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What Should I Know About French Polynesia?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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French Polynesia consists of a stretch of 118 islands in the eastern South Pacific Ocean. These islands include the Gambier, Austral, Society, Marquesas and Tuamotus groups. The Tuamotus are atolls, which are sunken islands.

Spanish explorers reached the Marquesas in 1595, but European contact was not made until the English Protestant and Catholic missionaries came to Tahiti in 1767. Britain and France struggled for ownership of Tahiti and France had the territorial rights in 1944. The name French Polynesia became the official name for the islands in 1957. Yet, French Polynesia has struggled for independence and has become mostly autonomous from France, except for sharing its defense and currency systems.

French is the official language of French Polynesia. However, Tahitian is still spoken widely here and languages using combinations of both Tahitian and French are also spoken on the islands. About 70% of the population of French Polynesia is Polynesian and the rest are of Polynesian and European heritage, French, Chinese and Chinese Polynesian.

Bora Bora is an island in the Leeward Society Islands near Tahiti. Bora Bora is one of French Polynesia's prized vacation destinations. It's known for its beauty, warm water and white sand beaches. Sailing and snorkelling are popular tourist activities here as is just relaxing on the beach. The first hotels were built in Bora Bora in 1961 and although many resorts keep being added, the area is still said to have unspoiled charm.

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Papeete is Tahiti's capital as well as its main port. It is home to the French government and features a botanical garden and cathedral as well as an airport. Papeete is an exporter of vanilla and mother-of-pearl.

Industries in French Polynesia in general include tourism, commercial deep-sea fishing, pearl farming and some agriculture-related manufacturing. Products such as coconuts, vanilla, coffee and beef are processed here. The military was a big industry in French Polynesia up until the 1990s. It declined rapidly when France conducted controversial nuclear testing here in the 1990s.

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