ETHNONYMS: Dangerous Islands, Paumotu, Poumot, Tuamotu
Raroia is an atoll in the Tuamotu-Gambier Archipelago in Polynesia. The archipelago consists of seventy-eight atolls located between 135° and 149° W and 14° and 23° S. Raroia is located at about 142° W and 16° S. As are all the atolls Except Makatea, Raroia is a low atoll with a land area of 21 square kilometers and a lagoon of 240 square kilometers. The land is mostly sand and gravel. There are 30 species of plants and 19 species of birds indigenous to the atoll and numerous fish and shellfish in the lagoon and sea. The western atolls were settled by people migrating east from Tahiti, the other atolls by people from the Marquesas and Mangareva. Since the time of first settlement there has been regular contact with Tahiti. The population of the Tuamotus was 6,588 in 1863 and it subsequently decreased by nearly a third until it began increasing in the 1920s. In 1987, the number of people claiming Tuamotu identity was estimated at 14,400, with about 7,000 in the Tuamotus and a sizable population in Tahiti. In 1897, Raroians numbered 260, by 1926 the population had decreased to 60, and then it slowly increased to 120 by 1950.
First contact with Europeans was in 1606, which was followed by only occasional contact with explorers and traders from various European nations for the next two hundred years or so. From 1817 to 1945 the Tuamotus were under the control of Tahiti, with Tahitian influence greatest in the western atolls. However, by the end of the period, Tahitian influence had reached the eastern atolls and Raroians were involved in the mother-of-pearl trade network. In 1845 the Tuamotus came under French control and offical French rule began in 1880. Roman Catholic missionaries entered the atolls in the 1860s and the population was quickly converted to Catholicism.
Prior to European contact, Raroia was politically linked to the neighboring atoll of Tukume. Atoll land was divided into districts with the land owned by a combination of lineally and laterally extended kin groups. Descent was bilateral, with Hawaiian-type cousin terms. Leadership rested with extended household heads, with the head of one household serving as the atoll leader and the ruler of Tahiti serving as the head chief of the Tuamotus. The subsistence economy was based on fishing in the lagoon and sea and the gathering of shellfish, supplemented by pandanus nuts and taro. Raroians were skilled canoe builders and sailors. The traditional religion focused on various gods, spirits, ghosts, and associated cults.
Contact with traders, French officials, and missionaries for more than 100 years effectively destroyed the traditional culture and replaced it with a Western economic and social system. The subsistence economy has been replaced by a cash economy, with the collection of pearls and pearl shells and copra production being the primary economic pursuits at various times. Both activities have now declined in importance as sources of income. Tourism is now a major source of income on some atolls, though not on Raroia. Leadership now rests with elected representatives, the wealthy, and missionaries. Families are now smaller and nuclear in form, with an emphasis on individual ownership of property. About 98 percent of Raroians are now Roman Catholics.
Danielsson, Bengt (1956). Work and Life on Raroia. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Emory, Kenneth P. (1975). Material Culture of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum.