French Polynesia

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French Polynesia,

officially Overseas Lands of French Polynesia, internally self-governing dependency (2015 est. pop. 278,000) of France, consisting of 118 islands in the South Pacific. The capital is PapeetePapeete
, town (2007 pop. 26,017), capital of Tahiti and of French Polynesia, South Pacific. A port on the NW coast of Tahiti, Papeete ships copra, vanilla, and mother-of-pearl. The town has an important French nuclear laboratory and an international airport.
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, on 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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. The territory comprises five main groups: the Society IslandsSociety Islands,
island group (2002 pop. 214,445), South Pacific, a part of French Polynesia. 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.
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; Marquesas IslandsMarquesas Islands
, volcanic group (2002 pop. 8,712), South Pacific, a part of French Polynesia. There are 12 islands in the group, which lies c.930 mi (1,500 km) NE of Tahiti.
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; Austral IslandsAustral Islands
, volcanic island group (2002 pop. 6,386), South Pacific, part of French Polynesia. They are sometimes known as the Tubuai Islands. The group comprises seven islands, plus islets, with a total land area of c.115 sq mi (300 sq km). Tubuai, the largest island (c.
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; Tuamotu ArchipelagoTuamotu Archipelago
or Low Archipelago,
coral island group (2002 pop. 14,876), South Pacific, part of French Polynesia. They comprise c.80 atolls in a 1,300-mi (2,092-km) chain, with a total land area of c.330 sq mi (850 sq km).
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; and Gambier IslandsGambier Islands
, volcanic islands (6 sq mi/15.5 sq km; 2002 pop. 1,097), South Pacific, near the southeast end of the Tuamotu Archipelago. The group is a part of French Polynesia. It comprises a cluster of four inhabited islands known as Mangareva and many uninhabited atolls.
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. The small, uninhabited atoll of Clipperton IslandClipperton Island,
uninhabited atoll, c.2 sq mi (5.2 sq km), in the Pacific Ocean, c.800 mi (1,290 km) SW of Mexico. It was used as a base by John Clipperton, an English pirate.
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, c.3,400 mi (5,470 km) NE of Tahiti, is administered by France from French Polynesia.

People, Economy, and Government

The inhabitants of French Polynesia are mainly indigenous Polynesians or those of mixed Polynesian and European descent (known as Demis); about 55% are Protestant and 30% are Roman Catholic. There is a considerable Chinese and a smaller French minority. French and Tahitian are both official languages.

Tropical fruits and coffee are grown on plantations, and there is pearl farming and deep-sea commercial fishing. Tourism is also important to the economy. Cultured pearls, coconut products, mother-of-pearl, vanilla, and shark meat are exported, while fuels, foodstuffs, and equipment are imported.

French Polynesia is governed under the 1958 French constitution. The president of France, represented by the High Commissioner of the Republic, is the head of state. The government is headed by the president of French Polynesia, who is elected by the legislature for a five-year term; there are no term limits. Members of the 57-seat Territorial Assembly are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The territory also elects two deputies to the National Assembly and one member to the Senate of France.


Beginning c.300 A.D., migrating Polynesians settled the islands that later became French Polynesia, and from the islands subsequently settled Hawaii, New Zealand, and other parts of PolynesiaPolynesia
[Gr.,=many islands], one of the three main divisions of Oceania, in the central and S Pacific Ocean. The larger islands are volcanic; the smaller ones are generally coral formations.
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. European contact began in the 16th cent., and the area was widely explored by the French during the 18th and 19th cent., when French missionaries also came to the region. The Marquesas and Society groups were annexed by France in 1842, Tahiti in 1844, and by the end of the 19th cent. the other islands had come under French administration. Uniform governance of the area began in 1903, and the islands became an overseas territory in 1946.

France began testing nuclear weapons in some parts of French Polynesia in the 1960s, meeting with widespread local opposition; a series of six tests in 1995–96 was declared by France to be the last. Many inhabitants have sought a greater measure of independence from French control, and limited autonomy was awarded in 1984. In 2004 the territory became a French overseas country. France granted the territory greater autonomy in most local affairs and regional relations but retained control of law enforcement, defense, and the money supply. The territory's government has been marked by instability at times, with pro-independence, pro-autonomy, and independent legislators forming and re-forming coalitions based on a mix of ideology and expendiency, but in general pro-autonomy parties have dominated the assembly since 2008.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

French Polynesia


a group of islands in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean; a French possession (overseas territory) in Polynesia. Includes the Society Islands (the largest of which is Tahiti), the Marquesas Islands, the Tuamotus, and the Tubuais. Area, 4,000 sq km. Population, 120,000 (1973), mostly Polynesians; also Euro-Polynesian métis, French, Chinese, and others. The capital is Papeete, located on Tahiti.

Before the 1960’s, the economy was dominated by agriculture, fishing, the extraction of phosphorites, and pearl diving. The chief source of revenue was the export of copra and vanilla. Polynesia’s economy is controlled by French capital. With the construction of a test range for nuclear weapons on the atoll of Mururoa (far removed from populated islands), airports, roads, and a tourist complex on the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora-Bora, there has been an outflow of labor from agriculture into the service, trade, building, and processing industries.

Agriculture accounts for about one-fifth of the gross national product (1966), services and trade for one-half, and the processing industries for one-fourth. Agriculture is characterized by the coexistence of communal landholdings of the native population, with small-scale land use by members of the commune, and the plantations of the Europeans and métis. The bulk of agricultural output is produced by small farms. Exports include copra, vanilla, coconut oil, and pearls; imports include equipment, building materials, petroleum, textiles, and foodstuffs. Tourism is a major industry (48,800 people in 1970).

In the 19th century, France established its rule over the Marquesas (1842), Society, Tuamotu (1843), and other islands. By the time of French colonization, the indigenous population was at various stages of the disintegration of primitive relations and the formation of early class relations. Resistance to the colonizers consisted of unorganized local actions. In 1885 the islands were unified into the French Establishments in Oceania, which was the official name of the colony until 1958. During World War II, in September 1940, the colony’s population joined the Free French (Fighting French) movement. In March 1945 the inhabitants of French Polynesia received the rights of citizens of the metropolis and representation in the metropolitan parliament. In 1958, in atmosphere of an intensifying anticolonial movement, French Polynesia was given the status of an overseas territory.


Ravva, N. P. Polineziia: Ocherk istorii frantsuzskikh kolonii (konets XVIII-XIX v.). Moscow, 1972.
Huetz de Lemps, A. L’Océanie Française. Paris, 1954.
Rey Lescure, P. Abrégé d’histoire de la Polynésie Française. [Papeete] 1958.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

French Polynesia

a French Overseas Country (formerly Territory) in the S Pacific Ocean, including the Society Islands, the Tuamotu group, the Gambier group, the Tubuai Islands, and the Marquesas Islands. Capital: Papeete, on Tahiti. Pop.: 248 000 (2004 est.). Area: about 4000 sq. km (1500 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005