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On great outrigger canoes...

Arrivée en pirogue à Tahiti

The now generally accepted theory is that it was from south-east Asia that great migrations took place three to four thousand years ago that led to the settlement of the Pacific by Polynesian populations.

Using outrigger canoes with double sails, built out of wood and plaited fibres, these first intrepid navigators, thanks to their knowledge of the wind, currents and stars were able to travel towards the East, colonising the archipelagos of the Central Pacific (Cook Islands, Tahiti and its islands...) between 500 BC and 500 AD.

These great expeditions, that ended in about 1000 AD brought about what is known as the 'Polynesian Triangle' that is made up of Hawaii (in the north), Easter Island (in the East) and Tahiti and its islands (to the west) and of New Zealand (in the south-west). The different languages used in these islands, that stem from the Ma'ohi language, are evidence of the common origin of their inhabitants.

The Arrival of the Europeans

In the 16th century, Magellan, then Mendana respectively, reached the archipelago of the Tuamotu and the Marquesas. However, it was the Englishman, Samuel Wallis who is memorable in the European discovery of Tahiti (1767). The following year, the Frenchman Antoine de Bougainville baptised this island, 'New Cythera'. A year later, Tahiti and its islands were divided into several chiefdoms and kingdoms where the Polynesian cosmogony had different divinities. Little by little Protestant and Catholic missionaries preached the gospel in the islands, and then towards 1797, with the help of the Europeans, the chiefs succeeded in establishing their supremacy and created the 'Pomare dynasty'.

In the nineteenth century, Tahiti and its Islands were the scene of Franco-British rivalry that was religious, commercial and strategic at the same time. In 1842, the French Protectorate was finally signed by Queen Pomare IV (on Tahiti and Moorea) then Annexation was accepted in 1880 by Pomare V, last King of Tahiti.

The 1960s marked a turning point for Tahiti and its Islands that rushed them into modern times; with the establishment of the CEP (Pacific Experimentation Centre) in 1963 there was an afflux of inhabitants towards Tahiti with rapid growth in local businesses and of the tertiary sector, a new rise in the standard of living was discovered and confrontation with a consumer society that was hitherto unknown.


  • From 3,000 to 4,000 BC: the waves of settlers in the south Pacific that came from South-East Asia.
  • III - VI century: first human settlements in the Marquesas.
  • From 850 - 1000: colonisation of the Windward Islands, Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Easter Island and New Zealand from Marquesas.
  • 1521: Magellan discovers a part of Tuamotu.
  • 1595: Alvero de Mendena discovers the Marquesas.
  • 1767: Wallis arrives at Tahiti.
  • 1768: Bougainville baptises this island New Cythera.
  • 1774: Cook takes a Tahitian, Pa'i back to Europe.
  • 1773: Cook's second voyage to Tahiti.
  • 1777: Cook's last voyage to Polynesia.
  • 1788-1791: Mutiny on the 'Bounty'.
  • 1793: beginning of the Pomare dynasty.
  • 1797: arrival of the first missionaries from the 'London Missionary Society'.
  • 1797: creation of the Pomare dynasty.
  • 1815: the Polynesian chiefs lose the battle of Fei Pi. Pomare II is converted to Christianity.
  • 1819: Pomare II creates the Pomare Code.
  • 1836: English Protestants succeed in expelling the French missionaries.
  • 1841: Depetit Thouar proclaims the French Protectorate of Tahiti.
  • 1844-1847: Franco-Tahitian war.
  • 1847: Pomare IV accepts the Protectorate of France.
  • 1914-1918/1939-1945: numerous islanders set out to assist the French troops.
  • 1958: the EFO (Establissments Français d'Océanie- French Establishments in Oceania) became French Polynesia

Tahiti et ses trésors

Cradle of the Ma'ohi civilisation, stretching into the Polynesian Triangle, the Marquesas Islands have preserved impressive parts of customs and lively traditions. The Tiki, stone statues and the me'ae and paepae, religious sites and sacred places composed of raised stones that are aligned in pyramidal structures are present on all the islands.

The renaissance of traditional art manifests itself in the development of the art of tattooing, the first ancestral expression of politico-social-religious values. Today it is a decoration and ornament for the body, where the aesthetics of the motifs reflect their first and original meanings.

It is found again in the renewed expression in dance and polyphonic chants such as the tarava, ute or ru'au that truly express the depths of the soul of the Polynesian people.

This intense, cultural movement is expressed fully through numerous festive manifestations of which the main one is the grandiose festival of Heiva i Tahiti in July, where groups of singers, dancers, musicians and actors - up to 150 in all, compete in a musical, choreographic and costume extravaganza. Poetry regains its former excellence in the arts of oratory or 'orero with its spectacular rantings. It is an ancient oral tradition that is often accompanied by the pure sound of the vivo or the nasal flute.


A culture to discover through its museums

Les Musées de Tahiti

Discover the culture and history of the five archipelagos of French Polynesia through the Museum of Tahiti ; the history of his people , the social and religious life and the wildlife of this majestically islands.

For more informations about, read our page Museums of Tahiti 


Les Musées de Tahiti