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Thursday 23rd May
French Polynesia Facts
French Polynesia belongs to an area in the Pacific known as Polynesia. (The islands of the Pacific are usually divided into three areas: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia).

Polynesia, which means many islands, is a name covering over a thousand islands between Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. The Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, Samoa, American Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna are also in this grouping.

Mont Orohena, on Tahiti, is the highest point in French Polynesia (2,241 m).

French Polynesia is grouped into the Society Islands, the Austral Archipelago, the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Marquesas Archipelago and the Gambier Archipelago.

The Society Islands Archipelago is divided into the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. Tahiti and Moorea are within the Windward Islands group.

Tahiti is French Polynesia's largest island.

Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian who made the famous Kon-Tiki Expedition in 1947, thought that people might have migrated from South America to Polynesia. He built the famous raft Kon-Tiki and sailed from Peru across the Pacific to prove such a voyage was possible.

In 1990 the Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes tested the mitochondrial DNA of the Polynesian inhabitants of the Cook Islands (between Tonga and French Polynesia). It was concluded that the ancestors of the Cook Islanders came from Asia.

Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer, visited the Tuamotu Archipelago in 1551.

Alvaro de Mendana, the Spanish navigator, arrived in the Marquesas Islands in 1595.

Samuel Wallis, an English sea captain, visited Tahiti in 1767 and Louis Antoine de Bougainville, an explorer from France, arrived in Tahiti in 1768.

In 1768 Captain James Cook was sent to the Pacific by the Admiralty on a scientific voyage. Cook was tasked with setting up an observatory in Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus - a rare astronomical event. The observations were needed in the calculation of the size of the solar system that would assist nautical navigation.

Members of Captain Cook's expedition to Tahiti had their arms tattooed like the islanders - this was the start of the tradition of sailors' tattoos.

Jakob Roggeveen, the Dutch explorer, sighted the island of Bora Bora in 1722.

European traders and missionaries arrived in [French] Polynesia in the eighteenth century.

Breadfruit was introduced to the Caribbean by Captain William Bligh, the English navigator, on his return from Tahiti in 1793. On his first voyage to collect breadfruit, Bligh was forced off the HMS Bounty by mutineers near Tonga (1789).

The island of Makatea, in the Tuamotu Archipelago, is one of the three phosphate rock islands in the Pacific. The other two are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati, and the island of Nauru.

France made the islands a French Protectorate in the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Society Islands became a French Colony in 1880.

French Polynesia became a French Overseas Territory in the middle of the twentieth century.

In 2004 the status of French Polynesia changed from a French Overseas Territory to Overseas Lands of France.

The chief-of-state of French Polynesia is the President of France.

The head of government is the President of the Territorial Government of French Polynesia.

In the second half of the twentieth century the French nuclear testing programme saw a number of nuclear tests carried out from sites on the Tuamotu atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa.

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