Pacific Ocean

Tahiti and Moorea….enchanting twins

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The discovery of the Pacific Islands is a thrilling story. A story of which I never grow tired. I delved back into it with delight by setting sail for Polynesia on board our modern version of a two-hulled pirogue. Let’s go back to the second half of the 18th century, and the dawn of a few new ideas….

Chronicle around the world : Tahiti et Moorea

Arriving in mythical Tahiti

The myth of the South Sea Islands

Contrary to popular belief, the first contact between Europeans and Tahitians did not go exactly…perfectly! Even if the mutual fascination was very quickly apparent between the two civilizations. It had taken only two years (the voyages of Captains Wallis, Bougainville and Cook between 1767 and 1769) to create a charming myth which endures to this day: that of the gentleness of the South Sea Islands. The first westerner to discover the island of Otaheiti was the English navigator Samuel Wallis, on board the Dolphin on June 17th 1767.
The following day, the ship sailed along the coast of Mehetia (an islet to the east of Tahiti) and then on the 19th stopped south of the Taiarapu peninsula. They were greeted by thousands of Tahitians in their outrigger canoes. The Dolphin, which needed to re-victual with fresh water and fresh food, carried up along the west coast of Otaheiti on the lookout for a bay with a safe and accessible anchorage. Finally they came back to Tiarei to try and re-provision. The natives, who knew nothing of metal, showed a great interest in everything metallic (knives, axes, nails, etc) that the Europeans carried and could be seen aboard the ship. Soon the natives’ greed was bordering on pillage, and the English sailors, very inferior in number, became obliged to defend themselves, using their weapons…the first confrontation.
But establishing a new balance of power wasn’t the only issue. A spell had been cast between the two civilizations. So it’s difficult to reconcile the difference in attitudes of the Tahitians, the respect and genuine hospitality, part of the Polynesian character, with that of the fear instilled by the efficiency of the firearms used by the crews of the European ships. The islanders, who only had weapons made of the natural materials found on their islands, had just begun to discover with Wallis and the Dolphin, the firepower associated with the presence of these ships: this was to be widely seen in the coming years, during the redefining of local power and overturning of alliances between the island Chiefs, which would later lead to the domination of the Pomaré dynasty, and to the eventual annexing of Tahiti by France.

Chronicle around the world : Tahiti et Moorea

The Tiaré flower, a Polynesian emblem

The brief visit to Otaheiti by Captain Wallis in 1767 was soon to be eclipsed by the arrival on the Polynesian stage, a few months later, of two more famous sailors: the Frenchman, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1768) and the Englishman James Cook (1769).
Leaving Otaheiti, Wallis had unknowingly prepared the welcome which was to greet Bougainville’s two vessels a few ...

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