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French Poynesia - History

While the Marquesas were discovered by the Portuguese in 1595, it was at the end of the 18th century that contacts with Europeans became more and more numerous, merchants and missionaries disputing influences. Protectorate in 1843, Tahiti became colony in 1880. The islands Gambier, Tuamotu, Australes, Marquesas and Leeward were gradually attached to the Republic. In 1957, the French establishments of Oceania changed their name to that of French Polynesia. Overseas territory since 1946, French Polynesia enjoys a status of autonomy, laid out by the organic law of 12 April 1996.

The settlement of the archipelagos of Polynesia by populations originating from South-East Asia stretches over 2000 years on both sides of the beginning of the Christian Era. The most recent data from archeology, coupled with research in linguistics and genetics, attest that human migration from Asia to Oceania took place over 50,000 years.

First of all, 40,000 years ago, Australia welcomes its first inhabitants - the Aborigines of today - while it was still united to the present-day New Guinea. Since the sea level is lower than today because of the glacial period, many portions of the land that were then emerged allowed the circulation of human populations, as well as animals and plants.

In the last four millennia, the ancestors of the island's islanders have settled on the various Pacific archipelagos, still untouched by human presence. These newer migrants have implanted their civilization from Indonesia to Easter Island and up to Hawaii. They belong to the same linguistic and cultural family, that of the Austronesians, which is now divided into three large geographical groups in the Pacific: the Polynesians to the east, the Micronesians to the northwest and, to the south, the Melanesians.

The origin of the Polynesians for a long time gave free rein to contradictory theories. Some have tried to demonstrate an American origin, but the hypothesis that remains most likely today is that of an Asian root dating back more than 6,000 years. The Asian origin is confirmed by botanical, zoological and linguistic indices. As for plants, it appears that the food crops (taros, nonos) cultivated by the ancient Polynesians were introduced by them to the Pacific islands. They are native to Southeast Asia. Plants, other than food, were also transported to the Pacific Islands.

The linguistic data also confirm the Asian origin of these populations. The 1,800 languages spoken in Oceania belong to three totally different groups: the Australian, Papuan and Austronesian languages. They derive essentially from the languages spoken by the people who came from Asia about 40,000 years ago and began to populate this geographical area.

The first European visitors in the 16th century were the Spaniards Mendana (1595), who baptized the Marquesas Islands after his wife, then Quiros (1605), who crossed the Tuamotu archipelago. However, it was during the eighteenth century that the expeditions multiplied. Indeed Wallis landed in Tahiti in 1767, followed by Bougainville in 1768, which gives it the idyllic name of "New Cythera". The expeditions and the stories that are made of them provoke a renewed interest in these islands of the South Pacific.

James Cook, the most prestigious of the English explorers, will in turn arrive at Tahiti in 1769 aboard his ship Endeavor. This renowned cartographer will then make two more stays in Tahiti.

Admiral Marchand seized the Marquesas in the name of the King of France in 1791 in the colonial struggle between the French and the English in the Pacific. The struggle for influence of their respective missionaries ended in Tahiti where the local dynasty of the Pomares asserted itself in 1793 and then reigned over all the Windward Islands as early as 1797. France imposed itself in Tahiti in 1842 by the establishment of a protectorate which includes the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands, the Tuamotu and the Australes. Queen Pomare IV died in 1877, and her successor, Pomare V, authorized the ratification of the annexation treaty on December 30, 1880. Once the Tahitian royalty had passed, all these archipelagos were to constitute the French settlements in Oceania.

Papeete was bombed by the German Navy during the First World War, and during the Second World War, Polynesia rallied to Free France with the dispatch of a "Pacific Battalion". In 1946 French Polynesia became an overseas territory and was granted a territorial assembly on October 25, 1946. The present statute is the result of Organic Law No. 96-312 of 12 April 1996 establishing the autonomy status of the French Polynesia and Law No. 96-313 of 12 April 1996 supplementing the Statute of Autonomy.





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