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Tahiti

The history of East Polynesia, whether native or colonial, is mainly connected with the double island of Tahiti (Otaheiti). It is the only focus of an independent development, and also the natural starting point and centre of the French Colonial Empire in East Polynesia. When Samuel Wallis finally discovered the island on June 19, 1767, he found three States there, which were fighting savagely for the upper hand.

The Spaniards took possession of the island on January 1, 1775, but they soon abandoned it again after the death of their captain, Domingo de Bonechea, on January 26. In 1789 the mutineers of the " Bounty" landed on Tahiti; some preferred to remain there, took the side of the king Otu or Pomare, as he preferred to call himself, and thus enabled him to extend his sovereignty over the other islands of the archipelago.

The first English missionaries landed there on March 7, 1797, and were destined soon to play a large part in the political life of Tahiti. In 1802 Pomare carried away the sacred Oro (Orohho) figure from the Marae (Morai) at Atahuru, the possession of which was fiercely contested. But he was compelled to surrender the image in the end, and died suddenly on September 3, 1803, and his son Pomare II, born in 1780, was forced to fly. He took up his abode on Murea (Eimeo), the headquarters of the Christian mission.

In July, 1807, he crossed with a number of Christians over to Tahiti, surprised his enemies, and massacred them so relentlessly that the whole island rose against him and the missionaries, and drove them all back to Huahine and Murea. But in the battle at Narii (November 12, 1815) King Pomare II, who had become a Christian on July 12, 1812, completely defeated his enemies; the other islands of the archipelago adopted Christianity in consequence.

Pomare crushed the power of the nobles, and gave the islands at the end of 1818 a new and written constitution. He died on November 30, 1821. Pomare's infant son died on January 11, 1827. His sister Aimata, a girl of seventeen, then mounted the throne as Pomare IV (or Pomare Wahine I), while her aunt Ariipaia, as was customary, remained regent.

The reign of Aimata is marked by an overflowing tide of calamity, which soon burst on Tahiti, and ended in the loss of its independence. It began with the attempt of the Catholic Church, made in November, 1836, from the Gambier Islands, to gain a footing in the island. In consequence of a law introduced by the British preachers of the gospel, the French missionaries were forbidden to land; they therefore appealed to France for aid. On August 27, 1838, Captain Abel Dupetit-Thouars appeared off Papeete with the frigate "Venus," in order to demand satisfaction, consisting of an apology under the sign manual of the queen, and two thousand piastres in Spanish money; the queen was forced to comply.

In April, 1839, Captain C.P.Th. Laplace demanded that the Catholic Church should be granted as ample privileges as the Protestant, and that a building site for a church should be conceded. And in September, 1842, Dupetit-Thouars, who had returned, once more expressed extravagant "wishes" to the government, and,when they could not be granted, proclaimed a French protectorate in defiance of the protests of the queen and the English missionaries. When a Tahitian popular assembly, relying on the intervention of the English Captain Nicholas, declared for England and Pomare IV (1843), Dupetit-Thouars on November 6th deposed the queen, and threw into prison the English consul, Pritchard, in whose house she had taken refuge.

The storm of indignation roused in England by this procedure forced France in 1844 to reinstate Queen Pomare IV; but the protectorate over the island was retained. It was only after a three years' war, waged with great fury on both sides, that the Tahitians submitted on February 6,1847, and the queen returned from Eimeo to Papeete. Pomare IV died after a reign of fifty years, on September 17, 1877. Her son, Pomare V, abandoned all his imaginary sovereign rights to France on June 19,1880, in return for an annuity of 1000, and died in 1891.

The political development had not been favorable in any way to the preservation of the national existence. In Cook's time the inhabitants were estimated at 120,000, a figure far too high, but one which in any case denotes an unusual density of population; in 1892 the numbers hardly reached 10,000. The introduction of disease, immorality, and drunkenness had taught the Tahitians a bitter lesson about the "blessings" of civilization.



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