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Oceania and the Pacific Islands: Tahiti and an Ote'a

Lucky us! This week we get to go to Tahiti.  

Tahiti is the largest, most populous and most politically central island in all of French Polynesia. Tahiti is a volcanic island that has a mountainous center surrounded by coral reefs. Most of the approximately 190,000 Tahitians (2017 estimate) live in the capital city of Papetee, where 70% are Polynesian. The rest are European, Chinese or Tahitians of mixed European/Polynesian descent. The British first "claimed" Tahiti in 1767 and the French arrived soon thereafter.  

In 1788, perhaps in response to the European incursion, King Pomare I, also known as Otou, united the Kingdom of Tahiti. The King and his descendants generally resisted French rule but eventually, in 1946, France made all of French Polynesia an "overseas territory" and granted Tahitians French citizenship. In 2003 French Polynesia became an "overseas collectivity" and in 2004 it transformed into "an overseas country." This fluidity of relationship with the West continues, as Tahiti's main political parties still rally support based upon their followers' desire for autonomy, if not independence, or their favoring a deeper relationship with the French.     

This week in class we sing:

 We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello in Tahitian: "Ia ora na!"

Ba Ganala” is an ancient Aboriginal song from the Australia's Torres Straits. We sing it with hand motions and a drone. (More.)  

"KU'ndaRima” tells the lighthearted tale of a boy who daydreams as he stares up into a blue sky. (More.)  

Te Pua No'a” is a flowery Tahitian song about the natural beauty of the islands. (More.)    

Konikoni” is both a love song and, infused with lush descriptions of the islands' natural beauty, a love song to Hawaii. (More.)  


Let's learn about Polynesia!

The term Polynesia comes from Greek, meaning "many islands," and while this is an accurate description--there are about 1,000 islands, which is definitely "many"--there are archipelagos in the world that make that number seem like a joke. For example, there are 17,508 islands in Indonesia. The reason the islands of Polynesia may seem like "many" is that going from one to one in the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean takes substantial diligence, navigational skill and time. Polynesian islands are mainly of volcanic origin and jut above the water at irregular intervals over 70 million square miles of ocean. All told the Polynesian islands themselves cover a land mass of about 117,000 square miles. Yes, 117,000 square miles out of 70 million. And of that land, over 103,000 of them are within New Zealand. 

Geographically, "Polynesia" is a triangle that has its corners at Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Here is a map. Culturally, "Polynesians" are people who have a similar history, culture, language and even DNA that is distinct from people in the other main Pacific island groupings of Melanesia and Micronesia. These people shared similar languages, similar culture and, as geneticists have discovered over just the last decades, similar genes. Most historians agree that the Lapita people had much to do with populating the islands. The Lapita appeared in about 1600 B.C. in what we now know as the Bismarck Islands, which are part of Papua New Guinea in Melanesia. They produced a distinct kind of pottery and then traveled with it eastward for about 500 to 800 years; archaeologists map their migration across the Pacific and into Polynesia, which they reached in about 800 BC, by literally unearthing shards of pottery on Polynesian islands and determining the general date of their earliest arrival. 

Ancient Polynesians were adept seafarers--adept enough to travel successfully between these incredibly isolated islands on out-rigger canoes--and, when they planted themselves in particular locations they developed societies that rested political decision-making power in the hands of chiefs. Larger nations like Tahiti and Tonga even developed kingdoms that passed power through kinship from one generation to the next.  

Most Polynesian nations met Western explorers in spurts over the 17th and 18th centuries, with Britain and France doing most of their colonizing throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Whatever benefits one may argue colonization brought Polynesians, Europeans also introduced "tapu" vices, like alcohol, as well as diseases that devastated Polynesian populations. Today some Polynesian nations are politically independent, others are a formal part of the Western powers that colonized them--for example, New Zealand is independent but still a British Commonwealth, French Polynesia is a French "overseas collectivity," Hawaii is one of the United States. No matter what their level of technical independence, to some degree all Polynesian island nations solicit tourists from abroad to boost their local economies. Polynesia wants you to visit. You want to visit. When you finally do go there, you'll be very happy you did. 



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