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Tahiti, Pacific Ocean

July 9th, 2006 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places

Tahiti is the largest island of French Polynesia, located in the archipelago of Society Islands in the southern Pacific Ocean, at 17°40′S 149°30′W. The island had a population of 169,674 inhabitants according to the 2002 census. (This makes it the most populated island of French Polynesia holding 69% of the total population.) The capital is Papeete, on the northwest coast. Tahiti has also been historically known as Otaheite.

Tahiti is some 45 km (28 mi) long at the widest point and covers 1,048 km² (404 sq mi), with the highest elevation being at 2,241 m (7,352 ft) above sea level (Mount Orohena). 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 known as Tahiti Nui ("big Tahiti"), and the southeastern part, much smaller, is known as Tahiti Iti ("small Tahiti") or Taiarapu. Whereas Tahiti Nui is quite heavily populated (especially around Papeete) and benefits from rather good infrastructure such as roads and highways, Tahiti Iti has remained quite isolated, its southeastern half (Te Pari) being accessible only by boat or hiking.

The vegetation is lush rain forest. The wet season is November through April.

The island is served by Faa'a International Airport

The native population is Polynesian, and is estimated to have settled on the island sometime between AD 300 and 800, although some estimates place the date earlier.

The fertile island soil combined with fishing provided ample food for the population with ease. The perceived relaxed and contented nature of the local people and the characterization of the island as a paradise much impressed early European visitors, planting the seed for a romanticization by the West that endures to this day.

Although the islands were first spotted 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 June 18, 1767, and is considered the first European visitor to the island.

Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville who was completing the first French circumnavigation. Bougainville made Tahiti famous in Europe when he published the account of his travel in 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 of the island powerfully illustrated the concept of the noble savage, and influenced the utopian thoughts of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the advent of the French Revolution.

In 1774 Captain James Cook visited the island, and estimated the population at that time to be some 200,000. This was probably too high; another estimate from the same period was 121,500. After Cook's visit, European ships landed on the island with ever greater frequency. The best-known of these ships was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied shortly after leaving Tahiti in 1789. The European influence caused significant disruption to the traditional society, by bringing prostitution, venereal diseases, and alcohol to the island. Introduced diseases including typhus and smallpox killed so many Tahitians that by 1797, the island's population was only about 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, was able to convince 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 of the agreement. However he returned to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French. In November 1843, Dupetit-Thouars (again completely on his own initiative) landed sailors on the island, formally annexing it to France. He then proceeded to throw Pritchard into prison, subsequently sending him unceremoniously back to Britain.

News of the events in Tahiti had reached Europe in early 1844. The French statesman François Guizot, supported by King Louis-Philippe of France, had strongly disclaimed the 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). In 2003, this status was changed to that of Pays d'outre-mer (French overseas country).

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 full civil and political rights. The Tahitian language and the French language are both in use.

Tahiti hosts a French university, Université de la Polynésie Française ("University of French Polynesia"). It is a small university, with around 2,000 students and about 60 researchers.

Since late 2002 many Tahitians have showed anger towards the French government and the way that they run French Polynesia, many locals have actually displayed violence and started small riots in their attempt to overthrow the government and bring in Tahitian rule.

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 said he would keep an open door to a possible referendum in the future.

Tourism is a significant industry, especially during the Heiva festival in Papeete celebrating indigenous culture and the commemoration of the storming of the Bastille in France. Both celebrations take place annually in July.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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