French Polynesia History

French Polynesia, located in the South Pacific, has a rich and varied history. The islands were first settled by Polynesians around 300 AD, but it wasn’t until the arrival of European explorers in the 18th century that the islands’ history began to be recorded.

ruins in the forest

The early settlers of French Polynesia

The history of French Polynesia dates back to the ancient Polynesians, who were the first inhabitants of the islands. The Polynesians were skilled navigators and voyagers, and they were able to settle in the remote islands of the Pacific Ocean. They developed a complex and rich culture, with a strong emphasis on the worship of ancestors and the gods. They were also skilled in agriculture, fishing, and weaving. They relied heavily on the ocean for food, transportation, and trade. They also had a complex social hierarchy, with powerful chiefs and priests. The first European explorers arrived in the 18th century, including the British navigator James Cook, who made several visits to the islands. The arrival of Europeans brought changes to the Polynesian way of life, as they introduced new technologies, diseases, and religions.

The arrival of the French in the 18th century and the establishment of French colonial rule

In the late 18th century, the French became interested in the islands of French Polynesia, and they established a colony on the island of Tahiti. The French brought with them new technologies, such as firearms and ships, which greatly impacted the Polynesian way of life. They also established trading posts, which led to a decline in traditional Polynesian industries such as fishing and agriculture. The French also introduced Christianity to the islands, which had a significant impact on the Polynesian society and culture. Missionaries arrived with the French and established schools and churches, which were used to convert the Polynesians to Christianity. The French established a strong presence on the islands, and they controlled the economy and government. They also imposed French laws and customs on the Polynesians. French Polynesia became a source of raw materials, especially copra and pearls, and a stopping point for ships traveling between Europe and Asia.

man holding a bibleThe impact of Christianity on French Polynesian society and culture

The introduction of Christianity to French Polynesia had a significant impact on the society and culture of the islands. The Polynesians were initially resistant to the new religion, but eventually, many of them converted to Christianity. The missionaries who arrived with the French brought a new set of beliefs and practices, which replaced the traditional Polynesian religion. Christianity also brought a new set of moral values, such as monogamy and the prohibition of incest, which greatly impacted the Polynesian way of life. The introduction of Christianity also led to the suppression of traditional Polynesian practices and beliefs. Many of the traditional Polynesian religious practices and beliefs were discouraged and banned by the French authorities. However, many Polynesians continued to practice their traditional beliefs and customs in secret, and today many of these traditional practices have been revitalized and integrated with Christianity.

The role of French Polynesia in World War II

During World War II, French Polynesia played an important role as a military base for the United States and its allies. The US established military bases on the islands of Tahiti and Bora Bora, and they used the islands as a staging ground for their operations in the Pacific. The US also built airfields and other military infrastructure on the islands. The presence of the US military had a significant impact on the economy and society of French Polynesia, as many Polynesians were employed by the US military and the local economy was greatly boosted by the presence of the US troops. However, the rapid expansion of the military and the influx of American soldiers also brought about significant social changes and cultural clashes. Many Polynesian women married American soldiers, and this led to a significant increase in the number of mixed-race individuals on the islands.

The independence movement in French Polynesia and its current political status

In the post-World War II period, there has been a growing movement for independence in French Polynesia. Many Polynesians have been dissatisfied with the French control of their country and have called for self-determination. This movement has been led by various political parties and leaders who advocate for greater autonomy or full independence. However, despite these efforts, French Polynesia remains an overseas territory of France, and it does not have full independence. French Polynesia has a high degree of autonomy and has its own government and parliament, but it is still subject to French laws and regulations. French Polynesia is also represented in the French National Assembly and the Senate, but it does not have the right to vote in presidential elections. The French government has been reluctant to grant full independence to French Polynesia, citing economic and security concerns.

stone carvingsThe culture and traditions of French Polynesia

French Polynesia is known for its rich and diverse culture and traditions. The Polynesians have a strong tradition of dance, music, and art, and these cultural practices have been passed down from generation to generation. The traditional dances of French Polynesia are very expressive, and they often tell stories of the gods and ancestors. Music is also an important part of Polynesian culture, and it is often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the ukulele and the drums. The art of French Polynesia is also unique and diverse. Traditional Polynesian art includes woodcarving, tattooing, and featherwork. These art forms often depict the gods and ancestors, and they are considered sacred. Additionally, French Polynesia is known for its unique architecture, which blends traditional Polynesian design with European influences. The traditional Polynesian houses, known as “fare,” were made of thatched roofs and woven walls, but the French introduced new building techniques, and many houses today are made of wood and have tin roofs.

French Polynesian culture also includes a rich cuisine, which is heavily influenced by the abundance of seafood and tropical fruits available on the islands. Poisson cru, or raw fish marinated in lime juice, is a popular dish, as is mahi mahi or mahimahi, a type of fish. Coconut milk is also a staple ingredient in many dishes, and it is used to make desserts such as coconut milk pudding.

In conclusion, French Polynesia’s history is rich and diverse, shaped by the early settlers, the arrival of the French, and the impact of Christianity, economy and war. The culture and traditions of French Polynesia are also unique and diverse, blending traditional Polynesian practices with European influences. Despite its current status as an overseas territory of France, the independence movement in French Polynesia continues to push for self-determination. French Polynesia’s history, culture and politics are interwoven and complex, but all of these elements have helped to shape the unique and vibrant culture of French Polynesia.

Our Top FAQ's

The traditional industries of the ancient Polynesians before the arrival of the French were agriculture, fishing, and weaving.

The social changes that occurred in French Polynesia as a result of the US military presence during World War II included an increase in the number of mixed-race individuals on the islands due to marriages between Polynesian women and American soldiers, and a boost in the local economy due to employment opportunities created by the military.

The reasons for the French government’s reluctance to grant full independence to French Polynesia are economic and security concerns.

French Polynesian cuisine reflects the island’s history, culture, and environment through the use of seafood and tropical fruits as staple ingredients, as well as the influence of French and Polynesian cooking styles and techniques. The abundance of seafood and tropical fruits on the islands is reflected in dishes like Poisson cru and the use of coconut milk in many dishes, while the influence of French cuisine is reflected in the use of butter and bread in some dishes.

Book your dream vacation here