Society Islands

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Society Islands,

island group (2002 pop. 214,445), South Pacific, a part of French PolynesiaFrench Polynesia,
officially Overseas Lands of French Polynesia, internally self-governing dependency (2002 pop. 245,516) of France, consisting of 118 islands in the South Pacific. The capital is Papeete, on Tahiti.
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. The group comprises the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands (total land area c.650 sq mi/1,680 sq km), two clusters of volcanic and coral islands lying in a 450-mi (724-km) chain. Only eight of the islands are inhabited. The Windward Islands include TahitiTahiti
, island (2002 pop. 169.674), South Pacific, in the Windward group of the Society Islands, French Polynesia. The capital is Papeete. Tahiti is the largest (402 sq mi/1,041 sq km) and most important of the French Pacific islands.
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, MooreaMoorea
, volcanic island (2002 pop. 14,226), c.50 sq mi (130 sq km), South Pacific, second largest of the Windward group of the Society Islands, French Polynesia. The island is mountainous, with Mt. Tohivea (3,975 ft/1,212 m) the highest peak.
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, Mehetia, and Tetiaroa; the Leeward Islands include Rai'ateaRai'atea
, volcanic island, 92 sq mi (238 sq km), South Pacific, largest and most important of the Leeward group of the Society Islands, French Polynesia. The island is mountainous, with Mt. Toomaru (3,389 ft/1,033 m) the highest peak.
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 (largest island of the Leeward group), Huahine, Bora-BoraBora-Bora
, volcanic island, 15 sq mi (39 sq km), South Pacific, in the Leeward group of the Society Islands, French Polynesia. It is a mountainous island, with Mt. Otemanu (2,379 ft/725 m) the highest peak.
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, Maupiti, Tahaa, Maiao, Maupihaa, Tupai, Manuae, and Motu One. The islands are mountainous, and there are breadfruit, pandanus, and coconut trees; the limited fauna includes wild pigs, rats, and small lizards. The major products are copra, sugar, rum, mother-of-pearl, and vanilla. Tourism is extremely important to the economy.

The Society Islands were visited in 1767 by the English navigator Samuel Wallis, who claimed them for Great Britain. A year later, however, the French navigator Louis Antoine de BougainvilleBougainville, Louis Antoine de
, 1729–1811, French navigator. He accompanied Montcalm to Canada as aide-de-camp, and he later (c.1764) established a colony on the Falkland Islands but had to surrender the settlement to Spain (1766).
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 established a French claim. They were named the Society Islands in 1769 by Capt. James CookCook, James,
1728–79, English explorer and navigator. The son of a Yorkshire agricultural laborer, he had little formal education. After an apprenticeship to a firm of shipowners at Whitby, he joined (1755) the royal navy and surveyed the St.
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. The group became a protectorate of France in 1843 and a colony in 1880. In 1946, French Polynesia, including the Society Islands, became an overseas territory of France.

Society Islands

 

an archipelago situated in the South Pacific, in Polynesia; a possession of France. Area, 1,600 sq km. Population, approximately 100,000 (1970). The capital is Papeete.

The Society Islands consist of two groups, the Windward Group in the east and the Leeward Group in the west. Surrounded by coral reefs, most of the islands are of volcanic origin. Elevations rise to 2,241 m on Tahiti, the largest island. The climate is tropical and maritime, average monthly temperatures ranging from 20° to 26° C. Annual precipitation varies from 1,500 to 2,500 mm.

The Society Islands have wet tropical rain forests. There are plantations of coconut palms, bananas, citrus fruits, vanilla, pineapples, coffee, sugarcane, and cotton. Pearls and mother-of-pearl shells are gathered, and there is a fishing industry. The islands, discovered in 1767 by the Englishman S. Wallis, were named in honor of the Royal Society of London.