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. The most populous island, accounting for 68.6% of the total population of French Polynesia. The capital, Papeete, is located on the northwest coast. Tahiti has also been known as O'tahiti.
Geography: Tahiti measures 27.96 miles across at its widest point, with a maximum elevation of 7352 feet (Mount Orohena). Mont Roonui in the southeast rises to 4370 feet. 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 Papeete) 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 is January with 13.2 inches of rain in Papeete. August is the driest with 1.9 inches. The average temperature ranges between 21 °C and 31 °C with little seasonal variation.
History: 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.
Samuel Wallis, an English sea captain, sighted Tahiti on the 18th of June 1767, and is considered the first European visitor. (A later report of an earlier Spanish sighting of Tahiti by Pedro Fernandez de Quiros in 1606 apparently is mistaken, through the confusion in that report of Tahiti Island with La Sagitaria Island, to the SE of Tahiti Island.)
The relaxed and contented nature of the people and the characterisation of the island as a paradise impressed early Europeans, the romanticism by the West endures to this day.
Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the French 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 the 2nd of June. He set up camp at Matavai Bay and stayed on until the 9th of 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.
Viceroy of Peru Manuel de Amat y Juniet, following the rules of the Spanish Crown, decided to take possession of the island in 1772, largely to control the expansion of other countries and also to evangelise. He sent four expeditions between 1772-1775, but Charles III of Spain cancelled the mission as a consequence of his secular policy. Most notable of these expeditions was the drafting of a Diary by a soldier of the Marine named Maximo Rodriguez, covering a period of 12 months, revealing many ethnological details about the Tahitians of the eighteenth century.
In November 1835 Charles Darwin visited Tahiti aboard the 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 Pomare IV. Captain Fitzroy negotiated payment of compensation for an attack on an English ship by Tahitians, which had taken place in 1833.
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 1842, 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, was away at the time. On his return he set about 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 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 the 29th of June 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 1890’s and painted many Tahitian subjects. Papeari has a small Gauguin museum. 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 warships bombarded the colony. Between 1966 and 1996 the French Government conducted 193 nuclear bomb tests above and below the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa. The last test was conducted on the 27th of January 1996.
Language: Tahitians are French citizens with complete civil and political rights. French is the official language but the Tahitian language is also widely used, we have met many locals who speak very good English. There was a time during the 60’s and 70’s however, when children were forbidden to speak Tahitian in schools. Present day thinking has changed and the Tahitian language is now being taught, it is sometimes even a requirement for employment.
This is Emily who was tireless with her patience, advice and help when we visited Vaimiti Perles on Rue Jeanne d’Arc in Papeete. Vaimiti is the specialist pearl producer, wholesale and retail shop highly recommended to us - thank you Chris and Steve - to have the ‘girls pearls’ set. We popped in one morning to make enquiries and I went back with our pearls after lunch. After Emily helped to get the right settings, the pearls were handed to Paula to drill (a very skilled craft), mount, polish and hand them back with the WOW factor. I had expected to return to collect them a week later, definitely a few days later, but no, glass of water and comfy chair, chatting to the ladies, the afternoon sped by and I left with the gifts in beautiful presentation boxes.
Paula, making her magicians fingers work at lightning speed.
The People: I left the ladies clutching a map that they had drawn for me, marking a shop we needed to find. The next day off we went. The X on the map was not what we expected as it was an office. The lady there welcomed us anyway and went to get a member of staff who spoke fluent English. A very nice man appeared from his workstation – this was one of those trendy open plan arrangements, all glass and security doors. He asked what we were looking for and promptly went back through the electronically tagged door and returned with the Yellow Pages. He then rang a couple of people. Off he went again through the locked glass door, this time he came back with a photocopy of the page we needed. We thanked him profusely, we shook hands and went to our way. The next stop couldn’t help but the man there put us on the right track. No matter what we have needed to source, collect, buy or shop around for, we have found the most helpful, friendly, English speaking people we could ever hope to meet.
Bugs: Absolutely delighted to say we have seen four bugs, three silver and this lady in sleek black. What more would I want from any island. Could we live here full time, yes, but I would feel the need to be fluent in French first. Too much more to see anyway.
Economy: Tourism is a significant industry, mostly to the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea, for Europeans this can be a long journey with flights often via Los Angeles. In July, the Heiva festival in Papeete celebrates Polynesian culture and the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille in Paris. Black 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 (often seen as the world’s best in quality and taste, winning many competitions), fruits, flowers, monoi (the tiare flower is one of Tahiti's gardenias, a perfume-oil is made from soaking the petals and infused in a semi wax coconut oil, bottled, sold locally and widely exported), fish, copra oil, and noni. The noni fruit comes from the tree Morinda Citrifolia and are picked when yellow and ripe (omoto). The tree is unique in that it bears fruit all year round. The fruit is squeezed to produce a juice known for its natural tonic and has been enjoyed for thousands of years.
Unemployment affects about 13% of the active population, especially women and unqualified young people. 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.
Our Cost of Living: You can buy a French Stick for thirty pence. Meat is very reasonable, if not cheap. Fruit and Veg from the market is fairly reasonable, except that we saw a watermelon for ten pounds........... Supermarket shopping is interesting, named brands can be scary but shop brands are quite doable, so it’s only luxury goods that would hurt the purse and quite frankly we have done without for so long we don’t really salivate over ‘stuff’ anymore. Baked beans, tinned tomatoes and mushrooms are on a par with the UK. Cleaning materials and smellies are very expensive but we have a big supply on board. We bimbled into the Mac store, because we could and its always nice to see what’s new in the techno world. An IPod Touch was a whole 30% dearer then the UK price. Interestingly, we bought a couple of new hard drives for our growing film collection and they were cheaper than the UK. Bear has found that some bits and bobs he needed from the chandleries were not bad to quite dear, I wonder if we average it all out if it is not too dissimilar to living in say, France itself. Clothing is a big ouch, I fell in love with a pretty little dress for Faye, Bear would never refuse me for any of the grandchildren, but, did ask if I realised, that tiny scrap of cotton is $80. I sighed and walked on, sorry Faye xx xx.
Dance: One of the most widely recognised images of the islands is the world famous Tahitian dance. The ʻōteʻa, sometimes written as otea, is the traditional dance of Tahiti, where the dancers stand in several rows and and choreograph different figures. This dance, easily recognised by its fast hip-shaking and grass skirts (often confused with the Hawaiian hula). We have watched and enjoyed on many occasions and blogged about in the Austral Islands. Here we have loved the street performers in ones, twos and fours playing their ukuleles.
The bigger groups of all ages have been wonderful in the square each evening.
Transport: Faa'a 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 picture above made us laugh – down the road is a look-out spot where many locals and tourists gather to watch planes of all shapes and sizes take off. We were no different and as there was a plane on the runway, we waited with everyone else, might have made a lovely shot – ocean, Moorea, plane, but, guess who forgot she was using her husbands camera and not her own.......so instead of a lovely scenic shot – I pressed, and by the time the little camera had done its stuff, said plane was over the trees. You Numpty. Mmmmmm. The Moorea Ferry operates from Papeete. There are also several ferries that transport people and goods throughout the islands.
ALL IN ALL TAHITI HAS EVERYTHING
AN ISOLATED PARADISE FULL OF SURPRISES