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French Polynesia Profile

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While it is not technically a sovereign state, the overseas collectivity (or ‘overseas country’) of French Polynesia is more than worthy of a weeklong journey!

Want to learn more about French Polynesia?

Travel Guide | Currency

  • Capital: Papeete
  • Largest City: Faaa
  • Population (2014): 271,800
  • Total Area: 4,167 km²
  • Official Language: French
  • Currency: CFP franc (₣) (XPF)

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History of French Polynesia

Early History and European Exploration

Our story begins much later than most, as French Polynesia was one of the final places to be settled when Polynesian explorers laid down roots around 200 BCE. Much of what we know begins with the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan on a Spanish expedition in 1521 and the Dutch a couple hundred years later.

As they were wont to do, British explorers, namely Samuel Wallis and James Cook, visited Tahiti (one of the islands that make up French Polynesia) in the late 1700’s. Around this time, two centuries after Magellan, the Spanish took more interest in the islands, with missionaries and other expeditions sent to the area.

The French

After the king of Tahiti converted to Protestantism in 1812, the French sent Catholic missionaries to the island. Once they were expelled, the French sent more ships and claimed Tahiti and Tahuata. After officially being named a colony in the late 19th century, the French claimed more of the islands and began to administer them more directly.

20th Century French Polynesia

In World War II, the region recognized the Free French Forces and sent soldiers to serve abroad. After the war, the islands were officially named an ‘overseas territory’. The next several decades included further autonomy as well as French nuclear testing – the latter of which was highly controversial and has since been abandoned. Today, the territory continues as a fairly autonomous part of the larger French state.

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French Polynesian Culture

The majority of the population of French Polynesia still adheres to the Protestant faith and are ethnically Polynesian. The territory has much in common culturally with other nearby Pacific islands.

Flag of French Polynesia

While the French flag is the official flag (since French Polynesia is, after all, a part of France), there is also a French Polynesian flag which consists of two red horizontal stripes with white between. In the middle is a crest featuring a canoe, waves, sun, the sea, and five stars.

Sports in French Polynesia

Many water sports are popular throughout Polynesia, including va’a (traditional canoe races), surfing, kitesurfing, and diving.

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Geography of French Polynesia

French Polynesia is made up of six archipelagoes and 118 islands (not including the many islets). The largest (and most well known) island is Tahiti. It is home to both the capital and the largest municipality in the territory.

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Facts about French Polynesia

  • The Japanese planned to annex the islands during WWII
  • It has the same time zone as Hawaii
  • There are no poisonous snakes or insects
  • French Polynesia spans an area as large as Europe
  • The Tahitian language has 13 letters
  • There is a local winery growing on a coral atoll

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Last Word

We hope you’ve enjoyed your first visit to paradise! Come back later this week for much more.

The adventure doesn’t have to end! Keep exploring with Continental’s Countries as well as our French Polynesia Travel Guide and Currency Spotlight.

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