Europeans in search of an imaginary continent
desire to explore the unknown and find new wealth in the
unexplored oceans of the world drove the great nations
to launch expeditions across the Pacific from the 16th
century on. Although
the atolls of the Tuamotu Islands were discovered in
1521, it was only in 1525 that the first human contacts
between "Indians" and Europeans took place in
that part of the ocean.
Spaniard Alvaro de Mendana, an inexperienced navigator,
had sailed west for the first time in 1567 and crossed
Polynesia without discovering our islands ! 28 years
later, Mendana finally managed to get approval for
His second-in-command was the Portuguese
navigator, Pedro Fernandez de Quiros.
16 June, 1595, four ships left Peru with a motley
collection of 400 men.
After sailing for five weeks, they caught sight
of Fatu Hiva.
the first time in history the Marquesans made contact
with both the white man and his firearms. The Spaniards left a sad memorial of their visit: 200 dead
and the ravages of syphilis.
course, the conquerors never found their Eldorado.
Mendana died and with him most of the people he
had led to a bitter end.
By a miracle, a single ship under the command of
Quiros reached the Philippines with 50 survivors.
1605, Quiros, in spite of his unhappy experiences with
Mendana, set off again from Callao in Peru, trying, in
his turn, to discover those famous southern continents.
order to do this, he took the logical path and went
further south. However,
after weeks at sea with no land in sight, lack of water
and food made him take the rational solution and change
course for the northwest.
This unforeseen manoeuvre took him straight to
the Tuamotu Islands.
After having sailed past several inhospitable
atolls, he finally entered Hao's lagoon on 4 February,
voyagers from the three galleons were very well received
by the natives, and were allowed to replenish their
set off in a north-northwest direction, then went due
this long route, islands were few and far between, and
their inhabitants were so hostile they were not even
tempted to land.
expedition finished up in the same way as Mendana's had
in the New Hebrides.
Quiros set off by himself to return to Acapulco
via the north Pacific.
It was 160 years before the next Spanish ship
came back to our waters.
the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries many
were the commercial vessels to plough the Pacific Ocean.
1565, Spain annexed the Philippines and galleons were to go backwards and forwards very frequently between
Mexico and Manila with their cargo.
Once Acapulco was left behind, the crossing
followed a straight line between 10 and 15' North of
the equator. If
the wind was behind them, it took them about a hundred
days to reach Manila.
On the other hand, if they were faced with the
eastern trade winds, it was impossible to take the same
route back. The galleons found another way keeping close
to Japan and the North of the Pacific before coming back
down the Californian coast.
coming and going of vessels laden with riches must have
aroused the cupidity of certain sea-goers as English
pirates soon found the Pacific to be an ideal
1698, French ships from La Rochelle and St Malo made
their presence felt in this ocean, too. They, along with
the English, represented a permanent danger for Spanish
shipping. The sailors from St Malo were the fist of the French to take
the route round Cape Horn rather than through the
Magellan Straits. More and more often their
fellow-countrymen were encouraged to set sail for the
South American ports. As numbers increased, competition
became so fierce that, about 1710, some ships sought to
carry out their commerce on the other side of the ocean.
So, after having sold their French cargo to Peru and
Chile, the captains crossed the Pacific in order to buy
Chinese merchandise and to bring it back for sale in
America. Today, we know for sure that some captains
leaving Asiatic shores preferred to return to France via
Africa. This would seem to indicate that Bougainville
was not the first French navigator to go round the world
of the illicit nature of the traffic in goods that were
more or less contraband, history has no record of these
crews of the very early eighteenth century.
to official records, the first people to open up a new
era in the second half of the 18th century were the
English with their scientific explorations of the
can be no doubt that very little was known about that
ocean in 1760.
in 1700, Louis XIV had already sponsored an expedition
under the command of Jacques de Beauchesne who crossed
the Magellan straits from East to West.
Perhaps his mission was inspired by the success
of St Malo merchants because his main task was to
search for markets, and also collect information.
Duplessis, a hydrographer, was on board ship to take
soundings of the waters and surveys of the lands
encountered on the way.
This scientist was fascinated by his discoveries
and turned out to be a gifted if somewhat naive painter.
expedition followed the coast of South America.
From the commercial point of view, it was a
thanks to Duplessis, this abortive mission was
transformed into a resounding success.
By painting the natural surroundings and giving a
detailed account of the straits, bays and ports, his
work reflected a new conception of exploration. Other governments began to understand the importance of
scientific studies and astronomers, naturalists,
ethnologists and painters figured in future expeditions.
The secrets of the Pacific began to be studied in
first Englishman sent round the world by the king of
England was Commodore John Byron.
In 1765, he sailed past the Tuamotu Islands
without being able to drop anchor.
most important historical event of the era was the
discovery of Tahiti by Samuel Wallis on 17 June 1767.
The English captain anchored the Dolphin
at Taiarapu in the southern part of the island.
The islanders were so hostile he was obliged to
intimidate them by firing cannons.
The next day the ship moved to the North of the
island looking for a more pleasant anchorage, and on 23
June, he landed in Matavai Bay.
first, the "Dolphin" was surrounded by
thousands of people in canoes, fascinated by the
prospect of participating in the barter organized by the
they began throwing stones at the frigate, and Wallis
fired his cannons once again.
next day, he sent armed men on shore to take official
possession of the island to which he gave the name of
"King George III’s Island", but as the
Tahitians continued to attack him, both on sea and land,
Wallis decided to reveal his superiority once and for
fired at the canoes and the crowd gathered on shore to
watch the combat. While
the numerous victims were being lamented over, the
Englishman sent saboteurs with orders to destroy all the
more submissive, the islanders helped the crew to
refurbish their supplies in exchange for nails. Purea's arrival at Matavai could have influenced the attitude
of the natives towards the voyagers, because they
suddenly became very cooperative.
This woman was a very powerful chieftain,
often incorrectly called a queen, and the wife of Amo,
chief of the great tribe of Teva,
whose fleet had been destroyed by Wallis.
rahi was to be killed by the bullets of Pomare's
European mercenaries in 1793.
Purea took charge of the English until they set sail and
wept when they departed.
2 April, 1768, that is to say, a few months after the Dolphin's
visit, two French ships arrived in Tahiti, the
Etoile and the Boudeuse,
under the command of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville.
He spent ten days at anchor on the east coast in
the Hitiaa lagoon.
His ships had set out from Nantes on 16 November
l766, stopped in Brazil and gone round Cape Horn before
crossing the Pacific.
Bougainville set up a camp at Hitiaa for the
thirty or so members of his crew suffering from scurvy.
The use of local medicinal plants alleviated
their sufferings. Apparently, this stay in Tahiti was far too short to allow
the scientists on board, an astronomer and a naturalist,
to do much work. Although
Bougainville was considered to be a far more cultured
man than Wallis or Cook, he was more attracted by the
charms of everyday life than the prospect of analyzing
the characteristics of Polynesian civilization.
Once back in France, he promoted Tahiti's idyllic
image, giving her the name of the New
Cythera, and at the same time proclaiming the island
to be a French possession.
is the flrst time my reading has tempted me to visit a country
other than my
own", said Denis Diderot.
book "Voyage", published in 1771, had a
resounding and long lasting success.
Though Bougainville may have left to Cook the
honor of piercing the mystery of the Pacific, he gave
men a vision of a new paradise and an endless source of
Wallis returned to England, the Admiralty had already
decided to send a new expedition to the Pacific to
observe the transit of Venus across the sun on 3 June, 1769, as this phenomenon was not due to be repeated
James Cook, a young officer of 39, was chosen as leader
of the expedition because of his skill as a cartographer
and his grasp of astronomy, vital attributes for the
success of such an enterprise, he was yet unknown to his
was given the task of sailing a former collier, renamed
the Endeavour, as
far as Tahiti. On
board were Charles Green and two other scientists
charged with studying the flora and fauna.
the London Royal Society, the most distinguished
scientific Organization in the country, had requested
the expedition, the Navy were not vitally concerned by
astronomy and thought the ship could continue her voyage
in order to annex a few territories before the French
the most important result of Cook’s first and two
subsequent voyages, was not in terms of territories, but
of knowledge gained.
Unlike his hasty, ill-organized predecessors, the
patient Cook did away with myths and illusions and gave
the world a long awaited treasure: the map of the whole
soon as he arrived in Tahiti on 13 April 1769, Cook
began to construct a fort to protect his astronomer and
the astronomical observations for 3 June were a failure,
because the instruments lacked precision, on the other
hand, the naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander
collected an enormous number of new species of plants,
birds, fish and insects. Cook also committed to his log precious descriptions of the
country’s customs, which today give us a fairly
extensive knowledge of Tahitian culture, which up to
that time had never been put on paper.
great explorer dropped anchor once again in Matavai Bay
in 1773, 1774 and 1777, each time bringing the world new
details of Polynesian society.
LEMAIRE and SCHOUTEN
During these two centuries, not one
of these navigators discovered
- 1767 17
June. WALLIS. Discovery of
- 1768 6
April. BOUGAINVILLE. The French
16 March. Bougainville goes back to
Brest, accompanied by Ahutoru, the
first Tahitian to go to Europe. 17
April Cook. First landing at Venus
The Spanish navigator lands at
Tautira; four Tahitians set out for
COOK. Second voyage. Omai is taken
Boenechea comes back from
Peru with three Tahitians.
COOK. Third voyage. Omai returns.
- 1779 Cook is massacred in Hawaii.
Mutiny of the Bounty.
- 1791 Vancouver arrives in Tahiti.
Arrival of James Wilson.
Conversion of the population First
landing to Christinanity; end of the
preat Venus colonial period.
The Bounty's mercenaries
companion, Joseph Banks, once he became President of the
London Royal Society, chose a gardener, David Nelson, to
accompany William Bligh on his overseas mission. The aim of the expedition was to collect breadfruit-tree
cuttings and transplant them in the British West Indies. These men had already been to Tahiti in 1777 with Captain
the captain of the Bounty, was victim of the most famous
mutiny in history, but we are not going to repeat the
story here. However,
though authors and film-directors have not always
treated that energetic leader of men very kindly, they
were strangely silent about how crucial this episode was
for Tahitian history.
now know that the crew had had a very strong influence
on the Tahitian people during their five month stay in
1789 and before the mutiny.
Bligh and his faithful had been abandoned at sea,
Fletcher Christian and 24 sailors, some of whom had been
forced to stay on board because of their professional
qualifications, tried to settle on Tubuai, in the
Austral Islands. However,
this settlement proved impossible because of the
opposition of the local inhabitants.
So Christian decided to set out to discover
another island after having returned to Tahiti to
disembark those who had chosen to stay there in spite of
the obvious risk of being easily discovered by the
With a mere eight companions and a few Tahitians,
Christian founded the population of Pitcairn.
sixteen sailors who stayed in Tahiti, plus one man who
had been left on land in the meantime by an English
captain passing through Polynesia, changed the course of
Tahitian history, thanks to their weapons and their
willingness to take military action in local wars.
Cook was on his last voyage ten years before, he had
already lent his support to a young chief Tu, at
logger-heads with other tribes.
This manoeuvre was so successful that the future
Pomare became Tahiti's number one at the time of the
they had been received on board the Bounty
by Bligh, and covered \with gifts, Tu, whose married
name became Tina, and his wife Itia, were envied by all
the,/ other chiefs for the favours they enjoyed.
Bligh's departure, of course, left the royal
couple in despair as they feared their rivals'
it was obvious why Tina, who had changed his name again,
this time to Mate, betrayed so much interest in the
of the English and their muskets.
It had not taken him long to realize that if he
had a few European mercenaries he could gain universal
respect and the control of the whole island.
However, apart from two or three brutish fellows
who ended up by kflling one another, the mutineers
preferred to set about building a schooner without
further ado, rather than get involved in a war at Mate's
request. In April, 1790, they limited their action to furnishing
allowed Tu to conquer Moorea.
The first time they took direct action was
against the people of Faaa, who, terrified by their
presence in the battle, withdrew in great confusion.
Realizing then that they had made many enemies,
and fearing for their lives if, by chance, their
adversaries should \Win, the mercenaries took sides with
Ari'ipaea, Mate's brother.
After several more battles, from which Mate
emerged victor \without ever having had to take part in
them, a truce was granted to the vanquished provided
that they recognized the sovereignty of the one who
would be the first-Pomare, and that they invested him
with the maro ura.
This royal belt was used to consecrate the
young Tu, Mate's son, and confer on him the supreme
ceremonies for his investiture were to take place on the
marae in the presence of the defeated ari'i.
the men of the Bounty, this end to hostilities coincided
with the unexpected arrival of an English ship, the Pandora,
which had come to collect them.
The mercenaries panicked and some fled to the
mountains to hide,
be captured and taken on board to await trial in
Pomare line and the end of an ancient society
English and French interference in Tahitian affairs is,
historically speaking, as important as the name POMARE,
as these two powers were vying for the possession of new
fact, the political position held by the first Pomare
could have been due to the arms agreement concluded
between foreigners and a local chief.
the Europeans arrived, the Teva lineage were gathered at
the feet of the great chief of Papara, and exerted
absolute power. Recently, the name Teva, originally
belonging to a kind of federation, has been used to
designate the former dynasty, as they had no real
patronym at that time.
it would seem that the Teva, weakened by wars with other
powerful chiefs, were finally dominated by the Pomare
who were equipped with European arms.
aside this debate as to which of the two great royal
families had the most right to govern, let us note that
Tu, the future Pomare 1, was only a local chief whose
rank was inferior to that of the Papara chiefs when Cook
first arrived in Tahiti. Furthermore, he tries to hide the fact that he comes from the
Tuamotu Islands as he considers it a blot on his
escutcheon, the Paumotu being considered inferior to the
during that epoch, genealogy was of prime importance and
Pomare managed to vindicate his claim to greater powers
because of the number of relatives he had throughout the
son, Pomare 11, known for his intelligence and outgoing
personality, became King in 1815.
He realized how important the influence of the
missionaries and British commerce was to be for him.
He asked to be baptized in 1812, thus abandoning
his traditional Gods.
Before his despotic reign began, a religious war
had broken out, but it was terminated by the victory of
the Christian converts in the battle of Fei pi in 1815.
defeat marked the theoretical end of the traditionalists
and of the ancient r6gime.
From now on, popaa
and the Pomare family became dominant.
In this way, the Arii, sages and priests, were to
disappear along with idols and primitive tools.
1813 Aimata was born and her father wanted her to be
raised in the new religion.
However, the missionaries were not interested in
her upbringing and devoted all their attention to her
young brother, Prince Pomare Ill. In order to make sure of his allegiance, the English had him
consecrated at a very young age, but the little king
died six years later.
Aimata succeeded to the throne, at the age of 14.
The missionaries had no choice but to accept her.
Her Puritan tutors did not approve of her wayward
morals, and her hasty consecration in January 1827 was
not a success.
she became Queen Pomare Vahine FV she was to be the most
illustrious sovereign Tahiti had ever known and reigned
over this new society for half a century.
When she died in 1877, she was succeeded by one
of her sons who became PomareV.
He was the king who donated his islands to France
in 1880 and died the same year Gauguin arrived in
Tahiti, in 1891. The
Pomare dynasty was now extinct.
wife, Marau Salmon, half Jewish and half Tahitian,
became the last
Queen of Tahiti,
though she never took the reins officially.
Cultured and artistic,
she has left a
legacy of interesting writing on the old days for South
She died in Papeete on 2 February, 1934.
the reign of Pomare Vahine IV, one man was to play a
very important role in the unfolding history of Tahiti.
At this time, the setting up of the Catholic
church in Tahiti had developed into a power-struggle
between the English and the French.
A Protestant missionary, George Pritchard, of the
London Missionary Society, arrived in 1824, and was
acting English consul from 1837.
Pritchard who had a geat influence over the
Queen, encouraged Pomare Vahine IV, moreover a faithful
Protestant, to request the English to make Tahiti a
protectorate from 1838.
In 1842, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars arrived in Tahiti, having
previously annexed the Marquesas for France. Pritchard was in London to plead the cause of Tahiti's
becoming a protectorate, and the Queen had withdrawn to
In her absence, the admiral, along vath the French consul,
Moerenhout, organised the leading pro-French chiefs into
signing a demand for French protection.
Diverse threats eventually persuaded the queen to
sign the contract, and the country was proclaimed a
protectorate on 9 September 1842.
1843, Papeete received confirmation that the
protectorate treaty had been ratified by Louis-Philippe
and Armand Bruat was appointed Governor of the Marquesas.
In actual fact, he took up residence in Tahiti,
as it was more convenient.
after Dupetit-Thouars'departure, the first governor was
left with an explosive and difficult situation because
of a ridiculous little accident: the admiral had
forbidden the queen to fly her personal flag from her
palace, and had had the official protectorate flag
reinstated by armed force.
Queen Pomare was outraged by this attack on her
sovereignty and complained to the king of France.
Pritchard, of course, hoped for some reaction
from England. Furthermore,
he took advantage of the presence of an English ship in
Papeete to persuade the queen and her people that other
warships were coming to their aid.
when another English ship, the Basilisk,
dropped anchor in Tahitian waters at the beginning
of 1844, it was not bringing war, but messages for
Pritchard and for the captain of the ship which had
arrived before French annexation.
The English government asked them to take no
action against the establishment and continuation of the
Whereas the captain had orders to leave Tahiti
immediately, Pritchard was requested to treat the French
authorities with the utmost respect and to advise the
queen to act prudently. He considered it was no use
informing Pomare of the contents of the dispatch, but
the situation was reversed because a letter signed by
the queen began to circulate throughout the tribal
areas. She assured her subjects that England would never desert them
and that the English vessel had gone for reinforcements,
leaving behind one ship for their protection.
She insisted on the fact that they should
patiently bear \with the French and refrain from
maltreating them until further news came to hand.
course, the letter had the opposite effect, and Queen
Pomare, fearing for her life, took refuge, with her
family, on the Basilisk.
The first sign of revolt broke out on the peninsula.
Bruat was having a small fort built at Taravao, the
were gathering 2,000 men together.
this tense period of confrontation, Pritchard was
arrested in Papeete and then expelled on 13 March, 1844.
first skirmishes took place in Taravao a few days later,
and the following month, the governor engaged 400 men
who disembarked to carry out a bloody encounter on the
east coast.This battle, on Mahaena Beach, was the beginning of guerilla
warfare which was to last three years.
That day, the Tahitians lost 102 men, and the
Tahitians, realizing the risk they were taking with such
encounters, set up several entrenched camps high up in
the valleys of the island and from there launched
sporadic attacks against French positions.
the Queen left for Raiatea, the fighting had extended to
At last, on 17
December, 1846, the French took the Fautaua fort and
peace was declared
IV ended up by joining the cause, and on 7 January,
1847, they celebrated the signing of the agreement
between the local chiefs and the French government.
However, Bruat did
not manage to get the Leeward Islands included in the
treaty, and they
were declared independent in June, 1847.
The successor to the
queen, her son, Pomare V, finally gave his territories
to France on 29
Gambier archipelago, under French protection since 1844,
was annexed in 1881, Huahine in 1897 and the Austral
since 1889, became a colony in 1900.
1885, Tahiti and her archipelago were given the official
title of the official title of the"Etablissements
Francais de l'Oceanie".
Papeete adapted to the colonial administration
but in the outlying islands and the country areas,
people carried on living as they had done for centuries.
"Etablissements Francais de I'Oceanie"
At the time of the French protectorate, the central
structure of Tahitian administration was composed of the
royal court, the Assembly and the district councils.
French authority was represented by the governor,
assisted by diverse officers and civil servants.
1866, the Tahitian legislative assembly voted for the French
legislation proposed by the governor.
For Tahiti, a country with a population reduced
to 8,000 by the ravages of tuberculosis, this decision
made by local chiefs was certainly the most important
event of the epoch before the abdication of the last
king on 29 June, 1880.
up until 1880 France had only exercised her sovereignty
over the Marquesas Islands, by the beginning of the
twentieth century, her empire included all the
archipelagos. French rule was not accepted in the
Leeward Islands, however, without a long struggle from
1889 to 1897.
was a mere village at that time, lulled into a state of
torpor by the weight of its administration.
The capital, buried in its rampant tropical
vegetation, was a static, melancholy place with houses
scattered here and there and a population of 4,000
including 95% of the French settlers.
and the tropical climate bred ennui and the idle civil
servants spent their time at the Colonial Club where
tongues wagged freely. Completely separated from the
Tahitians and scorning the community of "poor
hundred or so settlers struggled with insurmountable
financial difficulties. These French colonists, who had
mostly come from the army or navy, had no income once
they chose to remain on the spot after they had been
demobilized. A few of them tackled agriculture thanks to
their Tahitian concubines'lands, but even then they only
managed to keep body and soul together.
English, Americans and Germans, who were not so
numerous, came from a more wealthy background and often
had considerable capital behind them.
Some of them married into Polynesian aristocracy
and this brought them land and labour. In this way, the
first families to take control of local commerce were
the Salmons, Laharragues, Branders and Horts.
realized that the "French Colonisation Societv was
far from being efficient", even though their aims
were to promote colonial settlement without their
guaranteeing land, and she authorized the recruiting of
groups of people from Melanesia, the Gilbert Islands,
Atiu and Easter Island joined the Chinese community.
Chinese, who had fled the grinding poverty of
southern China, arrived for the first time in Tahiti in
1856, a small group who were employed in the cotton
plantations of the Marquesas.
But in 1865, Chinese immigration became more
Agricultural Company of Tahiti did, in fact, have
recourse to coolies to counteract the colony’s lack of
workers were engaged for 7 years by the managers of the
"great plantation" of Atimaono which produced
cotton and coffee.
William Stewart's plantation prospered during the United
States' War of Secession, when it was over, cotton
prices slumped and Atimaono was headed for ruin. The
authorities then began to worry about the disorder that
could arise if the unemployed Chinese spread throughout
actual fact, not many coolies settled in Tahiti, as the
majority preferred to go back to China, or around the
from mainland China was not to begin again until after
Chinese who came from this second wave of migration, and
later in the twenties, were the ones to make their name
1964 and 1973, metropolitan France gradually granted
French nationality to all these Chinese citizens.