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Tahiti History And Culture}

Posted by: pTg2P3NEin Child Education

Submitted by: Rene Thompson

Tahiti is a beautiful island in French Polynesia, located in the southern Pacific Ocean. With a year-round population of 180,000, Tahiti is one of the world’s top vacation destinations. Most residents live along the coastline; the interior of the island is almost completely uninhabited, with many areas accessible only by boat or on foot. The larger, northwestern portion of the island is encircled by a main road that climbs past panoramic views of volcanic mountains, sparkling blue waters, and beautiful sandy beaches. The island’s interior is known for lush rainforests and many streams.

It is believed that Tahiti was settled about 1500 years ago by Polynesians. The mummies of early rulers were laid to rest on Raiatea Mountain, one of two large volcanoes composing the island of Tahiti. As a result, the mountain is considered holy by native Tahitians. The island of Tahiti is dotted with marae, stone structures once used for prayer or sacrifice. Tahiti is home to the fully restored Arahurahu Marae temple, today a popular tourist destination.

The first European contact with the islanders on Tahiti was in 1767. The most famous visitors from these early years include Captain James Cook in 1769, and the crew of HMS Bounty, who mutinied following their departure from Tahiti in 1789. In 1835, Charles Darwin visited Tahiti on an expedition aboard the HMS Beagle. These early visitors immediately noted the relaxed pace of life on Tahiti, a way of life which continues to the present day.

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Like many Polynesian islands, contact with Europeans soon brought diseases, missionaries, and cultural change. Introduced diseases killed a major part of the Tahitian population, leaving a population of just 16,000 by 1797. In 1843, France’s Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting on his own initiative, annexed the island. War between the French and the Tahitians continued until 1847, and resulted in the island remaining under French control for many years. Today, French Polynesia, a group of islands that includes Tahiti, is officially known as a semi-autonomous ‘French overseas community.’ Tahitians are full French citizens, and France is the official language, although the Tahitian language is also in use.

During World War I, the island was attacked by two German warships, and a French gunboat and German freighter were sunk in the harbor. Between 1966 and 1996, France conducted nearly 200 nuclear bomb tests on and near the island.

Today, native Tahitian culture is very much alive. Tahiti is famous for its traditional dance, the otea. Often confused with the hula of Hawaii because of the grass skirts and hip shaking, it is a slower paced, graceful dance focusing on storytelling with the hands. The dance is built around a theme, and tells stories of daily life or legends of the past.

Tattoos are another significant aspect of Tahitian culture. Men and women young and old have symbolic tattoos over large parts of their body. In Tahiti, tattoos symbolize social status, bravery, community, and beauty.

As in many Polynesian islands, native Tahitians are known for wood carvings, especially tikis. Those wishing to explore tiki culture on Hawaii should visit Moorea’s Tiki Village, where native Polynesians live in thatched huts and preserve traditional tiki art forms.

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