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Papeete, Tahiti. Photo: Remi Jouan / Creative Commons

Papeete, Tahiti

6 months ago
Written by Ronald Toppe
Ports > Papeete, Tahiti

Papeete, Tahiti

6 months agoPorts
Written by Ronald Toppe
Papeete, Tahiti. Photo: Remi Jouan / Creative Commons

Statsraad Lehmkuhl visits Tahiti June 6-8 2022.

Tahiti is part of French Polynesia, an autonomous archipelago in the South Pacific, midway between Australia and South America. The archipelago consists of 121 islands, with a total of 275,000 inhabitants. Tahiti is the largest of the islands, and also has the most inhabitants, 189,000. The majority live in and around Papeete, northwest on the island.

Tourism and agriculture are the main industries.

Volcanoes

Tahiti is basically two volcanoes rising out of the ocean. Mont Orohena in the north is the highest, 2241 meters above sea level. Mont Ronui in the south is 1332 meters high. Between the two mountains there is a narrow isthmus just a few kilometers wide, where the city of Taravao is located.

Two volcanoes. Photo: NASA
Two volcanoes. Photo: NASA

None of the volcanoes are active anymore, but the mountain sides are so steep and impassable that all the settlements are located along the coast. The coast is well protected by coral reefs, surrounding the island like a chain a little out from the land.

From Southeast Asia

Tahiti was populated by the Polynesians, who traveled from island to island in large canoes 500 years before our era. The canoes were 30 meters long and equipped with outriggers to cope with the conditions at sea, and had room for people, livestock and equipment.

The Norwegian researcher and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl believed that the Polynesians came from South America, and proved that this was possible when he sailed the balsa fleet Kon-Tiki from Lima in Peru to the Tuamoto Islands in 1947.

In 2006 Thor Heyerdahls grandson Olav and five others built a new raft, Tangaroa, modified based on what Heyerdahl learned from sailing Kon-Tiki, and repeated the journey. Tangaroa was later used in the 2012 movie "Kon-Tiki". Photo: Ronald Toppe
In 2006 Thor Heyerdahls grandson Olav and five others built a new raft, Tangaroa, modified based on what Heyerdahl learned from sailing Kon-Tiki, and repeated the journey. Tangaroa was later used in the 2012 movie "Kon-Tiki". Photo: Ronald Toppe

A great adventure, but now we know he was wrong. The Polynesians originally came from Southeast Asia, proven both by genetic studies that did not exist in Heyerdahl's time, and analyzes of the languages ​​spoken on the islands in the Pacific Ocean.

Kingdom

Spanish and Portuguese ships came to Tahiti in the late 16th century, but it was not until the latter half of the 18th century that Europeans became seriously interested in the Pacific islands. French and English scientific expeditions came here in 1768 and 1769, and in the following years both Spanish missionaries and Britons settled in Tahiti.

Matavai Bay, Tahiti, painted by William Hodges, member of an expedition led by Captain Cook in 1769.
Matavai Bay, Tahiti, painted by William Hodges, member of an expedition led by Captain Cook in 1769.

The island was ruled by the Polynesians until 1842. The struggle for European influence over the islands in the Pacific Ocean led Queen Pomare IV to accept that Tahiti became a French protectorate. This decision quickly led to local conflicts, which ended with a three-year war of independence against France. In 1846, Tahiti resigned, but Queen Pomare continued as head of state.

When she died in 1877, her son took over the throne. In 1880 he handed over the island to France. Tahiti was fully part of France until 1946. Then the country was redefined as a French overseas territory, and has since had partial internal self-government.

The mutiny on Bounty

We can not tell about Tahiti without including the mutiny on the Bounty. The dramatic story has been the basis for both books and movies.

In October 1788, the British ship HMS Bounty arrived in Tahiti. The mission was to retrieve breadfruit trees, and transport them to the Caribbean. The fruits are as big as handballs, and the plan was to cultivate the trees there to provide food for the slaves on the plantations. Bad weather delayed the ship so much that it had to be moored for five months in Tahiti, waiting for the seedlings to be ready.

Shortly after Bounty finally left Tahiti, the crew mutinied, led by Fletcher Christian. Maybe because they did not want to leave the girlfriends they had on the island. Captain Blight and 18 of the crew were put on board a lifeboat and left at sea, the rest of the crew sailed on. Blight and the crew managed to get to the island of Timor, after a voyage of 47 days. Many died of disease there, but Blight himself survived, returning to London in 1790.

Fletcher Christian and the mutineers set Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift; 1790 painting by Robert Dodd.
Fletcher Christian and the mutineers set Lieutenant William Bligh and 18 others adrift; 1790 painting by Robert Dodd.

The mutineers on Bounty sailed first to the island of Tubuai, and then to Tahiti, where 16 of them left the ship. Fletcher Christian continued to Pitcairn Island with eight mutineers, plus six men and 11 women from Tahiti. There they set fire to Bounty in the bay that is today called Bounty bay.

The mutineers in Tahiti were later captured, and put in custody on board HMS Pandora. Pandora sank in a storm in August 1791, killing 31 of the crew and four of the mutineers. The rest managed to get into the lifeboats, and the surviving mutineers were brought to justice in England in 1792.

The mutineers on Pitcairn were not found until 1814. At that time, the men from Tahiti and all the mutineers except one were dead, of alcoholism, disease or conflict. The survivor, John Adams, lived on the island in peace and tolerance with ten women and 20 children, and was allowed to stay.

Mount Aorai in the northwestern part of Tahiti. Photo: Creative Commons
Mount Aorai in the northwestern part of Tahiti. Photo: Creative Commons

Hot and humid

The climate in Tahiti varies little throughout the year. The temperature is between 20 and 30 degrees, with the lowest temperatures between June and September. It rains a lot, especially in December, January and February. The annual precipitation is 1752 millimeters.

Normal maximum temperature in June: 28.9 ℃
Normal precipitation in June: 60.2 mm

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The One Ocean Expedition is a circumnavigation by the Norwegian tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl. We aim to to share knowledge about the crucial role of the ocean for a sustainable development in a global perspective.

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