macrohistory & world report

French Polynesia

Map of Oceania with French Polynesia highlighted.

French Polynesia in Oceania

World Factbook as of November 2014: "Since 1962, when France stationed military personnel in the region, French Polynesia has changed from a subsistence agricultural economy to one in which a high proportion of the work force is either employed by the military or supports the tourist industry. With the halt of French nuclear testing in 1996, the military contribution to the economy fell sharply. Tourism accounts for about one-fourth of GDP and is a primary source of hard currency earnings. Other sources of income are handicrafts, public works projects, aquaculture, pearl farming and deep-sea commercial fishing. The small manufacturing sector primarily processes agricultural products. The territory benefits substantially from development agreements with France aimed principally at creating new businesses and strengthening social services."

Per Capita GDP: rates 67th in the world.

2004: Around 200,000 tourists come and go every year – about 2.5 times the number that go to Samoa, and 4.4 percent of the  4.5 million or so that go to the Hawaiian Islands.


July 2014: 280,026

Population growth rate
2014: 0.97%

Net migration per 1,000 inhabitants
2014: A net loss of 0.87 per thousand (around 243 people)

births/ deaths
2014: 15.47 / 4.93

Infant mortality (deaths before the age of one year per 1,000 live births)
2014: 4.78 deaths
2011: 7.27 deaths
2005: 8.44


Average life expectancy at birth
2014: 76.8 years
2011: 77.1 years
2005: 75.9.

Living in an urban area
2010: 51%

Ethnic groups
Someone has made a count that concludes that about 16.8 percent of the population is a mixture of Polynesian-Caucasian and 1.3 percent a mixture of Polynesian-Chinese. According to the World Factbook 78% are Polynesian. 12% are Chinese, 6% are local French 6% and 4% metropolitan French.

Protestant 54%, Roman Catholic 30%, other 10%, no religion 6%


Tahiti and 117 other islands and atolls. South of Hawaii. Parallel to and east of Australia, half way to South America. Together the islands and atolls are equivalent to 64 by 64 kilometers. Tahiti is equivalent to 32.3 by 32.3 kilometers 33 kilometers or 20 by 20 miles, with a mountain 2,241 meters or 7,352 feet high.

The temperature varies year-round between 28 and 30 degrees Celsius – 82.4 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

Rain in January is at a high of around 330 millimeters for the month. In August it is down to around 40 millimeters. (In Tokyo the average rainfall is 130 mm per month. The average for New York City is 90 mm per month.)


Official long name: Overseas Lands of French Polynesia. Polynesia

Chief of state is the President of France. Legislature is a unicameral body with 57 members elected in the islands by popular vote to 5-year terms.

The capital of French Polynesia is Papeete (pah pi ā tā).

Recent History

Formal name: Territory of French Polynesi.

World Factbook: "The French annexed various Polynesian island groups during the 19th century. In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing on the Mururoa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The tests were halted in January 1996. In recent years, French Polynesia's autonomy has been considerably expanded. "

Officially, colonial status for the islands ends in 1946. A new constitution is established that year. The islanders become French citizens, electing representatives to an assembly in the islands and sending representatives to parliament in Paris.

France in 1957 changes the status of the islands to that of overseas territory. A desire for independence remains, and the French arrest independence leader Pouvanaa a Oopa. An international airport opens on the island of Tahiti in 1961, greatly increasing tourism and adding to what begins to be a change from an economy predominately of subsistence agriculture.

In 1966 the French build a nuclear test center on the atoll of Mururoa,1,200 kilometers southeast from the island of Tahiti. Testing is moved underground in 1975, on Fangataufa, forty kilometers to the south.

1975 A German couple I meet in Samoa who had just arrived from Tahiti complain of the flies in Tahiti and of their general disappointment.

In 1977 and again in 1984 the French grant more control over economic matters to the islanders. In 1995, France's president, Jacques Chirac, announces new underground testing of nuclear weapons. Riots occur in Papeete with hundreds of cars overturned and buildings set on fire. France promises the islanders there will be no more nuclear testing.

2009 Arriving at the airport in Tahiti, one might find what one tourist describes as "rude French security people."

2009 Papeete is a city of around 80,000, with traffic congestion, noise, with many poorly fed dogs wandering around. Tourist women should be on guard against having their purses snatched – perhaps by a couple of young people zooming by on a motor scooter, as described on the internet by one unhappy tourist. As elsewhere, the good people far outnumber the bad. One tourist describes Papeete as a town having "culture with flair."

The World Factbook

Copyright © 2009-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.