French Polynesia is a sprawling possession of France in the Pacific Ocean, made up of 118 volcanic and coral islands and atolls, including Tahiti.
For France this huge stretch of the Pacific – as big as Western Europe – remains strategically valuable. Atomic testing on the atolls enabled France to keep the nuclear clout it needed to remain one of the world’s leading powers.
There are five island groups – the Society Islands, the Tuamotu archipelago, the Gambier Islands, the Marquesas Islands and the Tubuai Islands. Tahiti is the most densely-populated island.
European contact was gradual; the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British were credited with the discovery of one or more of the islands. In the 18th century European traders and missionaries came, bringing diseases that wiped out much of the indigenous population.
The missionaries tried to put a stop to local religious practices, nudity and other aspects of indigenous life. Some forms of Polynesian culture were lost for many years.
- French Polynesia
- Status: French overseas territory
- Population: 277,000
- Area: 4,167 sq km (1,609 sq miles)
- Major languages: Tahitian and French
- Major religion: Christian
- Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 78 years (women)
- Currency: Comptoirs Français du Pacifique (CFP), Franc