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mercredi 26 décembre 2012

Tahiti and its islands…

The lost lands of the South Pacific

We all have preconceived images about Polynesia with lagoons, « vahine » (woman) and coconut palms. But how many know where these archipelagoes of the biggest ocean are hidden?

Located in the heart of the South Pacific between 134° and 157° of longitude West and 8° and 28° latitude South, on both sides of the Capricorn Tropic line, French Polynesia belongs to the eastern group of Polynesian islands. At East of Micronesia and Melanesia islands, it makes up, with Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand, the “continent” of Oceania.

Tikehau atolls : idealized image of Polynesian paradise

These five archipelagoes set up the “Polynesian Triangle”. It’s so commonly called by its tips: Hawaii (in the North), New Zealand (South-West) and Rapa Nui or Easter Island (in the East).

Away from other continents

The whole set of French Polynesia is located thousands of miles from bordering continents: Australia is 4 101 miles at west of Tahiti (about 8 hours by plane), Chile 4 971 miles at the east (11 hours). It’s necessary to cross over 3 977 miles to reach Californian coast, in the north-east (approximately 8 hours) and 5 903 miles to reach Japan (nearly 13 hours flight).

At the antipodes of Europe, Tahiti island is thus in almost 11 185 miles from Paris (That’s 20 hours flight with a mandatory stopover of two hours in Los Angeles).

Its estrangement of the big continental masses allowed it to protect strong specificities, both regarding environment and culture.

Huge and tiny  

French Polynesia consists of one hundred and eighteen (118) islands included in five archipelagoes: Society, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier and Austral. Moroever this multiplicity of islands is the origin of the country’s name. It derives of the greek “poly”, meaning many/several and “nesis”, meaning island.

Unique feature in the world, these islands are scattered over an oceanic area of 3,10 million miles2. It corresponds to an area almost so vast as the whole European continent and almost ten times the territory of metropolitan France (341 754, 15 miles2). Thanks to this scattering of its emerged lands, French Polynesia has the biggest exclusive economic zone (or EEZ) of South Pacific.

Rare lands…

To better understand the Polynesian reality, you should know that the sum of the hundred and eighteen islands Polynesian area covers only 2 188 miles2 only. It’s the equivalent of Haut-Rhin department in France. Tahiti, the biggest of them, extends itself over 636 miles2: that’s more than a quarter of all the lands of the country.

…and scattered !

But if we stack the map of French Polynesia on the European continent, by positioning Tahiti Island on the city of Paris, the most northerly, Marquesas archipelago, finds in Sweden! At the South-east Gambier Islands are stacked at Bulgaria. In the South, Rapa Nui Island, from Austral archipelago, merges with Sardinia. And for Maupiti, located in Society Islands, it would be placed on the Brittany coasts of France.

Far from any lands, Polynesian islands deserve…

So, to rally Tahiti to Nuku Hiva in Marquesas Islands, are needed three hours and thirty by aircraft. About four hours from Tahiti to Mangareva in Gambier and half past three, to join Rurutu in the Southern.

To conclude this fast overview of French Polynesia: to know that the Polynesian people count this day, approximately 270 000 souls, whose 180 000 live on the only island of Tahiti. For comparison: 270 000 inhabitants, it’s a little less than the population of Aveyron department! 

A strong identity

Despite the presented geographical handicaps higher, the Polynesian people are expanding of a culture and very strong values. For example, each of five archipelagoes possesses its own language. Today still, this native language is more spoken there, except for Tahiti where, little by little, French overrides the local language: “Reo Tahiti”.

An  article of Julien Gué
Translated from french by Vanaa Teriitehau

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