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Tahiti, the largest island of the Society islands
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 17°40′S 149°25′W / 17.667°S 149.417°W / -17.667; -149.417
Archipelago Society Islands
Major islands Tahiti
Area 1,044 km2 (403 sq mi)
Highest elevation 2,241 m (7,352 ft)
Highest point Mont Orohena
Overseas collectivity French Polynesia
Largest settlement Papeʻete (pop. 136,777)
Population 189,517 (August 2017 census)
Pop. density 181 /km2 (469 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Tahitians

Tahiti ( Tahitian previously also known as Otaheite) is the largest island of the Windward group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia. It is located in the central part of the Pacific Ocean and the nearest major landmass is Australia. Divided into two parts, Tahiti Nui (bigger, northwestern part) and Tahiti Iti (smaller, southeastern part), the island was formed from volcanic activity; it is high and mountainous with surrounding coral reefs. Its population was 189,517 in 2017, making it by far the most populous island in French Polynesia and accounting for 68.7% of its total population.

Tahiti is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity and an overseas country of the French Republic. The capital of French Polynesia, Papeʻete, is located on the northwest coast of Tahiti. The only international airport in the region, Faʻaʻā International Airport, is on Tahiti near Papeʻete. Tahiti was originally settled by Polynesians between 300 and 800 CE. They represent about 70% of the island's population, with the rest made up of Europeans, Chinese and those of mixed heritage. The island was part of the Kingdom of Tahiti until its annexation by France in 1880, when it was proclaimed a colony of France, and the inhabitants became French citizens. French is the sole official language, although the Tahitian language (Reo Tahiti) is also widely spoken.


Tahiti-Mo'orea map
Tahiti, French Polynesia - NASA Earth Observatory
Tahiti from space

Tahiti is the highest and largest island in French Polynesia lying close to Moʻorea island. It is located 4,400 kilometres (2,376 nautical miles) south of Hawaiʻi, 7,900 km (4,266 nmi) from Chile, 5,700 km (3,078 nmi) from Australia.

The island is 45 km (28 mi) across at its widest point and covers an area of 1,045 km2 (403 sq mi). The highest peak is Mont Orohena (Mouʻa ʻOrohena) (2,241 m (7,352 ft)). Mount Roonui, or Mount Ronui (Mouʻa Rōnui), in the southeast rises to 1,332 m (4,370 ft). The island consists of two roughly round portions centered on volcanic mountains and connected by a short isthmus of Taravao.

The northwestern portion is known as Tahiti Nui ("big Tahiti"), while the much smaller southeastern portion is known as Tahiti Iti ("small Tahiti") or Taiʻarapū. Tahiti Nui is heavily populated along the coast, especially around the capital, Papeʻete.

The interior of Tahiti Nui is almost entirely uninhabited. Tahiti Iti has remained isolated, as its southeastern half (Te Pari) is accessible only to those travelling by boat or on foot. The rest of the island is encircled by a main road which cuts between the mountains and the sea. Tahiti's landscape features lush rainforests and many rivers and waterfalls, including the Papenoʻo on the north side and the Fautaua Falls near Papeʻete.


Brooklyn Museum - Diadem Mountain at Sunset, Tahiti - John La Farge - overall
Diadem Mountain at Sunset, Tahiti, John LaFarge, c. 1891, Brooklyn Museum

The Society archipelago is a hotspot volcanic chain consisting of ten islands and atolls. The chain is oriented along the N. 65° W. direction, parallel to the movement of the Pacific Plate. Due to the plate movement over the Society hotspot, the age of the islands decreases from 5 Ma at Maupiti to 0 Ma at Mehetia, where Mehetia is the inferred current location of the hotspot as evidenced by recent seismic activity. Maupiti, the oldest island in the chain, is a highly eroded shield volcano with at least 12 thin lava flows, which accumulated fairly rapidly between 4.79 and 4.05 Ma. Bora Bora is another highly eroded shield volcano consisting of basaltic lavas accumulated between 3.83 and 3.1 Ma. The lavas are intersected by post-shield dikes. Tahaʻa consists of shield-stage basalt with an age of 3.39 Ma, followed by additional eruptions 1.2 Ma later. Raiatea consists of shield-stage basalt followed by post-shield trachytic lava flows, all occurring from 2.75 to 2.29 Ma. Huahine consists of two coalesced basalt shield volcanoes, Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti, with several flows followed by post-shield trachyphonolitic lava domes from 3.08 to 2.06 Ma. Moʻorea consists of at least 16 flows of shield-stage basalt and post-shield lavas from 2.15 to 1.36 Ma. Tahiti consists of two basalt shield volcanoes, Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti, with an age range of 1.67 to 0.25 Ma.

Mont Aorai
Mount Aorai in northwestern part Tahiti


November to April is the wet season, the wettest month of which is January with 340 millimetres (13 in) of rain in Papeʻete. August is the driest with 48 millimetres (1.9 in).

The average temperature ranges between 21 and 31 °C (70 and 88 °F), with little seasonal variation. The lowest and highest temperatures recorded in Papeʻete are 16 and 34 °C (61 and 93 °F), respectively.

Climate data for Tahiti, 1961-1990 normals
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 30.3
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.8
Average low °C (°F) 23.4
Average precipitation mm (inches) 315.2
Source: World Meteorological Organization


Geological history

About 1.4 million to 870,000 years ago, the island of Tahiti was formed as a volcanic shield.

Early settling of Tahiti

The first Tahitians arrived from Western Polynesia some time before 500 BC. Linguistic, biological and archaeological evidence supports a long migration from Southeast Asia via the Fijian, Samoan and Tongan Archipelagos using outrigger canoes that were up to twenty or thirty metres long and could transport families as well as domestic animals.

View of Raʻiātea Mountain. The mummies of Tahitian rulers were formerly deposited on this mountain, which is considered sacred (tapu).

Civilization before the arrival of the Europeans

Before the arrival of the Europeans, the island was divided into territories, each dominated by a single clan. The most important clans were the closely related Teva i Uta (Teva of the Interior) and the Teva i Tai (Teva of the Sea) whose combined territory extended from the peninsula in the south of Tahiti Nui.

Clan leadership consisted of a chief (ariʻi rahi), nobles (ariʻi), and under-chiefs (ʻĪatoʻai). The ariʻi were also the religious leaders, revered for the mana (spiritual power) they inherited as descendants of the gods. As symbols of their power, they wore belts of red feathers. Nonetheless, to exercise their political power, councils or general assemblies composed of the ariʻi and the ʻĪatoʻai had to be called, especially in case of war.

The chief's spiritual power was also limited; each clan's practice was organized around their marae (stone temple) and its priests.

First European visits

Captain Wallis, on his arrival at O'Taheite, in conversation with Oberea the Queen
The meeting between Wallis and Oberea

The first European to arrive at Tahiti may have been Spanish explorer Juan Fernández in his expedition of 1576–1577. Alternatively, Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, serving the Spanish Crown in an expedition to Terra Australis, was perhaps the first European to see Tahiti. He sighted an inhabited island on 10 February 1606. However, it has been suggested that he actually saw the island of Rekareka to the southeast of Tahiti. Hence, although the Spanish and Portuguese made contact with nearby islands, they may not have arrived at Tahiti.

The next stage of European visits to the region came during the period of intense Anglo-French rivalry that filled the twelve years between the Seven Years' War and the American Revolutionary War. The first of these visits, and perhaps the first European visit to Tahiti, was under the command of Captain Samuel Wallis. While circumnavigating the globe in HMS Dolphin, they sighted the island on 18 June 1767 and then harbored in Matavai Bay between the chiefdom Pare-Arue (governed by Tu (Tu-nui-e-aʻa-i-te-Atua) and his regent Tutaha) and the chiefdom Haʻapape, governed by Amo and his wife "Oberea" (Purea). The first contacts were difficult, but to avert all-out war after a British show of force, Oberea laid down peace offerings leading to cordial relations.

Hodges, Resolution and Adventure in Matavai Bay
Matavai Bay, Tahiti, painted by William Hodges, member of an expedition led by Captain Cook

On 2 April 1768, the expedition of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, aboard Boudeuse and Etoile on the first French circumnavigation, sighted Tahiti. On 5 April, they anchored off Hitiaʻa O Te Ra and were welcomed by its chief Reti. Bougainville was also visited by Tutaha. Bougainville stayed about ten days.

By 12 April 1769 Captain James Cook had arrived in Tahiti's Matavai Bay, commanding HMS Endeavour. He had been sent on a scientific mission with astronomy, botany, and artistic details. On 14 April Cook met Tutaha and Tepau and the next day he picked the site for a fortified camp at Point Venus for Charles Green's observatory. Botanist Joseph Banks and artist Sydney Parkinson, along with Cook, gathered valuable information on fauna and flora as well as on native society, language and customs, including the proper name of the island. Cook also met many island chiefs. Cook and Endeavour left Tahiti on 13 July 1769. Cook estimated the population to be 200,000 including all the nearby islands in the chain. This estimate was reduced to 35,000 by Cook's contemporary, anthropologist and Tahiti expert Douglas L. Oliver.

The Viceroy of Peru, Manuel de Amat y Juniet, under order of the Spanish Crown, organized an expedition to colonize the island in 1772. He would ultimately send three expeditions aboard the ship Aguila, the first two under the command of navigator Domingo de Bonechea. Four Tahitians, Pautu, Tipitipia, Heiao, and Tetuanui, accompanied Bonechea back to Peru in early 1773 after the first Aguila expedition.

Cook returned to Tahiti between 15 August and 1 September 1773. Greeted by the chiefs, Cook anchored in Vaitepiha Bay before returning to Point Venus. Cook left Tahiti on 14 May 1774.

Pautu and Tetuanui returned to Tahiti with Bonechea aboard Aguila on 14 November 1774; Tipitipia and Heiao had died. Bonechea died on 26 January 1775 in Tahiti and was buried near the mission he had established at Tautira Bay. Lt Tomas Gayangos took over command and set sail for Peru on 27 January, leaving the Fathers Geronimo Clota and Narciso Gonzalez and the sailors Maximo Rodriguez and Francisco Perez in charge of the mission. On the third Aguila expedition, under Don Cayetano de Langara, the mission on Tahiti was abandoned on 12 November 1775, when the Fathers successfully begged to be taken back to Lima.

During his final visit in 1777 Cook first moored in Vaitepiha Bay. From there he reunited with many Tahitian clans and established British presence on the remains of the Spanish mission. On 29 September 1777 Cook sailed for Papetoʻai Bay on Moʻorea.

British influence and the rise of the Pōmare

Mutineers of the Bounty

Thomas Gosse, Transplanting of the bread-fruit trees from Otaheite, 1796, UMKC
William Bligh overseeing the transplantation of breadfruit trees from Tahiti

On 26 October 1788, HMS Bounty, under the command of Captain William Bligh, landed in Tahiti with the mission of carrying Tahitian breadfruit trees (Tahitian: ʻuru) to the Caribbean. Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist from James Cook's first expedition, had concluded that this plant would be ideal to feed the African slaves working in the Caribbean plantations at very little cost. The crew remained in Tahiti for about five months, the time needed to transplant the seedlings of the trees. Three weeks after leaving Tahiti, on 28 April 1789, the crew mutinied on the initiative of Fletcher Christian. The mutineers seized the ship and set the captain and most of those members of the crew who remained loyal to him adrift in a ship's boat. A group of mutineers then went back to settle in Tahiti.

Although various explorers had refused to get involved in tribal conflicts, the mutineers from the Bounty offered their services as mercenaries and furnished arms to the family which became the Pōmare Dynasty. The chief knew how to use their presence in the harbours favoured by sailors to his advantage. As a result of his alliance with the mutineers, he succeeded in considerably increasing his supremacy over the island of Tahiti.

In about 1790, the ambitious chief Tū took the title of king and gave himself the name Pōmare. Captain Bligh explains that this name was a homage to his eldest daughter Teriʻinavahoroa, who had died of tuberculosis, "an illness that made her cough (mare) a lot, especially at night ()". Thus he became Pōmare I, founding the Pōmare Dynasty and his lineage would be the first to unify Tahiti from 1788 to 1791. He and his descendants founded and expanded Tahitian influence to all of the lands that now constitute modern French Polynesia.

In 1791, HMS Pandora under Captain Edward Edwards called at Tahiti and took custody of fourteen of the mutineers.

Landings of the whalers

In the 1790s, whalers began landing at Tahiti during their hunting expeditions in the southern hemisphere. The arrival of these whalers, who were subsequently joined by merchants coming from the penal colonies in Australia, marked the first major overturning of traditional Tahitian society. The crews introduced arms and infectious diseases to the island. These commercial interactions with westerners had catastrophic consequences for the Tahitian population, which shrank rapidly, ravaged by diseases and other cultural factors. During the first decade of the 19th century, the Tahitian population dropped from 16,000 to 8,000–9,000; the French census in 1854 counted a population just under 6,000.

Arrival of the missionaries

On 5 March 1797, representatives of the London Missionary Society landed at Matavai Bay (Mahina) on board Duff, with the intention of converting the pagan native populations to Christianity. The arrival of these missionaries marked a new turning point for the island of Tahiti, having a lasting impact on the local culture.

The first years proved hard work for the missionaries, despite their association with the Pōmare, the importance of whom they were aware of thanks to the reports of earlier sailors. In 1803, upon the death of Pōmare I, his son Vairaʻatoa succeeded him and took the title of Pōmare II. He allied himself more and more with the missionaries, and from 1803 they taught him reading and the Gospels. Furthermore, the missionaries encouraged his wish to conquer his opponents, so that they would only have to deal with a single political contact, enabling them to develop Christianity in a unified country. The conversion of Pōmare II to Protestantism in 1812 marks moreover the point when Protestantism truly took off on the island.

In about 1810, Pōmare II married Teremoʻemoʻe daughter of the chief of Raiatea, to ally himself with the chiefdoms of the Leeward Islands. On 12 November 1815, thanks to these alliances, Pōmare II won a decisive battle at Feʻi Pī (Punaʻauia), notably against Opuhara, the chief of the powerful clan of Teva. This victory allowed Pōmare II to be styled Ariʻi Rahi, or the king of Tahiti. It was the first time that Tahiti had been united under the control of a single family. This marked the end of Tahitian feudalism and the military aristocracy, which were replaced by an absolute monarchy. At the same time, Protestantism quickly spread, thanks to the support of Pōmare II, and replaced the traditional beliefs. In 1816 the London Missionary Society sent John Williams as a missionary and teacher, and starting in 1817, the Gospels were translated into Tahitian (Reo Maohi) and taught in the religious schools. In 1818, the minister William Pascoe Crook founded the city of Papeʻete, which became the capital of the island.

Tahitiennes en robe mission
Tahitians in missionary robes

In 1819, Pōmare II, encouraged by the missionaries, introduced the first Tahitian legal code, known under the name of the Pōmare Legal Code, which consists of nineteen laws. The missionaries and Pōmare II thus imposed a ban on nudity (obliging them to wear clothes covering their whole body), banned dances and chants (described as immodest), tattoos, and costumes made of flowers.

In the 1820s, the entire population of Tahiti converted to Protestantism. Duperrey, who berthed in Tahiti in May 1823, attests to the change in Tahitian society in a letter dated 15 May 1823: "The missionaries of the Royal Society of London have totally changed the morals and customs of the inhabitants. Idolatry no longer exists among them, and they generally profess the Christian religion. The women no longer come aboard the vessel, and even when we meet them on land they are extremely reserved. (...) The bloody wars that these people used to carry out and human sacrifices have no longer taken place since 1816."

When, on 7 December 1821, Pōmare II died, his son Pōmare III was only eighteen months old. His uncle and the religious people therefore supported the regency, until 2 May 1824, the date on which the missionaries conducted his coronation, a ceremony unprecedented in Tahiti. Taking advantage of the weakness of the Pōmare, local chiefs won back some of their power and took the hereditary title of Tavana (from the English word "governor"). The missionaries also took advantage of the situation to change the way in which powers were arranged, and to make the Tahitian monarchy closer to the English model of a constitutional monarchy. They therefore created the Tahitian Legislative Assembly, which first sat on 23 February 1824.

In 1827, the young Pōmare III suddenly died, and it was his half-sister, ʻAimata, aged thirteen, who took the title of Pōmare IV. The Birmingham born missionary George Pritchard, who was the acting British consul, became her main adviser and tried to interest her in the affairs of the kingdom. But the authority of the Queen, who was certainly less charismatic than her father, was challenged by the chiefs, who had won back an important part of their prerogatives since the death of Pōmare II. The power of the Pōmare had become more symbolic than real; time and time again Queen Pōmare, Protestant and anglophile, sought in vain the protection of England.

Abel Aubert du Petit-Thouars taking over Tahiti on 9 September 1842

In November 1835 Charles Darwin visited Tahiti aboard HMS Beagle on her circumnavigation, captained by Robert FitzRoy. He was impressed by what he perceived to be the positive influence the missionaries had had on the sobriety and moral character of the population. Darwin praised the scenery, but was not flattering towards Tahiti's Queen Pōmare IV. Captain Fitzroy negotiated payment of compensation for an attack on an English ship by Tahitians, which had taken place in 1833.

Pomare IV Queen of Tahiti
Queen Pōmare IV, 1813–1877

In Sept. 1839, the island was visited by the United States Exploring Expedition. One of its members, Alfred Thomas Agate, produced a number of sketches of Tahitian life, some of which were later published in the United States.

French protectorate and the end of the Pōmare kingdom

Pomare, Queen of Tahiti, the persecuted Christian, by George Baxter, 1845 (frameless, digital restoration)
Queen Pomare and her family on the verandah of Mr. Pritchard's house, during the French Invasion of Tahiti

In 1836, the Queen's advisor Pritchard had two French Catholic priests expelled, François Caret and Honoré Laval. As a result, in 1838 France sent Admiral Abel Aubert du Petit-Thouars to obtain reparations. Once his mission had been completed, Admiral Du Petit-Thouars sailed towards the Marquesas Islands, which he annexed in 1842. Also in 1842, a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain, souring their relations. In August 1842, Admiral Du Petit-Thouars returned and landed in Tahiti. He then made friends with Tahitian chiefs who were hostile to the Pōmare family and favourable to a French protectorate. He had them sign a request for protection in the absence of their Queen, before then approaching her and obliging her to ratify the terms of the treaty of protectorate. The treaty had not even been ratified by France itself when Jacques-Antoine Moerenhout was named royal commissaire alongside Queen Pōmare.

Within the framework of this treaty, France recognised the sovereignty of the Tahitian state. The Queen was responsible for internal affairs, while France would deal with foreign relations and assure the defence of Tahiti, as well as maintain order on the island. Once the treaty had been signed there began a struggle for influence between the English Protestants and the Catholic representatives of France. During the first years of the Protectorate, the Protestants managed to retain a considerable hold over Tahitian society, thanks to their knowledge of the country and its language. George Pritchard had been away at the time. He returned however to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French.

Tahitian War of independence (1844–47)

In 1843, the Queen's Protestant advisor, Pritchard, persuaded her to display the Tahitian flag in place of the flag of the Protectorate. By way of reprisal, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars announced the annexation of the Kingdom of Pōmare on 6 November 1843 and set up the governor Armand Joseph Bruat there as the chief of the new colony. He threw Pritchard into prison, and later sent him back to Britain. The annexation caused the Queen to be exiled to the Leeward Islands, and after a period of troubles, a real Franco-Tahitian war began in March 1844. 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.

The war ended in December 1846 in favour of the French. The Queen returned from exile in 1847 and agreed to sign a new covenant, considerably reducing her powers, while increasing those of the commissaire. The French nevertheless still reigned over the Kingdom of Tahiti. In 1863, they put an end to the British influence and replaced the British Protestant Missions with the Société des missions évangéliques de Paris (Society of Evangelical Missions of Paris).

During the same period about a thousand Chinese, mainly Cantonese, were recruited at the request of a plantation owner in Tahiti, William Stewart, to work on the great cotton plantation at Atimaono. When the enterprise resulted in bankruptcy in 1873, some Chinese workers returned to their country, but a large number stayed in Tahiti and mixed with the population.

In 1866 the district councils were formed, elected, which were given the powers of the traditional hereditary chiefs. In the context of the republican assimilation, these councils tried their best to protect the traditional way of life of the local people, which was threatened by European influence.

Tahitian schoolchildren, by Coulon
Tahitian children, c. 1906

In 1877, Queen Pōmare died after ruling for fifty years. Her son, Pōmare V, then succeeded her on the throne. The new king seemed little concerned with the affairs of the kingdom, and when in 1880 the governor Henri Isidore Chessé, supported by the Tahitian chiefs, pushed him to abdicate in favour of France, he accepted. On 29 June 1880, he ceded Tahiti to France along with the islands that were its dependencies. He was given the titular position of Officer of the Orders of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit of France. Having become a colony, Tahiti thus lost all sovereignty. Tahiti was nevertheless a special colony, since all the subjects of the Kingdom of Pōmare would be given French citizenship. On 14 July 1881, among cries of "Vive la République!" the crowds celebrated the fact that Polynesia now belonged to France; this was the first celebration of the Tiurai (national and popular festival). In 1890, Papeʻete became a commune of the Republic of France.

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

In 1891 Matthew Turner, an American shipbuilder from San Francisco who had been seeking a fast passage between the city and Tahiti, built Papeete, a two-masted schooner that made the trip in seventeen days.

Twentieth century to present

In 1903, the Établissements Français d'Océanie (French Establishments in Oceania) were created, which collected together Tahiti, the other Society Islands, the Austral Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Tuamotu Archipelago.

FRE-OCE-11-French Oceania-1 franc (1943)
A one-franc World War II banknote (1943), printed in Papeʻete, depicting the outline of Tahiti on reverse

During the First World War, the Papeʻete region of the island was attacked by two German warships. A French gunboat as well as a captured German freighter were sunk in the harbour and the two German armoured cruisers bombarded the colony. Between 1966 and 1996 the French Government conducted 193 nuclear bomb tests above and below the atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa. The last test was conducted on 27 January 1996.

In 1946, Tahiti and the whole of French Polynesia became an overseas territory (Territoire d'outre-mer). Tahitians were granted French citizenship, a right that had been campaigned for by nationalist leader Pouvanaʻa a Oopa for many years.

On 17 July 1974, the French did a nuclear test over Mururoa Atoll, codenamed Centaure [fr], but the atomic cloud and fallout didn't take the direction planned. 42 hours later, the cloud reached Tahiti and the surrounding islands. As much as 111,000 people were affected. Reports showed that some people on Tahiti were exposed to 500 times the maximum allowed level for plutonium.

In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of an overseas collectivity (collectivité d'outre-mer), and in 2004 it was declared an overseas country (pays d'outre-mer or POM).

In 2009, Tauatomo Mairau claimed the Tahitian throne and attempted to re-assert the status of the monarchy in court.


Flag of French Polynesia
Flag of French Polynesia
Oceania Political Map (EEZ based)
Political map of Oceania, showing EEZ borders

Tahiti is part of French Polynesia. 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.

Tahitians are French citizens with complete civil and political rights. French is the official language, but Tahitian and French are both in use. However there was a time during the 1960s and 1970s when children were forbidden to speak Tahitian in schools. Tahitian is now taught in schools; it is sometimes even a requirement for employment.

During a press conference on 26 June 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 23 May 2004.

In a surprise result, Oscar Temaru's pro-independence progressive coalition, Union for Democracy, formed a government with a one-seat majority in the 57-seat parliament, defeating the conservative party, Tāhōʻeraʻa Huiraʻatira, led by Gaston Flosse. On 8 October 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 indigenous Tahitians are of Polynesian ancestry and make up 70% of the population alongside Europeans, East Asians (mostly Chinese), and people of mixed heritage, sometimes referred to as Demis.

Districts de Tahiti

The places of birth of the 189,517 residents of the island of Tahiti at the 2017 census were the following:

Most people from metropolitan France live in Papeʻete and its suburbs, notably Punaʻauia, where they made up 16.8% of the population at the 2017 census, and Arue, where they made up 15.9%; these percentages do not include their children born in French Polynesia.

Historical population

1767 1797 1848 1897 1911 1921 1926 1931 1936 1941 1951
50,000 to
16,000 8,600 10,750 11,800 11,700 14,200 16,800 19,000 23,100 30,500
1956 1962 1971 1977 1983 1988 1996 2002 2007 2012 2017
38,140 45,430 79,494 95,604 115,820 131,309 150,721 169,674 178,133 183,645 189,517
Official figures from past censuses.

Administrative divisions

The island consists of 12 communes, which, along with Moʻorea-Maiao, make up the Windward Islands administrative subdivision.

The capital is Papeʻete and the largest commune by population is Faʻaʻā while Taiarapu-Est has the largest area.

Communes of Tahiti

The following is a list of communes and their subdivisions sorted alphabetically:

Commune Population Area Density Subdivisions Notes
Arue 9,494 21.45 km2 (8.28 sq mi) 443/km2 (1,150/sq mi) Tetiaroa, an atoll north of Arue belongs to the commune.
Faʻaʻā 29,781 34.2 km2 (13.2 sq mi) 871/km2 (2,260/sq mi) Largest commune (by population) in Tahiti and French Polynesia.
Hitiaʻa O Te Ra 8,691 218.2 km2 (84.2 sq mi) 40/km2 (100/sq mi) Hitiaʻa, Mahaʻena, Papenoʻo, Tiarei The administrative centre of the commune is the settlement of Hitiaʻa.
Māhina 14,356 51.6 km2 (19.9 sq mi) 278/km2 (720/sq mi) Close to the Papenoʻo River.
ʻea 12,084 64.5 km2 (24.9 sq mi) 187/km2 (480/sq mi)
Paparā 10,634 92.5 km2 (35.7 sq mi) 115/km2 (300/sq mi)
Papeʻete 26,050 17.4 km2 (6.7 sq mi) 1,497/km2 (3,880/sq mi) Capital of French Polynesia and 2nd largest city.
Pīraʻe 14,551 35.4 km2 (13.7 sq mi) 411/km2 (1,060/sq mi) Located between Papeʻete and Arue.
Punaʻauia 25,399 75.9 km2 (29.3 sq mi) 335/km2 (870/sq mi) French painter Paul Gauguin lived in Punaʻauia in the 1890s. Punaʻauia is the 3rd largest city in French Polynesia.
Taiʻarapu-Est 11,538 218.3 km2 (84.3 sq mi) 53/km2 (140/sq mi) Afaʻahiti, Faʻaone, Pueu, Tautira An offshore island called Mehetia belongs to the commune.
Taiʻarapu-Ouest 7,007 104.3 km2 (40.3 sq mi) 67/km2 (170/sq mi) Teahupoʻo, Toahotu, Vairao Extends over half of the peninsula of Tahiti Iti.
Teva I Uta 8,591 119.5 km2 (46.1 sq mi) 72/km2 (190/sq mi) Mataiea, Papeari The administrative centre of the commune is the settlement of Mataiea.


Tourism is a significant industry, generating 17% of GDP before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Papeete - Marina Taina
Southern suburbs of Papeʻete (commune of Punaʻauia)

The main trading partners are Metropolitan France for about 40% of imports and about 25% of exports. The other main trading partners are China, the US, South Korea, and New Zealand.

Tahitian pearl (Black pearl) farming is also a substantial source of revenues, most of the pearls being exported to Japan, Europe and the United States. Tahiti also exports vanilla, fruits, flowers, monoi, fish, copra oil, and noni. Tahiti is also home to a single winery, whose vineyards are located on the Rangiroa atoll.

Unemployment affects about 15% 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 .0084 (1 EUR = 119.05 CFP, approx. 113 CFP to the United States dollar in March 2017). Hotels and financial institutions offer exchange services.

Sales tax in Tahiti is called Taxe sur la valeur ajoutée (TVA or value added tax (VAT) in English). VAT in 2009 was 10% on tourist services, and 6% on hotels, small boarding houses, food and beverages. VAT on the purchase of goods and products is 16%.

Energy and electricity

French Polynesia imports its petroleum and has no local refinery or production. Daily consumption of imported oil products was 7,430 barrels, according to the US Energy Information Administration.


Tahitian woman in festive costume ca 1906
Tahitian woman in festive costume, c. 1906

Tahitian cultures included an oral tradition that involved the mythology of gods, such as ʻOro and beliefs, as well as ancient traditions such as tattooing and navigation. The annual Heivā I Tahiti Festival in July is a celebration of traditional culture, dance, music and sports including a long-distance race between the islands of French Polynesia, in modern outrigger canoes (vaʻa).

The Paul Gauguin Museum is dedicated to the life and works of French artist Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) who resided in Tahiti for years and painted such works as Two Tahitian Women, Tahitian Women on the Beach, and Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

The Musée de Tahiti et des Îles (Museum of Tahiti and the Islands) is in Punaʻauia. It is an ethnographic museum that was founded in 1974 to conserve and restore Polynesian artefacts and cultural practices.

The Robert Wan Pearl Museum is the world's only museum dedicated to pearls. The Papeʻete Market sells local arts and crafts.


Tahitians wearing the pareo wrap-around garment and practising a ʻupaʻupa dance

One of the most widely recognised images of the islands is the world-famous Tahitian dance. The ʻōteʻa (sometimes written as otea) is a traditional dance from Tahiti, where the dancers, standing in several rows, execute figures. This dance, easily recognised by its fast hip-shaking and grass skirts, is often confused with the Hawaiʻian hula, a generally slower, more graceful dance which focuses more on the hands and storytelling than the hips.

The ʻōteʻa is one of the few dances which existed in pre-European times as a male dance. On the other hand, the hura (Tahitian vernacular for hula), a dance for women, has disappeared, and the couple's dance ʻupaʻupa is likewise gone but may have re-emerged as the tamure. Nowadays, the ʻōteʻa can be danced by men (ʻōteʻa tāne), by women (ʻōteʻa vahine), or by both genders (ʻōteʻa ʻāmui, "united ʻō"). The dance is with music only, drums, but no singing. The drum can be one of the types of the tōʻere, a laying log of wood with a longitudinal slit, which is struck by one or two sticks. Or it can be the pahu, the ancient Tahitian standing drum covered with a shark skin and struck by the hands or with sticks. The rhythm from the tōʻere is fast; from the pahu it is slower. A smaller drum, the faʻatete, can also be used.

The dancers make gestures, re-enacting daily occupations of life. For the men the themes can be chosen from warfare or sailing, and then they may use spears or paddles.

For women the themes are closer to home or from nature: combing their hair or the flight of a butterfly, for example. More elaborate themes can be chosen, for example, one where the dancers end up in a map of Tahiti, highlighting important places. In a proper ʻōteʻa the story of the theme should pervade the whole dance.

The group dance called ʻAparima is often performed with the dancers dressed in pareo and maro. There are two types of ʻaparima: the ʻaparima hīmene (sung handdance) and the ʻaparima vāvā (silent handdance), the latter being performed with music only and no singing.

Newer dances include the hivinau and the paʻoʻa.


W. Woolett engraving after William Hodges of a toupapow, or funeral bier, and Chief Mourner, from Cook's 2nd voyage to Tahiti
W. Woolett engraving after William Hodges of a toupapow, or funeral bier, and Chief Mourner, from Cook's 2nd voyage to Tahiti
Tahitian Parae, or Chief Mourner costume, on display in the Bishop Museum
Tahitian Parae, or Chief Mourner costume, on display in the Bishop Museum

The Tahitians believed in the afterlife, a paradise called Rohutu-noʻanoʻa. When a Tahitian died, the corpse was wrapped in barkcloth and placed on a funeral bier, fare tupapa ʻu, which was a raised canoe awning on posts surrounded by bamboo. Food for the gods was placed nearby to prevent them from eating the body, which would condemn the spirit to the underworld. Mourners would slash themselves with shark's teeth and smear the blood on barkcloth placed nearby. Most importantly, the Chief Mourner donned the parae, an elaborate costume that included an iridescent mask made of four polished pearl shell discs. One disk was black, signifying Po, the spirit world, while one was white, signifying Ao, the world of people. A crown of red feathers signified ʻOro. A curved wooden board, pautu, below the mask contained five polished pearl shells, which signified Hina, the moon goddess. Hanging below were more shells in rows, ahu-parau, representing the Pleiades, believed to be the eyes of former chiefs. Finally, a ceremonial garment, tiputa, covered the body and was decorated with an apron of polished coconut shells, ahu-ʻaipu.


The Tahitian national sport is Vaʻa. In English, this paddle sport is also known as outrigger canoe. The Tahitians consistently achieve record-breaking and top times as world champions in this sport.

Major sports in Tahiti include rugby union and association football and the island has fielded a national basketball team, which is a member of FIBA Oceania.

Another sport is surfing, with famous surfers such as Malik Joyeux and Michel Bourez. Teahupoʻo is one of the deadliest surf breaks in the world.

Rugby union in Tahiti is governed by the Fédération Tahitienne de Rugby de Polynésie Française which was formed in 1989. The Tahiti national rugby union team has been active since 1971 but have only played 12 games since then.

Football in Tahiti is administered by the Fédération Tahitienne de Football and was founded in 1938. The Tahiti Division Fédérale is the top division on the island and the Tahiti Championnat Enterprise is the second tier. Some of the major clubs are AS Manu-Ura, who play in Stade Hamuta, AS Pirae, who play in the Stade Pater Te Hono Nui and AS Tefana, who play in the Stade Louis Ganivet. Lesser clubs include Matavai. In 2012, the national team won the OFC Nations Cup qualifying for the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil and becoming the first team other than Australia or New Zealand to win it.

The Tahiti Cup is the islands' premier football knockout tournament and has been played for since 1938. The winner of the Tahiti Cup goes on to play the winner of the Tahiti Division Fédérale in the Tahiti Coupe des Champions.

In 2010, Tahiti was chosen as the host of the 2013 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, which was held in September 2013.

Tahiti has also been represented at the World Championship of Pétanque. They are the pre-eminent country in the Oceania region for Pétanque, undoubtedly due to their strong connections to France.

As part of the 2024 Summer Olympics, Tahiti will host the surfing competition. It will be the only sport to be held outside of France as Paris hosts the international competition 15,716 km (9,765 mi) away.


Tahiti is depicted in the biography of Paul Gauguin in the 2017 French film Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti portraying his life during his years on Tahiti.

Also linked to Tahiti are the various films narrating the story of the 1789 mutiny on HMS Bounty – e.g. Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with actor Marlon Brando, The Bounty (1984) with Mel Gibson.


Tahiti is home to the University of French Polynesia (Université de la Polynésie Française). It is a growing university, with 3,200 students and 62 researchers. Many courses are available such as law, commerce, science, and literature. There is also the Collège La Mennais located in Papeʻete.

Notable people

  • Farahia Teuiria (born 1972), footballer



Tahitian coast

Faʻaʻā International Airport is located 5 km (3.1 mi) from Papeʻete in the commune of Faʻaʻā and is the only international airport in French Polynesia. Because of limited level terrain, rather than levelling large stretches of sloping agricultural land, the airport is built primarily on reclaimed land on the coral reef just off-shore.

International destinations such as Auckland, Hanga Roa, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Paris, Santiago de Chile, San Francisco, Sydney and Tokyo are served by Air France, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui French Polynesia's flag carrier, Hawaiʻian Airlines, United Airlines, French Bee, and LATAM Airlines.

Flights within French Polynesia and to New Caledonia are available from Aircalin and Air Tahiti; Air Tahiti has their headquarters at the airport.


The Moʻorea Ferry operates from Papeʻete and takes about 45 minutes to travel to Moʻorea. Other ferries are the Aremiti 5 and the Aremiti 7 and these two ferries sail to Moʻorea in about half an hour. There are also several ferries that transport people and goods throughout the islands. The Bora Bora cruiseline sails to Bora Bora about once a week. The main hub for these ferries is the Papeʻete Wharf.


Tahiti has a freeway that runs across the west coast. This freeway starts in Arue and continues across the Papeʻete urban area. Then it continues along the west coast of Tahiti Nui through smaller villages. The freeway turns east toward Taravao where Tahiti Nui meets Tahiti Iti. Tahiti's west coast freeway keeps going until Teahupoʻo where the freeway becomes a thin paved road.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Tahití para niños

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