Tahiti: History

Waterfall-laden, shadowy mountains, river valleys and black sand beaches

Tahiti History

Settlers arrived in Tahiti between 300 – 800 AD from areas such as Samoa and Tonga. The Polynesian island was spotted by a Spanish ship in 1606, but they did not trade or colonize Tahiti.

An English sea captain, Samuel Wallis, spotted the island and is thought to be its first European visitor. Captain James Cook and his crew visited the island in 1744: these new inhabitants brought diseases such as typhus and smallpox onto the island, so the population declined from 200,000 to 16,000 within a twenty year period. In 1842, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars, without permission from the French government, persuaded Pomare IV, the queen of Tahiti, to accept the French protectorate.

A war between the French and the Tahitians ensued and Tahiti continued to be part of the protectorate until 1880, when the island lost its own sovereignty, so the sovereigns of Tahiti became the French royal family. During the 19th century, Tahiti was made famous by the French artist, Gauguin, who visited the island and painted images of Tahitian life, and some of these works are displayed in The Gauguin Museum. Tahiti changed its status once again and became a ‘French Overseas Territory’ in 1946. 57 years later, the island became a ‘French overseas community’.

Tahitians are considered to be French citizens, and presently, there is partial devolution of the island. Tahiti has its own budget, laws and assembly. The current president of South Polynesia is Oscar Temaru.