Mr. Pritchard’s House, during the French Invasion of Tahiti. From the Missionary Repository for Youth and Sunday School Missionary Magazine, 1847.

In 1843, the Queen’s Protestant advisor, Pritchard, persuaded her to display the Tahitian flag in place of the flag of the Protectorate. By way of reprisal, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars announced the annexation of the Kingdom of Pōmare on November 6, 1843, and set up the governor Armand Joseph Bruat there as the chief of the new colony. He threw Pritchard into prison, and later sent him back to Britain. The annexation caused the Queen to be exiled to the Leeward Islands, and after a period of troubles, a real Franco-Tahitian war began in March 1844. 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.

The war ended in December 1846 in favor of the French. The Queen returned from exile in 1847 and agreed to sign a new covenant, considerably reducing her powers, while increasing those of the commissaire. The French nevertheless still reigned over the Kingdom of Tahiti as masters. In 1863, they put an end to the British influence and replaced the British Protestant Missions with the Société des missions évangéliques de Paris (Society of Evangelical Missions of Paris).

During the same period about a thousand Chinese, mainly Cantonese, were recruited at the request of a plantation owner in Tahiti, William Stewart, to work on the great cotton plantation at Atimaono. When the enterprise resulted in bankruptcy in 1873, a few Chinese workers returned to their country, but a large number stayed in Tahiti and mixed with the population.

In 1866 the district councils were formed, elected, which were given the powers of the traditional hereditary chiefs. In the context of the republican assimilation, these councils tried their best to protect the traditional way of life of the local people, which was threatened by European influence.

Group of Tahitian schoolchildren, circa 1906.
Group of Tahitian schoolchildren, circa 1906.

In 1877, Queen Pōmare died after ruling for fifty years. Her son, Pōmare V, then succeeded her on the throne. The new king seemed little concerned with the affairs of the kingdom, and when in 1880 the governor Henri Isidore Chessé, supported by the Tahitian chiefs, pushed him to abdicate in favor of France, he accepted. On June 29, 1880, he ceded Tahiti to France along with the islands that were its dependencies. He was given the titular position of Officer of the Orders of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit of France. Having become a colony, Tahiti thus lost all sovereignty. Tahiti was nevertheless a special colony, since all the subjects of the Kingdom of Pōmare would be given French citizenship. On July 14, 1881, among cries of “Vive la République!” the crowds celebrated the fact that Polynesia now belonged to France; this was the first celebration of the Tiurai (national and popular festival). In 1890, Papeete became a commune of the Republic of France.

The first postage stamps used in French Polynesia were the general stamps of the French Colonies from 1862. In 1882 a shortage of 25-centime stamps necessitated a surcharge on less-used values. Some of the surcharges also included the name TAHITI. This happened again in 1884 with 5-centime and 10-centime values.

Postage stamps were first issued for the colony of French Oceania in 1892  with the Navigation and Commerce issue. The first official name for the colony was Établissements de l’Océanie (Establishments in Oceania). In 1893, two kinds of overprint were applied to the remaining stocks of regular and postage due French Colonies stamps; one type was a slanted overprint reading TAHITI and the other was a horizontal 1893 / TAHITI. For some values of stamps, very few were left to be overprinted, and genuine overprints are quite rare, the rarest being the horizontal overprint on the 25-centime yellow at around US $20,000.

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

In 1891, Matthew Turner — an American shipbuilder from San Francisco who had been seeking a fast passage between the city and Tahiti — built Papeete, a two-masted schooner that made the trip in seventeen days.

Tahitian woman in festive costume, circa 1906.
Tahitian woman in festive costume, circa 1906.

In 1903, the general council was changed to an advisory council and the colony’s name was changed to Établissements Français d’Océanie (French Establishments in Oceania, EFOs), which collected together Tahiti, the other Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago. Due to a shortage of 10-centime stamps that year, stamps of French Oceania were overprinted TAHITI and surcharged with new face values. Stamps of French Oceania also received a red cross and TAHITI overprint in 1915 for use as semi-postal stamps.

During the First World War, the Papeete region of the island was attacked by two German warships. A French gunboat as well as a captured German freighter were sunk in the harbor and the two German armored cruisers bombarded the colony.

In 1940, the administration of French Oceania recognized the Free French Forces and many Polynesians served in World War II. Unknown at the time to the 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, as part of the “Eastern Pacific Government-General” in the post-war world. However, 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, Tahiti and the whole of French Oceania became an overseas territory (Territoire d’outre-mer). Tahitians were granted French citizenship, a right that had been campaigned for by nationalist leader Pouvanaa a Oopa for many years. In 1957, the EFOs were renamed French Polynesia. Stamps issued since 1958 have been inscribed FRENCH POLYNESIA.

Southern suburbs of Papeete (commune of Punaauia). Photo taken by Remi Jouan on May 18, 2009
Southern suburbs of Papeete (commune of Punaauia). Photo taken by Remi Jouan on May 18, 2009

The growth of the city was boosted by the decision to move the nuclear weapon test range from Algeria to the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, some 930 miles (1,500 km) to the east of Tahiti; this originated in particular in the construction of the Faa’a airport next to Pape’ete, the only international airport in French Polynesia. Between 1966 and 1996, the French government conducted 193 nuclear bomb tests above and below Moruroa and Fangataufa. The last test was conducted on January 27, 1996.

In 1983, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built the Papeete Tahiti Temple because of the large number of members in the region.

Since March 28, 2003, French Polynesia has been an overseas collectivity (Collectivité d’outre-mer) of the French Republic under the constitutional revision of article 74, and later gained, with law 2004-192 of February 27, 2004, an administrative autonomy, two symbolic manifestations of which are the title of the President of French Polynesia and its additional designation as an overseas country (pays d’outre-mer or POM). In 2009, Tauatomo Mairau claimed the Tahitian throne, and attempted to re-assert the status of the monarchy in court.

French Polynesia was relisted in the United Nations’ List of Non-Self Governing Territories in 2013, making it eligible for a UN-backed independence referendum. The relisting was made after its indigenous government was voiced and supported by the Polynesian Leaders Group, Pacific Conference of Churches, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Non-Aligned Movement, World Council of Churches, and Melanesian Spearhead Group.

Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay, painted by William Hodges in 1776, shows the two ships of Commander James Cook's second voyage of exploration in the Pacific at anchor in Tahiti. Oil on canvas, currently at Royal Museums Greenwich, England.
Resolution and Adventure with fishing craft in Matavai Bay, painted by William Hodges in 1776, shows the two ships of Commander James Cook’s second voyage of exploration in the Pacific at anchor in Tahiti. Oil on canvas, currently at Royal Museums Greenwich, England.

On April 2, 2018, the doomed Chinese space station Tiangong-1 that de-orbited and fell to Earth narrowly missed hitting Tahiti as it disintegrated.

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 emigrated to the urban center of Papeete. Even though the standard of living is elevated (due mainly to French foreign direct 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.

Tahitian pearl (black pearl) farming is a substantial source of revenues, most of the pearls being exported to Japan, Europe and the United States. Tahiti also exports vanilla, fruits, flowers, monoi, fish, copra oil, and noni. Tahiti is also home to a single winery, whose vineyards are located on the Rangiroa atoll. Unemployment affects about 13% of the active population, especially women and unqualified young people.

Tahitians wearing the pareo wrap-around garment and practicing a 'upa'upa dance, circa 1909. From 'Mystic Isles of the South Seas' by Frederick Brown.
Tahitians wearing the pareo wrap-around garment and practicing a ‘upa’upa dance, circa 1909. From ‘Mystic Isles of the South Seas’ by Frederick Brown.

One of the most widely recognized images of the island is the world-famous Tahitian dance. The ‘ote’a (sometimes written as otea) is a traditional dance from Tahiti, where the dancers, standing in several rows, execute 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 storytelling than the hips.

The ʻōteʻa is one of the few dances which 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 ‘upa’upa is likewise gone but may have re-emerged as the tamure. Nowadays, 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 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 faʻatete, can be used.

The dancers make gestures, re-enacting 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. 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.

Flag of French Polynesia
Flag of French Polynesia
Flag of Tahiti
Flag of Tahiti
[url=][img][/img][/url][url=]1790px-Coat_of_arms_of_French_Polynesia.svg[/url] by [url=]Mark Jochim[/url], on Flickr
Coat of Arms of French Polynesia

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