Tahiti Feature

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Tahitian History

Tahiti Nui was created by a series of volcanic eruptions about 3 million years ago, and its smaller neighbor was formed 2 million years later. Polynesians, arriving from Raiatea, settled Tahiti between AD 300 and 800. Captain Samuel Wallis, an Englishman, was the first European to land on the island on June 18, 1767, claiming it for Britain. Frenchman Louis-Antoine de Bougainville arrived 10 months later with two ships. Unaware that Wallis had planted the British flag, Bougainville claimed it for France in 1788. Captain James Cook arrived in 1769 to observe the Transit of Venus—the rare sight of planet Venus gliding across the face of the sun—at Matavai Bay. The Bounty, with Captain Bligh at the helm, arrived in 1788. Its mission? To collect breadfruit plants that grew profusely on the island. After five months ashore, however, the crew refused to leave. This refusal became one of the leading factors that lead to the infamous mutiny the following year.

The first Protestant missionaries arrived in 1797, an event that is still commemorated with celebrations today. French Catholic priests arrived in the 1830s to the chagrin of the Protestants who had enjoyed their monopoly on saving souls. In the early 1840s Tahitian chiefs, fearing they would come off badly in any hostilities between the British and the French, were tricked into signing documents that made Tahiti a protectorate of France. Tahitian pro-independence fighters waged constant battles with the French to no avail. In 1880 King Pomare V was eventually forced to cede the sovereignty of Tahiti to France. In 1946 Tahiti and all of French Polynesia was deemed a French Overseas Territory.

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