Rapa - History and Cultural Relations

The first settlement of Rapa has been estimated at about A . D . 950 from genealogical evidence, and the earliest radiocarbon date from the island is A . D . 1,337, plus or minus 200 years. The first European to visit the islands was George Vancouver, in 1791. At that time the population lived in fortified Mountain villages. Remains of at least fifteen of these still prominently mark Rapa's landscape; they are among the largest handmade structures in ancient Polynesia. Apparently population pressure forced the construction of these mountain villages to free scarce arable land for cultivation and for security in a time of frequent warfare. The prospect of the Panama Canal stirred the interest of Britain and France in the 1860s and again in the 1880s, for Rapa was ideally located on the route between Panama and Australia and New Zealand. The British established a coaling station on Rapa in late 1867 and it served monthly steamers until it was abandoned in early 1869. Meanwhile Rapa's strategic location moved the French to establish political power over the island. Rapa was made a French protectorate in 1867 and became a French possession twenty years later. The interest in Rapa as a coaling station was sporadic and short-lived and the island slipped into International insignificance. As late as 1964 three months might pass without a visit from the outside. In that year, however, a weather station was established on Rapa and this gave the Island some importance in the context of the French nuclear weapons testing program.

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