Tahiti - History and Cultural Relations

Present archaeological evidence supports the view that the Society Islands, of which Tahiti is a part, were the first to be populated in eastern Polynesia from an eastern Polynesia dispersal center in the Marquesas, perhaps as early as A . D . 850. Whether later prehistoric migrants ever reached the Society Islands is an open question. Limited archaeological data and tradition suggest the occurrence of prehistoric Society Island emigrations to New Zealand and Hawaii. However, by Contact times Tahitian voyaging, primarily for political and trade purposes, was limited to the islands of the archipelago and the atolls of the western Tuamotus. In contrast to prehistoric culture change on Tahiti, which had occurred in small increments, the discovery of the island by Wallis in 1767 marked the beginning of strong European acculturative forces Impacting on the traditional life-ways of Tahitians. Except for material goods, the most notable changes occurred with the arrival of Protestant missionaries in 1797. Within several years after their arrival a number of Tahitians, including the paramount chief, Pomare II, had been taught to read and write, and the Christian faith and mores had begun to be accepted. However, objections by more conservative members of the society resulted in a series of internecine wars and it was not until 1815 that Pomare II crushed his opponents and, with the aid of the missionaries, successfully guided a Religious and political modification of the older traditional order. With the development of American and European whaling and sealing activities Tahiti became a prime distribution center for goods. By 1840 South American currencies had come to be accepted as a substitute for the old trading techniques. At the same time, foreign immigrants and investments on the island produced a variety of problems for which the Tahitians were ill prepared. Foreign government overtures to Queen Pomare to establish a protectorate resulted in the French moving quickly to annex the island in 1842 and thus dissolving Tahitian native rule.

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