[tuh-hee-tee, tah-]
Tahiti, island (2002 pop. 169.674), South Pacific, in the Windward group of the Society Islands, French Polynesia. The capital is Papeete. Tahiti is the largest (402 sq mi/1,041 sq km) and most important of the French Pacific islands. The peninsula of Taiarapu, which forms E Tahiti, is joined to the western part of the island by the Isthmus of Taravao. Tahiti is mountainous, with four prominent peaks, the highest of which is Mt. Orohena (7,618 ft/2,322 m). The chief products are tropical fruits, copra, vanilla, and sugarcane; there are pearl fisheries off the coast. Tourism is easily the most important industry on the island. The inhabitants of Tahiti are mostly Polynesian, but there is a large Chinese minority.

The island was settled by Polynesians in the 14th cent.; the first European to visit Tahiti was the English navigator Samuel Wallis, and later visits were made by Capt. James Cook (1769, 1773, 1777), and by the Bounty under Lt. William Bligh (1788). English missionaries arrived in the 1797, and French missionaries by the late 1830s. In 1843 the Tahitian queen Pomare IV was forced to agree to the establishment of a French protectorate. After her death (1877) and the subsequent abdication (1880) of her son Pomare V, France made Tahiti a colony. During World War II the Tahitians voted (1940) to support the Free French; in 1946 all the indigenous inhabitants became French citizens. In 1995, French nuclear testing at two atolls about 750 miles away sparked protests on Tahiti. Paul Gauguin did many of his paintings in Tahiti, and Robert Louis Stevenson spent some time there. Tahiti was formerly called Otaheite and King George III Island.

Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. The island had a population of 178,133 inhabitants according to the August 2007 census. This makes it the most populated island of French Polynesia, with 68.6% of the total population. The capital is Papeete, on the northwest coast. Tahiti has also been known as O'tahiti.


Tahiti is 45km (28mi) at its widest and covers 1,045km² (403.5 sq mi), the highest elevation 2,241m (7,352 ft) (Mount Orohena). Mont Roonui in the southeast is 1332m. The island consists of two roughly round portions centered on volcanic mountains, connected by a short isthmus named after the small town of Taravao, which sits there. The northwestern part is Tahiti Nui ("big Tahiti"), and the southeastern part, much smaller, Tahiti Iti ("small Tahiti") or Taiarapu. Tahiti Nui is heavily populated (especially around Papeete) and benefits from roads and highways. Tahiti Iti has remained isolated, its southeastern half (Te Pari) accessible only by boat or hiking. A main road winds around the island between the mountains and sea and an interior road climbs past dairy farms and citrus groves with panoramic views. Tahiti has many swift streams, including the Papenoo in the north.

Tahiti has lush rain forest.

November through April is the wet season, the wettest month January with 13.2 inches (335mm) in Papeete. August is driest with 1.9 inches (48mm). The average low is 70°F (21°C) and the high 88°F (31 °C) with little seasonal variation. The lowest temperature in Papeete was 61°F (16°C) and the highest 93°F (34°C).


Tahiti is estimated to have been settled between AD300 and 800 by Polynesians from Tonga and Samoa, although some estimates place the date earlier. The fertile soil combined with fishing provided food.

Although the first European sighting of the islands was by a Spanish ship in 1606, Spain made no effort to trade with or colonize the island. Samuel Wallis, an English sea captain, sighted Tahiti on 18 June 1767, and is considered the first European visitor. The relaxed and contented nature of the people and the characterization of the island as a paradise impressed early Europeans, planting the seed for a romanticization by the West that endures to this day.

Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, completing the first French circumnavigation. Bougainville made Tahiti famous in Europe when he published Voyage autour du monde. He described the island as an earthly paradise where men and women live happily in innocence, away from the corruption of civilization. His account illustrated the concept of the noble savage, and influenced utopian thoughts of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the French Revolution.

In April 1769 Captain James Cook visited the island on secret orders from the Lords of the Admiralty to view the Transit of Venus on 2 June. He set up camp at Matavai Bay and stayed on until 9 August. The population was estimated to be 50,000 including all the nearby islands in the chain. After Cook, European ships landed with greater frequency. The best-known was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied after leaving Tahiti in 1789. The European influence disrupted traditional society, bringing prostitution, venereal disease, and alcohol. Introduced diseases including typhus, influenza and smallpox killed so many Tahitians that by 1797, the population was only 16,000. Later it was to drop as low as 6,000.

In 1842, a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain when Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting independently of the French government, convinced Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV to accept a French protectorate. George Pritchard, a Birmingham-born missionary and acting British Consul, had been away at the time. However he returned to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French. In November 1843, Dupetit-Thouars (again on his own initiative) landed sailors on the island, annexing it to France. He then threw Pritchard into prison, subsequently sending him back to Britain.

News of Tahiti reached Europe in early 1844. The French statesman François Guizot, supported by King Louis-Philippe of France, had denounced annexation of the island. However, war between the French and the Tahitians continued until 1847. The island remained a French protectorate until June 29, 1880, when King Pomare V (1842–1891) was forced to cede the sovereignty of Tahiti and its dependencies to France. He was given the titular position of Officer of the Orders of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit of France. In 1946, Tahiti and the whole of French Polynesia became a Territoire d'outre-mer (French overseas territory). Tahitians were granted French citizenship, a right that had been campaigned for by nationalist leader Marcel Pouvana'a A Oopa for many years. In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of Collectivité d'outre-mer (French overseas community).

French painter Paul Gauguin lived on Tahiti in the 1890s and painted many Tahitian subjects. Papeari has a small Gauguin museum.


Tahitians are French citizens with nearly full civil and political rights. The Tahitian language and the French language are both in use.

Tahiti is part of French Polynesia (Polynésie Française). French Polynesia is a semi-autonomous territory of France with its own assembly, president, budget and laws. France's influence is limited to subsidies, education and security. The former President of French Polynesia, Oscar Temaru, advocates full independence from France, however, only about 20% of the population is in favor.

During a press conference on June 26, 2006 during the second France-Oceania Summit, French President Jacques Chirac said he did not think the majority of Tahitians wanted independence. He would keep an open door to a possible referendum in the future.

Elections for the Assembly of French Polynesia, the Territorial Assembly of French Polynesia, were held on May 23, 2004 (see French Polynesian legislative election, 2004). In a surprise result, Oscar Temaru's pro-independence progressive coalition formed a Government with a one-seat majority in the 57-seat parliament, defeating the conservative party led by Gaston Flosse (see also List of political parties in French Polynesia). On October 8, 2004, Flosse succeeded in passing a censure motion against the Government, provoking a crisis. A controversy is whether the national government of France should use its power to call for new elections in a local government in case of a political crisis.


The people are of Polynesian (Pacific Islander) ancestry, so-called Demis, as well as of European ancestry and the people of East Asian (essentially Chinese) ancestry are concentrated in Tahiti, making up a larger share of the population in Tahiti than in French Polynesia overall (see Demographics section at French Polynesia). Most people from metropolitan France live in Papeete and its suburbs, notably Punaauia where they make up almost 20% of the population.

Historical population

1767 1797 1848 1897 1911 1921 1926 1931 1936 1941
50,000 to
16,000 8,600 10,750 11,800 11,700 14,200 16,800 19,000 23,100
1951 1956 1962 1971 1977 1983 1988 1996 2002 2007
30,500 38,100 45,400 79,494 95,604 115,820 131,309 150,721 169,674 178,133
Official figures from past censuses.

Tourism is a significant industry, mostly to the islands of Bora Bora and Moorea. In July, the Heiva festival in Papeete celebrates Polynesian culture and the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille in France.

After the establishment of the CEP (Centre d'Experimentation du Pacifique) in 1963, the standard of living in French Polynesia increased considerably and many Polynesians abandoned traditional activities and many emigrated to the centre at Papeete. Even though the standard of living is elevated (due mainly to France's FDI investment), the economy is reliant on imports. At the cessation of CEP activities, France signed the Progress Pact with Tahiti to compensate the loss of financial resources and assist in education and tourism with an investment of about US$150 million a year from the beginning of 2006. The main trading partners are France for about 40% of imports and about 25% of exports, the USA, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Black pearl farming is also a substantial source of revenues, most of the pearls being exported to Japan, Europe and the US. Tahiti also exports vanilla, fruits, flowers, monoi, fish, coprah oil, and noni.

Unemployment affects about 13% of the active population, especially women and unqualified young people.

Tahiti’s currency, the French Pacific Franc (CFP, also known as XPF), is pegged to the Euro at 1 CFP = EUR .00838 (approx. 81 CFP to the US Dollar in January 2008). Hotels and financial institutions offer exchange services.

There is no sales tax in Tahiti. However, a 2% reduced rate Value Added Tax (VAT) applies to rented accommodation (hotel rooms, pensions and family stays), and room and meal packages for tourists. A 4% rate applies to purchases in shops, stores and boutiques. A 6% rate applies to bars, excursions, car rentals, snacks and restaurants.


Tahiti hosts a French university, Université de la Polynésie Française ("University of French Polynesia"). It is a growing university, with 2,000 students and 60 researchers. Le Collège La Mennais is in Papeete.


Faa'a International Airport is the international airport of Tahiti with Air Tahiti Nui being the national airline while Air Tahiti is the main airline for inter-island flights. The Moorea Ferry is also a notable ferry that operates from Papeete. There are also several ferries that transport people and goods throughout the islands.


See also

External links

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