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Tahiti and her Islands History, Language and Culture

History of Tahiti and her Islands

The first Europeans to arrive on the island groups were 16th-century Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The British, notably Captain Cook and later Captain Bligh (of 'HMS Bounty' notoriety), and then the French, took control of the islands in the 18th century. Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, was made a French protectorate in 1842 and a colony in 1880. The other islands were annexed by the turn of the century. This status quo remained until 1957, when Polynesia was made an Overseas Territory. A revised constitution, introduced in 1977, ceded greater autonomy. For the next 20 years, the islands' politics were dominated by the French nuclear testing programme.

By the time the programme ended in 1996, 150 separate explosions had been detonated, mainly on the atoll of Mururoa. In general, the French government was able to rely on the firm backing of most of French public opinion and an often ambivalent attitude on the part of the inhabitants of French Polynesia, who were well aware of the considerable benefits of the test programme to the otherwise threadbare local economy. The tests had begun in 1966, but it was not until the 1980s that opposition to them began to assume significant proportions, following the terrorist attack by French special forces on the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior.

By the time of the final series of tests in 1995/6, Tahiti had become the focus of opposition from throughout the South Pacific, and several riots occurred. Although the protesters failed to stop the tests, their campaign had an important political effect by linking the anti-nuclear movement and the burgeoning pro-independence movement which had so far been largely unrepresented in any political forum, despite the support of a large proportion (possibly the majority) of the population. The politics of the territory had been dominated for the previous decade by the centre-right Tahoeraa Huiratira (TH) party, led by Gaston Flosse, allied to the French Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République (RPR), which backed French rule and nuclear testing.

Pro-Independence leader Oscar Temaru was elected by the territory's assembly in March 2005. It was the third change in leadership n 12 months and followed months of wrangling between Mr Temaru and the Pro France rival, Gaston Flosse. Mr Flosse's Government lost a vote of confidence on February 2005, precipitation the poll in which Mr Temaru defeated the pro-France candidate, Gaston Tang Sang by 29 votes to 26.

Tahiti and her Islands gained Overseas Country status in 2004.

Tahiti and her Islands Culture

Religion in Tahiti and her Islands

Approximately 55% Protestant and 34% Catholic.

Social Conventions in Tahiti and her Islands

The basic lifestyle of the islands is represented by the simple Tahitian fares built of bamboo with pandanus roofs. Local women dress in bright pareos and men in the male equivalent, but casual dress is expected of the visitor (except in Papeete, where bathing suits and shorts are not considered suitable dress). Traditional dances are still performed mostly in hotels, with Western dance styles mainly in tourist centres. Normal social courtesies are important.

Language in Tahiti and her Islands

The official languages are French and Tahitian. Other Polynesian languages are spoken by the indigenous population. English is widely understood, mainly by islanders accustomed to dealing with foreign visitors.