The inhabitants of French Polynesia are mainly indigenous Polynesians or those of mixed Polynesian and European descent (known as Demis); about 55% are Protestant and 30% are Roman Catholic. There is a considerable Chinese and a smaller French minority. French and Tahitian are both official languages.
Tropical fruits and coffee are grown on plantations, and there is pearl farming and deep-sea commercial fishing. Tourism is also important to the economy. Cultured pearls, coconut products, mother-of-pearl, vanilla, and shark meat are exported, while fuels, foodstuffs, and equipment are imported.
French Polynesia is governed under the 1958 French constitution. The president of France, represented by the High Commissioner of the Republic, is the head of state. The government is headed by the president of French Polynesia, who is elected by the legislature for a five-year term; there are no term limits. Members of the 57-seat Territorial Assembly are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The territory also elects two deputies to the National Assembly and one member to the Senate of France.
Beginning c.300 A.D., migrating Polynesians settled the islands that later became French Polynesia, and from the islands subsequently settled Hawaii, New Zealand, and other parts of Polynesia. European contact began in the 16th cent., and the area was widely explored by the French during the 18th and 19th cent., when French missionaries also came to the region. The Marquesas and Society groups were annexed by France in 1842, Tahiti in 1844, and by the end of the 19th cent. the other islands had come under French administration. Uniform governance of the area began in 1903, and the islands became an overseas territory in 1946. France began testing nuclear weapons in some parts of French Polynesia in the 1960s, meeting with widespread local opposition; a series of six tests in 1995-96 was declared by France to be the last. Many inhabitants have sought a greater measure of independence from French control, and limited autonomy was awarded in 1984. In 2004 the territory became a French overseas country. France granted the territory greater autonomy in most local affairs and regional relations but retained control of law enforcement, defense, and the money supply.
Elections in May, 2004, brought a coalition of independents and pro-independence legislators to power, and Oscar Temaru, of the pro-independence Union for Democracy, became territorial president. Temaru's coalition lost a confidence vote in Oct., 2004, and Gaston Flosse, long-time leader of the government and an opponent of independence, was returned to power. The change led to political tensions in French Polynesia; at the same time, the French State Council called for rerunning the balloting for nearly two thirds of the seats.
The Feb., 2005, revote enabled Temaru to form a new coalition, and he again became territorial president. Temaru again lost a confidence vote in Dec., 2006, and Gaston Tong Sang, the pro-autonomy mayor of Bora Bora, was elected to succeed Temaru. Tong Sang, however, lost a confidence vote in Sept., 2007, after a split in the anti-independence camp, and Temaru again became president.
Tong Sang's party won a plurality of the legislative seats after the Jan.-Feb., 2008, elections, but Flosse subsequently was elected president with support from Temaru. By April, however, defectors from Temaru's party had aligned with Tong Sang, who replaced Flosse as president. In Feb., 2009, a realignment in the assembly led to the resignation of Tong Sang and the election of Temaru as president; in April Tong Sang's party joined the government and Flosse's went into opposition; and in November Tong Sang again became president with the support of Flosse's party.
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The French Polynesian island groups do not share a common history before the establishment of the French protectorate in 1889. The first French Polynesian islands to be settled by Polynesians were the Marquesas Islands in AD 300 and the Society Islands in AD 800. The Polynesians were organized in petty chieftainships.
European discovery began in 1521 when the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan sighted Pukapuka in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen discovered Bora Bora in the Society Islands in 1722, and the British explorer Samuel Wallis visited Tahiti in 1767. The French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville visited Tahiti in 1768, while the British explorer James Cook visited in 1769. Christian missions began with Spanish priests who stayed in Tahiti for a year from 1774; Protestants from the London Missionary Society settled permanently in Polynesia in 1797.
King Pomare II of Tahiti was forced to flee to Moorea in 1803; he and his subjects were converted to Protestantism in 1812. French Catholic missionaries arrived on Tahiti in 1834; their expulsion in 1836 caused France to send a gunboat in 1838. In 1842, Tahiti and Tahuata were declared a French protectorate, to allow Catholic missionaries to work undisturbed. The capital of Papeete was founded in 1843. In 1880, France annexed Tahiti, changing the status from that of a protectorate to that of a colony.
In the 1880s, France claimed the Tuamotu Archipelago, which formerly belonged to the Pomare dynasty, without formally annexing it. Having declared a protectorate over Tahuatu in 1842, the French regarded the entire Marquesas Islands as French. In 1885, France appointed a governor and established a general council, thus giving it the proper administration for a colony. The islands of Rimatara and Rurutu unsuccessfully lobbied for British protection in 1888, so in 1889 they were annexed by France. Postage stamps were first issued in the colony in 1892. The first official name for the colony was Établissements de l'Océanie (Settlements in Oceania); in 1903 the general council was changed to an advisory council and the colony's name was changed to Établissements Français de l'Océanie (French Settlements in Oceania).
In 1940 the administration of French Polynesia recognised the Free French Forces and many Polynesians served in World War II. Unknown at the time to French and Polynesians, the Konoe Cabinet in Imperial Japan on September 16, 1940 included French Polynesia among the many territories which were to become Japanese possessions in the post-war world - though in the course of the war in the Pacific the Japanese were not able to launch an actual invasion of the French islands.
In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and the islands' status was changed to an overseas territory; the islands' name was changed in 1957 to Polynésie Française (French Polynesia). In 1962, France's early nuclear testing ground of Algeria became independent and the Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago was selected as the new testing site; tests were conducted underground after 1974.In 1977, French Polynesia was granted partial internal autonomy; in 1984, the autonomy was extended. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2004. In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing at Fangataufa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The last test was on January 27, 1996. On January 29, 1996, France announced it would accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and no longer test nuclear weapons.
Political life in French Polynesia has been marked by great instability since the mid-2000s. On September 14, 2007, the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru, 63, was elected president of French Polynesia for the 3rd time in 3 years (with 27 of 44 votes cast in the territorial assembly). He replaced former President Gaston Tong Sang, opposed to independence, who lost a no-confidence vote in the Assembly of French Polynesia on 31 August after the longtime former president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, hitherto opposed to independence, sided with his long enemy Oscar Temaru to topple the government of Gaston Tong Sang. Oscar Temaru, however, had no stable majority in the Assembly of French Polynesia, and new territorial elections were held in February 2008 to solve the political crisis.
The party of Gaston Tong Sang won the territorial elections, but that did not solve the political crisis: the two minority parties of Oscar Temaru and Gaston Flosse, who together have one more member in the territorial assembly than the political party of Gaston Tong Sang, allied to prevent Gaston Tong Sang from becoming president of French Polynesia. Gaston Flosse was then elected president of French Polynesia by the territorial assembly on February 23, 2008 with the support of the pro-independence party led by Oscar Temaru, while Oscar Temaru was elected speaker of the territorial assembly with the support of the anti-independence party led by Gaston Flosse. Both formed a coalition cabinet. Many observers doubted that the alliance between the anti-independence Gaston Flosse and the pro-independence Oscar Temaru, designed to prevent Gaston Tong Sang from becoming president of French Polynesia, could last very long.
At the French municipal elections held in March 2008, several prominent mayors who are member of the Flosse-Temaru coalition lost their offices in key municipalities of French Polynesia, which was interpreted as a disapproval of the way Gaston Tong Sang, whose party French Polynesian voters had placed first in the territorial elections the month before, had been prevented from becoming president of French Polynesia by the last minute alliance between Flosse and Temaru's parties. Eventually, on April 15, 2008 the government of Gaston Flosse was toppled by a constructive vote of no confidence in the territorial assembly when two members of the Flosse-Temaru coalition left the coalition and sided with Tong Sang's party. Gaston Tong Sang was elected president of French Polynesia as a result of this constructive vote of no confidence, but his majority in the territorial assembly is very narrow. He offered posts in his cabinet to Flosse and Temaru's parties which they both refused. Gaston Tong Sang has called all parties to help end the instability in local politics, a prerequisite to attract foreign investors needed to develop the local economy.
Despite a local assembly and government, French Polynesia is not in a free association with France, like the Cook Islands with New Zealand or Puerto Rico with the United States. As a French overseas collectivity, the local government has no competence in justice, education, security and defense, directly provided and administered by the French State, the Gendarmerie and the French Military. The highest representative of the State in the territory is the High Commissioner of the Republic (Haut commissaire de la République).
French Polynesia also sends two deputies to the French National Assembly, one representing the Leeward Islands administrative subdivision, the Austral Islands administrative subdivision, the commune (municipality) of Moorea-Maiao, and the westernmost part of Tahiti (including the capital Papeete), and the other representing the central and eastern part of Tahiti, the Tuamotu-Gambier administrative division, and the Marquesas Islands administrative division. French Polynesia also sends one senator to the French Senate.
French Polynesians vote in the French presidential elections and at the 2007 French presidential election, in which the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru openly called to vote for the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal while the parties opposed to independence generally supported the center-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, the turnout in French Polynesia was 69.12% in the first round of the election and 74.67% in the second round. French Polynesians voters placed Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of Ségolène Royal in both rounds of the election (2nd round: Nicolas Sarkozy 51.9%; Ségolène Royal 48.1%).
It is made up of several groups of islands, the largest and most populated of which is Tahiti.
The island groups are:
Aside from Tahiti, some other important atolls, islands, and island groups in French Polynesia are: Ahe, Bora Bora, Hiva `Oa, Huahine, Maiao, Maupiti, Mehetia, Moorea, Nuku Hiva, Raiatea, Tahaa, Tetiaroa, Tubuai, and Tupai.
French Polynesia has a moderately developed economy, which is dependent on imported goods, tourism, and the financial assistance of mainland France. Tourist facilities are well developed and are available on the major islands. Also, as the noni fruit from these islands is discovered for its medicinal uses, people have been able to find jobs related to this agricultural industry.
The legal tender of French Polynesia is the CFP Franc.
In 2007 French Polynesia's imports amounted to 1.9 billion US dollars and exports amounted to 197 million US dollars. The major export of French Polynesia is their famous black Tahitian pearls which accounted for 64% of exports (in value) in 2007.
At the November 2002 census, 87.2% of people were born in French Polynesia, 9.5% were born in metropolitan France, 1.4% were born in overseas France outside of French Polynesia, and 1.9% were born in foreign countries. At the 1988 census, the last census which asked questions regarding ethnicity, 66.5% of people were ethnically unmixed Polynesians, 7.1 % were Polynesians with light European or East Asian mixing, 11.9% were Europeans, 9.3% were people of mixed European and Polynesian descent, the so-called Demis (literally meaning "Half"), and 4.7% were East Asians (mainly Chinese). The Europeans, the Demis and the East Asians are essentially concentrated on the island of Tahiti, particularly in the urban area of Papeete, where their share of the population is thus much more important than in French Polynesia overall. Race mixing has been going on for more than a century already in French Polynesia, resulting in a rather mixed society. For example Gaston Flosse, the long-time leader of French Polynesia, is a Demi (European father from Lorraine and Polynesian mother). His main opponent Gaston Tong Sang is a member of the East Asian (in his case Chinese) community. Oscar Temaru, the pro-independence leader, is ethnically Polynesian (father from Tahiti, mother from the Cook Islands), but he has admitted to also have Chinese ancestry.
Despite a long tradition of race mixing, racial tensions have been growing in recent years, with politicians using a xenophobic discourse and fanning the flame of racial tensions. The pro-independence politicians have long pointed the finger at the European community (Oscar Temaru, pro-independence leader and former president of French Polynesia, was for example found guilty of "racial discrimination" by the criminal court of Papeete in 2007 for having referred to the Europeans living in French Polynesia as "trash", "waste"). More recently, the Chinese community which controls many businesses in French Polynesia has been targeted in verbal attacks by the newly allied Gaston Flosse and Oscar Temaru in their political fight against Gaston Tong Sang, whose Chinese origins they emphasize in contrast with their Polynesian origins, despite the fact that they both have mixed origins (European and Polynesian for Flosse; Polynesian and Chinese for Temaru). In April 2008, after the government of Gaston Flosse was toppled in the Assembly of French Polynesia and Gaston Tong Sang became the new president of French Polynesia, two French Polynesian labor union leaders made anti-Chinese remarks ("I'm not hiding from the fact that I wouldn't like our country to be ruled by someone who's not a Polynesian"; "a Chinese only thinks of the business leaders, because he is a businessman"). These anti-Chinese remarks caused a political furor and were widely condemned in French Polynesia.
|Official figures from past censuses.|
Medical treatment is generally good on the major islands, but is limited in areas that are more remote or less/sparsely populated. Patients with emergencies or with serious illnesses are often referred to facilities on Tahiti for treatment. In Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, two major hospitals as well as several private clinics provide 24-hour medical service. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization or medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services.