Polynésie française

French Polynesia (Polynésie française/Pōrīnetia Farāni) is an overseas collectivity of France and its sole overseas country. It comprises 121 geographically dispersed islands and atolls stretching over more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) in the South Pacific Ocean. The total land area of French Polynesia is 3,521 square kilometres (1,359 sq mi), with a population of 279,300 (Jan. 2021 estimate).

French Polynesia is divided into five groups of islands:

  1. The Society Islands archipelago, comprising the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands
  2. Tuamotu Archipelago
  3. Gambier Islands
  4. The Marquesas Islands
  5. The Austral Islands.

Among its 121 islands and atolls, 75 were inhabited at the 2017 census. Tahiti, which is in the Society Islands group, is the most populous island, being home to nearly 69% of the population of French Polynesia as of 2017. Papeete, located on Tahiti, is the capital of French Polynesia. Although not an integral part of its territory, Clipperton Island was administered from French Polynesia until 2007.

Hundreds of years after the Great Polynesian Migration, European explorers began traveling through the region, visiting the islands of French Polynesia on several occasions. Traders and whaling ships also visited. In 1842, the French took over the islands and established a French protectorate that they called Établissements français d’Océanie (EFO) (French Establishments/Settlements of Oceania).

In 1946, the EFO became an overseas territory under the constitution of the French Fourth Republic, and Polynesians were granted the right to vote through citizenship. In 1957, the EFO were renamed French Polynesia. In 1983 French Polynesia became a member of the Pacific Community, a regional development organization. Since 28 March 2003, French Polynesia has been an overseas collectivity of the French Republic under the constitutional revision of article 74, and later gained, with law 2004-192 of 27 February 2004, an administrative autonomy, two symbolic manifestations of which are the title of the President of French Polynesia and its additional designation as an overseas country.


Flag of 

The flag of French Polynesia (Drapeau de la Polynésie française) is the civil and state flag of the French overseas country French Polynesia. It was adopted in 1984.
Two red horizontal bands encase a wide white band in a 1:2:1 ratio; centered on the white band is the coat of arms of French Polynesia as a 0.43m diameter disk with a blue and white wave pattern depicting the sea on the lower half and a gold and white ray pattern depicting the sun on the upper half; a Polynesian canoe rides on the wave pattern; the canoe has a crew of five represented by five stars that symbolize the five island groups; red and white are traditional Polynesian colors.

All vessels registered in French Polynesia have to fly the French flag, even for the small ships sailing between the islands, as there is no official French Polynesian civil or state ensign.



Anthropologists and historians believe the Great Polynesian Migration commenced around 1500 BC as Austronesian peoples went on a journey using celestial navigation to find islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The first islands of French Polynesia to be settled were the Marquesas Islands in about 200 BC. The Polynesians later ventured southwest and discovered the Society Islands around AD 300.

European encounters began in 1521 when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing at the service of the Spanish Crown, sighted Puka-Puka in the Tuāmotu-Gambier Archipelago. In 1606 another Spanish expedition under Pedro Fernandes de Queirós sailed through Polynesia sighting an inhabited island on 10 February which they called Sagitaria (or Sagittaria), probably the island of Rekareka to the southeast of Tahiti. In 1722, Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen while on an expedition sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, charted the location of six islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago and two islands in the Society Islands, one of which was Bora Bora.

British explorer Samuel Wallis became the first European navigator to visit Tahiti in 1767. French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville also visited Tahiti in 1768, while British explorer James Cook arrived in 1769, and observed the transit of Venus. He would stop in Tahiti again in 1773 during his second voyage to the Pacific, and once more in 1777 during his third and last voyage before being killed in Hawaii.

In 1772, the Spanish Viceroy of Peru Don Manuel de Amat ordered a number of expeditions to Tahiti under the command of Domingo de Bonechea who was the first European to explore all of the main islands beyond Tahiti. A short-lived Spanish settlement was created in 1774, and for a time some maps bore the name Isla de Amat after Viceroy Amat. Christian missions began with Spanish priests who stayed in Tahiti for a year. Protestants from the London Missionary Society settled permanently in Polynesia in 1797.

King Pōmare II of Tahiti was forced to flee to Mo’orea in 1803; he and his subjects were converted to Protestantism in 1812. French Catholic missionaries arrived on Tahiti in 1834; their expulsion in 1836 caused France to send a gunboat in 1838. In 1842, Tahiti and Tahuata were declared a French protectorate, to allow Catholic missionaries to work undisturbed. The capital of Papeetē was founded in 1843. In 1880, France annexed Tahiti, changing the status from that of a protectorate to that of a colony. The island groups were not officially united until the establishment of the French protectorate in 1889.

After France declared a protectorate over Tahiti in 1842 and fought a war with Tahiti (1844–1847), the British and French signed the Jarnac Convention in 1847, declaring that the kingdoms of Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora were to remain independent from either powers and that no single chief was to be allowed to reign over the entire archipelago. France eventually broke the agreement, and the islands were annexed and became a colony in 1888 (eight years after the Windward Islands) after many native resistances and conflicts called the Leewards War, lasting until 1897.

In the 1880s, France claimed the Tuamotu Archipelago, which formerly belonged to the Pōmare Dynasty, without formally annexing it. Having declared a protectorate over Tahuata in 1842, the French regarded the entire Marquesas Islands as French. In 1885, France appointed a governor and established a general council, thus giving it the proper administration for a colony.
The islands of Rimatara and Rūrutu unsuccessfully lobbied for British protection in 1888, so in 1889 they were annexed by France. Postage stamps were first issued in the colony in 1892.
The first official name for the colony was Établissements de l’Océanie (Establishments in Oceania); in 1903 the general council was changed to an advisory council and the colony’s name was changed to Établissements Français de l’Océanie (French Establishments in Oceania).

In 1940, the administration of French Polynesia recognised the Free French Forces and many Polynesians served in World War II. Unknown at the time to the French and Polynesians, the Konoe Cabinet in Imperial Japan on 16 September 1940 included French Polynesia among the many territories which were to become Japanese possessions, as part of the “Eastern Pacific Government-General” in the post-war world. However, in the course of the war in the Pacific the Japanese were not able to launch an actual invasion of the French islands.

In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and the islands’ status was changed to an overseas territory; the islands’ name was changed in 1957 to Polynésie Française (French Polynesia). In 1962, France’s early nuclear testing ground in Algeria was no longer useable when Algeria became independent and the Moruroa atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago was selected as the new testing site; tests were conducted underground after 1974. In 1977, French Polynesia was granted partial internal autonomy; in 1984, the autonomy was extended. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2003.

In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing at Fangataufa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The last test was on 27 January 1996.
On 29 January 1996, France announced that it would accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and no longer test nuclear weapons.

French Polynesia was relisted in the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories in 2013, making it eligible for a UN-backed independence referendum. The relisting was made after the indigenous opposition was voiced and supported by the Polynesian Leaders Group, Pacific Conference of Churches, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Non-Aligned Movement, World Council of Churches, and Melanesian Spearhead Group.



Under the terms of Article 74 of the French constitution and the Organic Law 2014–192 on the statute of autonomy of French Polynesia, politics of French Polynesia takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic French overseas collectivity, whereby the President of French Polynesia is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Assembly of French Polynesia (the territorial assembly).

Political life in French Polynesia was marked by great instability from the mid 2000s to the mid 2010s. The anti-independence right-wing president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, who had been in power since 1991, had supported the resumption of the French nuclear weapons tests in 1995, and had obtained from his longtime friend and political ally Jacques Chirac, then president of France, a status of expanded autonomy for French Polynesia in 2004, failed to secure an absolute majority in the 2004 French Polynesian legislative election, resulting in deadlock at the Assembly of French Polynesia.
Flosse’s longtime opponent, the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru, whose pro-independence coalition had won one less seat than Flosse’s party in the Assembly, was nonetheless elected president of French Polynesia by the Assembly in June 2004 thanks to the votes of two non-aligned Assembly members. This resulted in several years of political instability, as neither the pro- nor the anti-independence camps were assured of a majority, depending on the votes of smaller non-aligned parties representing the interests of the distant islands of French Polynesia (as opposed to Tahiti). Temaru was toppled from the presidency of French Polynesia in October 2004, succeeded by Flosse who was toppled in March 2005, succeeded by Temaru again who was toppled in December 2006, succeeded by Gaston Tong Sang, a close ally of Flosse.

On 14 September 2007, the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru was elected president of French Polynesia for the third time in three years (with 27 of 44 votes cast in the territorial assembly). He replaced former president Gaston Tong Sang, opposed to independence, who lost a no-confidence vote in the Assembly of French Polynesia on 31 August after the longtime former president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse, hitherto opposed to independence, sided with his long enemy Oscar Temaru to topple the government of Gaston Tong Sang. Oscar Temaru, however, had no stable majority in the Assembly of French Polynesia, and new territorial elections were held in February 2008 to solve the political crisis.

The party of Gaston Tong Sang won the territorial elections, but that did not solve the political crisis: the two minority parties of Oscar Temaru and Gaston Flosse, who together had one more member in the territorial assembly than the political party of Gaston Tong Sang, allied to prevent Gaston Tong Sang from becoming president of French Polynesia. Gaston Flosse was then elected president of French Polynesia by the territorial assembly on 23 February 2008 with the support of the pro-independence party led by Oscar Temaru, while Oscar Temaru was elected speaker of the territorial assembly with the support of the anti-independence party led by Gaston Flosse. Both formed a coalition cabinet. Many observers doubted that the alliance between the anti-independence Gaston Flosse and the pro-independence Oscar Temaru, designed to prevent Gaston Tong Sang from becoming president of French Polynesia, could last very long.

At the French municipal elections held in March 2008, several prominent mayors who were member of the Flosse-Temaru coalition lost their offices in key municipalities of French Polynesia, which was interpreted as a disapproval of the way Gaston Tong Sang, whose party French Polynesian voters had placed first in the territorial elections the month before, had been prevented from becoming president of French Polynesia by the last minute alliance between Flosse and Temaru’s parties. Eventually, on 15 April 2008 the government of Gaston Flosse was toppled by a constructive vote of no confidence in the territorial assembly when two members of the Flosse-Temaru coalition left the coalition and sided with Tong Sang’s party. Tong Sang’s majority in the territorial assembly was very narrow, and he was toppled in February 2009, succeeded by Temaru (supported again by Flosse).

Oscar Temaru’s return to power was brief as he fell out with Gaston Flosse and was toppled in November 2009, succeeded by Gaston Tong Sang. Tong Sang remained in power for a year and a half before being toppled in a vote of no confidence in April 2011, and succeeded by Temaru. Oscar Temaru’s fifth stint as president of French Polynesia lasted two years, during which he campaigned for the re-inscription of French Polynesia on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Temaru lost the 2013 French Polynesian legislative election by a wide margin, only two weeks before the United Nations re-registered French Polynesia on its list of non-self governing territories. This was interpreted by political analysts as a rejection by French Polynesian voters of Temaru’s push for independence as well as the consequence of the socioeconomic crisis affecting French Polynesia after years of political instability and corruption scandals.

Gaston Flosse, whose anti-independence party was the big winner of the 2013 election, succeeded Oscar Temaru as president of French Polynesia in May 2013, but he was removed from office in September 2014 due to a corruption conviction by France’s highest court. Flosse was replaced as president of French Polynesia by his second-in-command in the anti-independence camp, Édouard Fritch, who was also Flosse’s former son-in-law (divorced from Flosse’s daughter). Fritch fell out with Flosse in 2015 as both leaders were vying for control of the anti-independence camp, and Fritch was excluded from Gaston Flosse’s party in September 2015, before founding his own anti-independence party, Tapura Huiraatira, in February 2016. His new party managed to keep a majority in the Assembly of French Polynesia, and Fritch remained president of French Polynesia.

Political stability has returned in French Polynesia since the split of the anti-independence camp in 2015–2016. Tapura Huiraatira won 70% of the seats in the Assembly of French Polynesia at the 2018 French Polynesian legislative election, defeating both Oscar Temaru’s pro-independence party and Gaston Flosse’s anti-independence party, and Édouard Fritch was re-elected president of French Polynesia by the Assembly in May 2018. By 2022, Édouard Fritch was the longest-serving president of French Polynesia since Gaston Flosse in the 1990s and early 2000s.


Between 1946 and 2003, French Polynesia had the status of an overseas territory (territoire d’outre-mer, or TOM). In 2003, it became an overseas collectivity (collectivité d’outre-mer, or COM). Its statutory law of 27 February 2004 gives it the particular designation of overseas country inside the Republic (pays d’outre-mer au sein de la République, or POM), but without legal modification of its status.

Relations with Metropolitan France

Despite a local assembly and government, French Polynesia is not in a free association with France, like the Cook Islands with New Zealand. As a French overseas collectivity, the local government has no competence in justice, university education, security and defense. Services in these areas are directly provided and administered by the Government of France, including the National Gendarmerie (which also polices rural and border areas in metropolitan France), and French military forces.
The collectivity government retains control over primary and secondary education, health, town planning, and the environment. The highest representative of the State in the territory is the High Commissioner of the Republic in French Polynesia (French: Haut commissaire de la République en Polynésie française).

French Polynesia also sends three deputies to the French National Assembly in three constituencies, the 1st representing Papeete and its north-eastern suburbs, plus the commune (municipality) of Mo’orea-Mai’ao, the Tuāmotu-Gambier administrative division, and the Marquesas Islands administrative division, the 2nd representing much of Tahiti outside Papeete and the Austral Islands administrative subdivision, and the 3rd representing the Leeward Islands administrative subdivision and the south-western suburbs of Papeete. French Polynesia also sends two senators to the French Senate.


The defence of the collectivity is the responsibility of the French Armed Forces. Just over 1,000 military personnel are deployed in the territory – centred on the Régiment d’Infanterie de Marine du Pacifique – along with modest air transport and surveillance assets. Three French Navy vessels are based in the territory, including: the surveillance frigate Prairial, the patrol and support ship Bougainville and the coast guard vessel Arago.



French Polynesia is located in Oceania. It is a group of six archipelagos in the South Pacific Ocean, about halfway between South America and Australia. Its area is about 4,167 km2 (around 130 islands), of which 3,827 km2 is land and 340 km2 is (inland) water. It has a coastline of 2,525 km but no land borders with other countries.

There are 118 islands in French Polynesia (and many more islets or motus around atolls). Four of the islands are volcanic and one island is coral. Makatea in French Polynesia is one of the three great phosphate rock islands in the Pacific Ocean – the others are Banaba (Ocean Island) in Kiribati and Nauru. The terrain consists of a mixture of rugged high islands and low islands with reefs.

It is made up of six archipelagos. The largest and most populated island is Tahiti, in the Society Islands.

The archipelagos are:

  • Marquesas Islands – administratively making the Marquesas Islands subdivision (12 high islands and 1 atoll)
  • Society Islands – administratively subdivided into the Windward Islands subdivision (5 high islands) and the Leeward Islands District (5 atolls)
  • Tuamotu Archipelago – administratively part of the Tuamotu-Gambier subdivision (80 atolls, grouping over 3,100 islands or islets)
  • Gambier Islands – administratively part of the Tuamotu-Gambier subdivision (2 atolls in genesis)
  • Austral Islands – administratively part of the Austral Islands subdivision (5 atolls)
  • Bass Islands – administratively part of the Austral Islands subdivision (2 atolls)
  • Aside from Tahiti, some other important atolls, islands, and island groups in French Polynesia are: Ahē, Bora Bora, Hiva ‘Oa, Huahine, Mai’ao, Maupiti, Meheti’a, Mo’orea, Nuku Hiva,
  • Raiatea, Taha’a, Tetiaroa, Tupua’i, and Tūpai. The country’s highest point is Mont Orohena on Tahiti at 2,241 meters high.



Total population was 279,300 according to January 2021 estimates. At the 2017 census, 68.7% of the population of French Polynesia lived on the island of Tahiti alone. The urban area of Papeete, the capital city, has 136,771 inhabitants (2017 census).

At the 2017 census, 89.0% of people living in French Polynesia were born in French Polynesia (up from 87.3% in 2007), 8.1% were born in metropolitan France (down from 9.3% in 2007), 1.2% were born in overseas France outside of French Polynesia (down from 1.4% in 2007), and 1.7% were born in foreign countries (down from 2.0% in 2007). The population of natives of metropolitan France living in French Polynesia has declined in relative terms since the 1980s, but in absolute terms their population peaked at the 2007 census with 24,265 natives of metropolitan France living in French Polynesia that year (not counting their children born in French Polynesia). With the local economic crisis, their population declined to 22,278 at the 2012 census, and 22,387 at the 2017 census.

At the 1988 census, the last census which asked questions regarding ethnicity, 66.5% of people were ethnically unmixed Polynesians, 7.1% were ethnically Polynesians with light European and/or East Asian mixing, 11.9% were Europeans (mostly French), 9.3% were people of mixed European and Polynesian descent, the so-called Demis (literally meaning “Half”), and 4.7% were East Asians (mainly Chinese).

Chinese, Demis, and the white populace are essentially concentrated on the island of Tahiti, particularly in the urban area of Papeete, where their share of the population is thus much greater than in French Polynesia overall. Despite a long history of ethnic mixing, ethnic tensions have been growing in recent years, with politicians using a xenophobic discourse and fanning the flame of nationalism.




French is the sole official language of French Polynesia. An organic law of 12 April 1996 states that “French is the official language, Tahitian and other Polynesian languages can be used.” At the 2017 census, among the population whose age was 15 and older, 73.9% of people reported that the language they spoke the most at home was French (up from 68.6% at the 2007 census), 20.2% reported that the language they spoke the most at home was Tahitian (down from 24.3% at the 2007 census), 2.6% reported Marquesan and 0.2% the related Mangareva language (same percentages for both at the 2007 census), 1.2% reported any of the Austral languages (down from 1.3% at the 2007 census), 1.0% reported Tuamotuan (down from 1.5% at the 2007 census), 0.6% reported a Chinese dialect (41% of which was Hakka) (down from 1.0% at the 2007 census), and 0.4% another language (more than half of which was English) (down from 0.5% at the 2007 census).

At the same census, 95.2% of people whose age was 15 or older reported that they could speak, read and write French (up from 94.7% at the 2007 census), whereas only 1.3% reported that they had no knowledge of French (down from 2.0% at the 2007 census). 86.5% of people whose age was 15 or older reported that they had some form of knowledge of at least one Polynesian language (up from 86.4% at the 2007 census but down from 87.8% at the 2012 census), whereas 13.5% reported that they had no knowledge of any of the Polynesian languages (down from 13.6% at the 2007 census but up from 12.2% at the 2012 census).


French Polynesia appeared in the world music scene in 1992, recorded by French musicologist Pascal Nabet-Meyer with the release of The Tahitian Choir’s recordings of unaccompanied vocal Christian music called himene tārava. This form of singing is common in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, and is notable for a unique drop in pitch at the end of the phrases, a characteristic formed by several different voices, accompanied by a steady grunting of staccato, nonlexical syllables.


Christianity is the main religion of the islands. A majority of 54% belongs to various Protestant churches, especially the Maohi Protestant Church, which is the largest and accounts for more than 50% of the population. It traces its origins to Pōmare II, the king of Tahiti, who converted from traditional beliefs to the Reformed tradition brought to the islands by the London Missionary Society.

Latin Rite Roman Catholics constitute a large minority of 38,3% of the population (2019) which has its own ecclesiastical province, comprising the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Papeete and its only suffragan, the Diocese of Taiohae. The number of Catholics has increased to 107,220 (2019), i.e. 38.3% of the total population, an increase over 1950 when it represented 21.6% of the total population and 12,500 faithful.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had 28,147 members as of 2018. Community of Christ, another denomination within the Latter-Day Saint tradition, claimed 7,990 total French Polynesian members as of 2015 including Mareva Arnaud Tchong who serves in the church’s governing Council of Twelve Apostles. There were about 3,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tahiti as of 2014.

There are an estimated 500 Muslims in French Polynesia.

According to 1991 data, Catholics are in the majority in the Tuamotu Islands, Gambier Islands and the Marquesas Islands, while Protestants are in the majority in the Austral Islands and several of the Society Islands such as Tahiti. This diversity is due to the fact that Protestant missionaries (from England and the United States) first came to one group of islands, and after French colonisation the Catholic Church spread to several more scattered islands, but also to the main island of Tahiti.



The sport of football in the island of Tahiti is run by the Fédération Tahitienne de Football.


The Polynesian traditional sport va’a is practiced in all the islands. French Polynesia hosts the Hawaiki nui va’a an international race between Tahiti, Huahine and Bora Bora.


French Polynesia is famous for its reef break waves. Teahupo’o is probably the most renowned, regularly ranked in the best waves of the world. This site hosts the annual Billabong Pro Tahiti surf competition, the 7th stop of the World Championship Tour, and is scheduled to host the surfing events of the 2024 Summer Olympics.


There are many spots to practice kitesurfing in French Polynesia, with Tahiti, Moorea, Bora-Bora, Maupiti and Raivavae being among the most iconic.


French Polynesia is internationally known for diving. Each archipelago offers opportunities for divers. Rangiroa and Fakarava in the Tuamotu islands are the most famous spots in the area.


Rugby is also popular in French Polynesia, specifically Rugby union.


Television channels with local programming include Polynésie la 1ère (established in 1965) and Tahiti Nui Television (established in 2000). Channels from metropolitan France are also available.


Economy & Infrastructure

The legal tender of French Polynesia is the CFP franc which has a fixed exchange rate with the euro. The nominal gross domestic product (or GDP) of French Polynesia in 2019 was 6.01 billion U.S. dollars at market exchange rates, the seventh-largest economy in Oceania after Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, and Guam. The GDP per capita was US$21,615 in 2019 (at market exchange rates, not at PPP), lower than in Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Guam, and New Caledonia, but higher than in all other independent insular states and dependent territories of Oceania.

French Polynesia was severaly affected by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and subsequent Great Recession, and experienced as a result 4 years of recession from 2009 to 2012. French Polynesia renewed with economic growth in 2013, and experienced strong economic growth in the 2nd half of the 2010s, with an average real GDP growth rate of +2.8% per year from 2016 to 2019, before being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which has led to another recession.

French Polynesia has a moderately developed economy, which is dependent on imported goods, tourism, and the financial assistance of mainland France. Tourist facilities are well developed and are available on the major islands. Main agricultural productions are coconuts (copra), vegetables and fruits. French Polynesia exports noni juice, a high quality vanilla, and the famous black Tahitian pearls which accounted for 55% of exports (in value) in 2008.

French Polynesia’s seafloor contains rich deposits of nickel, cobalt, manganese, and copper that are not exploited.

In 2008, French Polynesia’s imports amounted to 2.2 billion U.S. dollars and exports amounted to 0.2 billion U.S. dollars.


There are 53 airports in French Polynesia; 46 are paved. Fa’a’ā International Airport is the only international airport in French Polynesia. Each island has its own airport that serves flights to other islands. Air Tahiti is the main airline that flies around the islands.


In 2017, Alcatel Submarine Networks, a unit of Nokia, launched a project to connect many of the islands in French Polynesia with underwater fiber optic cable. The project, called NATITUA, is intended to improve French Polynesian broadband connectivity by linking Tahiti to 10 islands in the Tuamotu and Marquesas archipelagos. In August 2018, a celebration was held to commemorate the arrival of a submarine cable from Papeete to the atoll of Hao, extending the network by about 1000 kilometres.

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