Society Islands

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Society Islands
Native name:
Îles de la Société (French) / Tōtaiete mā (Tahitian)
Unofficial flag of the Leeward Islands (Society Islands).svg
Unofficial flag of the Leeward Islands
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Society Islands
Polynesie francaise collectivity location map.svg
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Society Islands
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 17°32′S149°50′W / 17.533°S 149.833°W / -17.533; -149.833 Coordinates: 17°32′S149°50′W / 17.533°S 149.833°W / -17.533; -149.833
Archipelago Polynesia
Total islands14
Major islands Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora, Huahine
Area1,590 km2 (610 sq mi)
Highest elevation2,241 m (7,352 ft)
Highest point Mont Orohena
Collectivity Flag of French Polynesia.svg French Polynesia
Largest settlement Papeete (pop. 26,925 [1] )
Population275,918 [1] (2017)
Pop. density148 /km2 (383 /sq mi)

The Society Islands (French : Îles de la Société, officially Archipel de la Société; Tahitian : Tōtaiete mā) are an archipelago located in the South Pacific Ocean. Politically, they are part of French Polynesia, an overseas country of the French Republic. Geographically, they form part of Polynesia.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Tahitian is a Polynesian language, spoken mainly on the Society Islands in French Polynesia. It belongs to the Eastern Polynesian group.

Archipelago A group of islands

An archipelago, sometimes called an island group or island chain, is a chain, cluster or collection of islands, or sometimes a sea containing a small number of scattered islands.


The archipelago is believed to have been named by Captain James Cook during his first voyage in 1769, supposedly in honour of the Royal Society, the sponsor of the first British scientific survey of the islands; however, Cook stated in his journal that he called the islands Society "as they lay contiguous to one another." [2]

James Cook 18th-century British explorer

Captain James Cook was a British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Royal Society National academy of science in the United Kingdom

The Royal Society, formally The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society and the United Kingdom's national Academy of Sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement. It also performs these roles for the smaller countries of the Commonwealth.


The islands are divided, both geographically and administratively, into two groups:

Windward Islands (Society Islands) the eastern group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia

The Windward Islands are the eastern group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the southern Pacific Ocean. These islands were also previously named the Georgian Islands in honor of King George III of the United Kingdom.

Mehetia island in French Polynesia

Meheti'a or Me'eti'a is a volcanic island in the Windward Islands, in the east of the Society Islands in French Polynesia. This island is a very young active stratovolcano 110 kilometres (68 mi) east of the Taiarapu Peninsula of Tahiti. It belongs to the Teahiti'a-Mehetia hotspot.

Tetiaroa island in French Polynesia

Teti'aroa is an atoll in the Windward group of the Society Islands of French Polynesia, an overseas territorial collectivity of France in the Pacific Ocean. Once the vacation spot for Tahitian royalty, the islets are under a 99-year lease contracted by Marlon Brando.

The islands became a French protectorate in 1843 and a colony in 1880 under the name of French Establishments of Oceania (Établissements Français d'Océanie, EFO). They have a population of 275,918 inhabitants (as of 2017). [1] They cover a land area of 1,590 square kilometres (610 sq mi).



Dating colonization

The first Polynesians are understood to have arrived on these islands around 1000 AD. [3] [4] [5]

Myth origin

The islanders explain their origins in term of a myth. The feathered god Ta'aroa lay in his shell. He called out but no-one answered, so he went back into his shell, where he stayed for aeons. When he came out he changed his body into the multi-layered dome of the sky. Other parts of his body he transformed into Papa-fenua, the earth. Other parts he made into Te Tuma, the ata, or shadow of his phallus. Ta'aroa said, "Cast your eyes on my phallus. Gaze upon it and insert it in the earth." He came down to earth at "Opoa in Havai'i" (now Ra'iatea), one of the most sacred places in the Society Islands. Other gods were created, and these ran directly into the time of the people. The high chiefs or ari'i rahi were descendants from the gods, reckoned to be forty generation previously. In their presence commoners showed respect by stripping to the waist. The high chiefs erected marae as places of worship.

HMS Resolution and Discovery in Huahine, commanded by James Cook, depicted by John Cleveley. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. John Cleveley the Younger; Francis Jukes, The view of Huaheine, one of the Society Islands in the South Seas; (Shows Resolution%3F and Adventure%3F).jpg
HMS Resolution and Discovery in Huahine, commanded by James Cook, depicted by John Cleveley. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

In the generations before Europeans arrived, a cult called 'Oro-maro-'ura developed: the cult of the red-feathered girdle. This became a tangible symbol of the chief's power. Key followers of the 'Oro cult were the 'arioi, who lived separately from the common people. They wore scented flowers and adorned themselves with scents and scarlet-dyed cloth. The head of each 'arioi group was heavily tattooed from ankle to thigh and known as a blackleg. Both male and female blacklegs were a privileged group but they were forbidden to have children. Their babies were all killed at birth. They received and gave lavish presents. They had a wide range of artistic skills and could be priests, navigators and lore specialists. Only good-looking men or women could become 'arioi. They played a crucial role in ceremonies associated with birth, deaths and marriage. [6]

European contact

In 1767 HMS Dolphin sailing under Captain Samuel Wallis landed on Tahiti. The captain and crew were quite sick with scurvy on arrival and were keen to obtain fresh food. The islanders were delighted at the abundance of iron on the ship and tried to board the ship. After several contacts, when natives attempted to take iron fittings, Wallis was forced to shoot cannon to regain control. [7]

Europeans quickly found that the islanders were desperate to obtain iron. The sailors found that young women and girls were eager to exchange sex for a nail, which was used for woodworking and as fish-hooks. Traditionally young women had offered themselves to ancestor gods in the form of chiefs or other high status individuals. Some rituals involved chiefs having sex with virgins in public view, and this was offered to some European captains and officers, who declined. [8]

Louis de Bougainville, a French nobleman, sailor and soldier, led an expedition to the Society Islands in 1766. [9] By the time he reached this island, two years later, his crew was stricken with scurvy. Despite the crew being twice as big as the Dolphin′s, the islanders had sufficient food to trade their surplus for axes, knives and other iron goods. [10]


Each of the Society Islands has a small airport. Faa'a International Airport is located in Tahiti and is the largest airport in the Society Islands.

Related Research Articles

French Polynesia French overseas country in the Southern Pacific ocean

French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic and its sole overseas country. It is composed of 118 geographically dispersed islands and atolls stretching over an expanse of more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) in the South Pacific Ocean. Its total land area is 4,167 square kilometres (1,609 sq mi).

Moorea island in French Polynesia

Mo'orea, also spelled Moorea, is a high island in French Polynesia, one of the Windward Islands, part of the Society Islands, 17 kilometres (11 mi) northwest of Tahiti. The name comes from the Tahitian Mo'ore'a, meaning "yellow lizard": Mo'o = lizard ; Re'a = yellow. An older name for the island is 'Aimeho, sometimes spelled 'Aimeo or 'Eimeo. Early Western colonists and voyagers also referred to Mo'orea as York Island.

Tupaia was a Tahitian Polynesian navigator and arioi, originally from the island of Ra'iatea in the Pacific Islands group known to Europeans as the Society Islands. His remarkable navigational skills and Pacific geographical knowledge were to be utilised by Lt. James Cook, R.N. when he took him aboard HMS Endeavour as guide on its voyage of exploration to Terra Australis Incognita. Tupaia travelled with Cook to New Zealand, acting as the expedition's interpreter to the Polynesian Māori, and Australia. He died in December 1770 from a shipborne illness contracted when Endeavour was docked in Batavia for repairs ahead of its return journey to England.

Hao (French Polynesia) Commune in French Polynesia, France

Hao, or Haorangi, is a large coral atoll in the central part of the Tuamotu Archipelago. It has c. 1000 people living on 35 km². It was used to house the military support base for the nuclear tests on Mururoa. Because of its shape, French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville named it "Île de la Harpe".

Leeward Islands (Society Islands) archipelago in French Polynesia

The Leeward Islands are the western part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the South Pacific. They lie south of the Line Islands, east of the Cooks and north of the Austral Islands. Their area is 395 km² with a population of over 33,000. The islands to the west comprise a three atoll group: Manuae, Motu One atoll, lying most northerly of the Leeward Islands, and to the southeast Maupihaa atoll. More to the east lies a mainly high island cluster consisting of Maupiti, Tupai atoll, Bora Bora, the most known of the Leeward Islands in the western world due to its World War II United States naval base and subsequent tourism industry, Tahaa, lying just north of the largest island of the group, Raiatea which possesses the largest city and local capital of the Leeward Islands, namely Uturoa, as well as the highest elevation, the just over 1,000 m mount Tefatua, and finally the easternmost island of the group, Huahine which at high tide is divided into two: Huahine Nui to the north and Huahine Iti to the south.

Index of French Polynesia-related articles Wikimedia list article

This page list topics related to French Polynesia.

Arioi geographical object

The Arioi or Areoi were a secret religious order of the Society Islands, particularly the island of Tahiti, with a hierarchical structure, esoteric salvation doctrine and cultish and cultural functions. They included both men and women of all social strata, though men predominated. The Arioi principally venerated the war god 'Oro, whom they considered the founder of their order.

Oro god of the Polynesian pantheon

'Oro is a god of the Polynesian pantheon. The veneration of Oro, although practiced in varying intensity among the islands, was a major religion of the Society Islands in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially Tahiti. Tahaa, Moorea, and Raiatea. On Tahiti 'Oro was the main deity and the god of war. The secret society of Arioi was closely linked because of its rites. On the Marquesas Islands, 'Oro bore the name Mahui.

Tahitians ethnic group

The Tahitians, or Maohis, are a nation and Polynesian ethnic group native to Tahiti and thirteen other Society Islands in French Polynesia, as well as the modern population of these lands of multiracial, primarily Polynesian-French, ancestry. The Tahitians are one of the largest indigenous Polynesian ethnic groups, behind the Māori, Samoans and Hawaiians.

Kingdom of Tahiti

The Kingdom of Tahiti was founded by paramount chief Pōmare I, who, with the aid of English missionaries and traders, and European weaponry, unified the islands of Tahiti, Moʻorea, Tetiaroa, Mehetia and at its peak included the Tuamotus, Tubuai, Raivavae and other islands of eastern Polynesia. Their leaders were Christian following the baptism of Pomare II. Their progressive rise and recognition by Europeans allowed Tahiti to remain free from a planned Spanish colonization as well as English and earlier French claims to the islands. The Kingdom was one of a number of independent Polynesian states in Oceania, alongside Raiatea, Huahine, Bora Bora, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Rarotonga and Niue in the 19th century. They are known for bringing a period of peace and cultural and economic prosperity to the islands over the reign of the five Tahitian monarchs.

Kingdom of Bora Bora 18th c. Polynesian kingdom

The Kingdom of Bora Bora was established during the early 19th century with the unification of the island of Bora Bora and official recognition by France and the United Kingdom in 1847 through the Jarnac Convention. It was one of a number of independent Polynesian states in the Society Islands, alongside Tahiti, Huahine and Raiatea in the 19th century, which all shared a similar language and culture and whose rulers were interrelated by marriage. Besides Bora Bora, the Kingdom encompassed the islands of Tupai, Maupiti, Maupihaa, Motu One, and Manuae. The Kingdom was finally annexed to France in 1888 and its last queen Teriimaevarua III was forced to abdicate in 1895.

Marie Mariterangi, Marie Mariteragi, Marie Terangi or Marie was a singer, songwriter of Polynesian pop music, guitarist and ukulele player. She was born on May 3, 1926 in Hikueru in French Polynesia and died on April 27, 1971 in Papeete in French Polynesia.

Franco-Tahitian War

The Franco-Tahitian War or French–Tahitian War (1844–1847) was a conflict between the Kingdom of the French and the Kingdom of Tahiti and its allies in the South Pacific archipelago of the Society Islands.

The term South Seas or South Sea commonly refers to the South Pacific. Geographically, all areas to the south of Panama's degree of latitude belong to the South Sea.

Teuira Henry Tahitian scholar, ethnologist, folklorist, linguist, historian and educator

Teuira Henry was a Tahitian scholar, ethnologist, folklorist, linguist, historian and educator. She worked to reconstruct a lost manuscript on the history of Tahiti written by her grandfather, English missionary John Muggridge Orsmond, by using his original notes. Most of her writings were published posthumously by the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum as the book Ancient Tahiti.


  1. 1 2 3 "Population". Institut de la statistique de la Polynésie française (in French). Retrieved 7 June 2019.
  2. Horwitz, Tony. Oct. 2003, Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before, Bloomsbury, ISBN   0-7475-6455-8
  3. P. V. Kirch: On the Road of the Winds – An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Before European Contact; Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 2002, pp. 230–231. There is much debate as to the exact date of the original Polynesian migration to Tahiti, and indeed whether it came in one wave or several. Some experts put it as late as 500–800 BCE.
  4. Wilmshurst, J.M. "High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia". PNAS. 108 (5): 1815-20.
  5. Stevenson, J (2017). "Polynesian colonization and landscape changes on Mo`orea, French Polynesia: The Lake Temae pollen record". Holocene. 27 (12): 1963-75.
  6. Salmond, Anne; Aphrodite's Island. The European Discovery of Tahiti, Penguin/North Shore, 2009, pp. 23-28
  7. Salmond, pp. 39-47
  8. Salmond, pp. 67-68
  9. Bougainville, Voyage autour du Monde
  10. Salmond, pp. 90-96

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