Marquesas Islands - Orientation

Identification. ' Enana; and the cognate 'enata simply mean "people," and this word was contrasted with hao'e, which came to mean "white foreigners." "Marquesans" derives from the Portuguese name of the island group, "Las Marquesas de Mendoca."

Location. The Marquesans inhabited the six larger islands of the Marquesan Group: Nukuhiva, 'Ua Pou, 'Ua Huka, Fatuiva, Tahuata, and Hova Oa; smaller islands such as Eiao were perhaps intermittently occupied. The rugged islands are divided by deep valleys, which are often well watered and which sustain rich vegetation, in contrast to the arid, eroded, and frequently excessively steep slopes. The group is situated around 8-11° S and 140° W. The closest inhabited islands were atolls in the Tuamotu Archipelago, about 450 kilometers to the south and southeast; larger Polynesian populations were more remote. Many Marquesans now live in Tahiti, the central island in the Overseas Territory of French Polynesia.

Demography. Estimates of precontact and early populations are highly variable and insecurely founded. A figure of 35,000 is much lower than many figures cited, but it seems justified by comparative evidence from better-documented Islands. While some depopulation took place between 1800 and 1840, there was a more tragic decline associated with smallpox and other epidemics in the subsequent half-century. A reliable estimate in 1842 was just over 20,000; this fell to 5,000 in the 1880s and reached a low point of less than 2,000 during the 1920s. The population has gradually increased since then, and in the mid-1980s there were about 5,500 Marquesans resident in the islands, and several thousand people of Marquesan origin or descent were living in Tahiti at that time.

Linguistic Affiliation. Marquesan is a language in the Eastern Polynesian Group of Austronesian languages, closely related to Hawaiian and Tahitian. A complex pattern of dialect variation has diminished in recent decades, but there are still distinct differences between southern and northern parts of the group and a variety of local peculiarities.

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