About halfway between South America and Australia lies the island nation of French Polynesia. Located in the South Pacific, this territory includes such groups as the Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and Bora Bora. Although French Polynesia consists of about 130 islands, most of its population lives in the Society Islands, particularly on the island of Tahiti (69% lived there in 2002).
The first European visitors arrived during the 18th century, and they took back to Europe tales of a tropical paradise that sparked the imaginations of artists, writers and would-be explorers. During the 19th century, the French annexed various Polynesian island groups, calling them “French Polynesia.” Western influence took its toll on local culture, but in recent years islanders have begun a revival of indigenous traditions and art forms.
The people of French Polynesia are renowned for their seafaring capabilities. Deep-sea fishing is still an important commercial industry, as is pearl farming. Others are handicrafts, agricultural processing and the mining of phosphates. Tourism however, is Polynesia’s primary industry.
Nine different languages are found in French Polynesia. Of these, Tahitian is the most widely spoken, followed by French, Hakka Chinese and Tuamotuan. The local literacy rate is 95%.
Nearly half of French Polynesia’s people are members of the evangelical Church; one-third are Roman Catholic. Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are significant minorities. The complete Bible in Tahitian was first published in 1838. Bible portions have been translated in some of French Polynesia’s minority languages; other languages still need assessment to determine need.