What was happening in Tahiti when Papeete was created ?

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What was happening in Tahiti when Papeete was created ?

This is only a small part of the situation at the time.

It’s been decades that the first navigators have made exchanges and created strategic links with Tahitians and more particularly with the leader Pomare I, called Tu. His kingdom stretched from Mahina to Papeete, and had, as the great King, Ari’i rahi, Amo, and his wife, Queen Purea. The Queen was in contact with Captain Wallis and contributed to the peace efforts after the first clashes between Tahitians and English in Matavai Bay.

At the birth of Pomare I’s son in the early 1780s, and as the Tahitian tradition required, he took his father’s name, all his functions, and the benefits of the Ari’i (Kings). A highlight of this period was the capture of Maro ‘ura, by Pomare I, helped by the mutineers of the “Bounty“. To be in possession of this highly sacred object of supreme power, signified that you were the Ari’i rahi (the great king) of the island. From his adolescence, Tu Pomare 2 showed his ambitions of power, and was not long in removing his father from the affairs of the kingdom. After having swept his father’s supporters in Mataiva, and thus seized power in the territory of Porionu’u, he asserts his sovereignty over the entire island of Tahiti, with the help of the English sailors of the ships “Venus” and “Norfolk“. The tribes of Teva in the south-west of the island had to unite, to cope with the many offensives. From 1798 to 1808, Pomare 2 and the great Tahitian chiefs, who opposed him and the English missionaries, clashed, and Tahiti then saw a period of incessant battles.

Papeete does not exist yet, and the military ships continue to anchor in Matavai Bay at Venus Point, where the English missionary station is located. It was here that Captain Cook, on a scientific mission to the South Seas, decided to settle down to observe Venus’s passage over the sun.

It was the captains of whaling ships in the Pacific, who were the first to use Pape’ete Bay as a place of respite. The orientation and configuration of the bay were perfect to make a stopover throughout the year. Little by little, Papeete, which is not yet named or existing, is becoming the point of arrival of the merchant ships, which will make a commercial stopover, especially with salted pork, which was used to supply the Sydney penitentiary colony (Port Jackson). Then, this port will become also military, thus leaving, the bay of Matavai and the Venus point .

In 1808, Pomare 2 and the English missionaries endured the conquest of the Porionu’u kingdom by the chiefs Hitoti and Pā’ōfa’i, pushing them to flee, to the leeward islands, then, in front of Tahiti, in Mo’orea. Pomare 2 had made alliances with these islands, through his mother’s weeding, with the Huahine Ari’i rahi, “Tenania”, which led him in 1810 to marry two daughters of the Ari’i rahi of Raitaea, “Tamatoa III”. These royal and political alliances have enabled Pomare 2 to have a large army to prepare his return to Tahiti.

During his escape to Papetoai in Mo’orea, Pomare 2 was followed, by the English pastor Henry Nott, determined to convince him to redeem himself of all his sins, and thus continue the evangelization of these islands. He obtained the agreement of Pomare 2, to abandon all ancient Polynesian customs and gods, and to convert himself and his subjects to Christianity. After several years in Mo’orea, Pastor Nott managed to convert hundreds of subjects and translate the Gospel of Luke and other devotional books into Tahitian.

The departure of Pomare 2, led the installation of a governance called “te hau manahune” (the power to the people). The power has passed from the Ari’i to the lower chief Ra’atira. The incessant clashes have pushed the populations of the districts, to reject the Ari’i. It’s a sign of the vacillation of the Tahitian society of the time. Defender of an ancestral Polynesian society still in place, the leader of Papara Opuhara, is a key figure. In a decisive battle, he will be at the head of an army made up of the chiefdoms of Oropa’a, Teva i Uta and Teva i Tai, ready to defend his territory and his soul, facing Pomare 2 and his army constituted of fighters from the Leeward Islands and English.

This event remained in the history, like the war of Fe’i pi, which ending in Paea on the marae (temple) Nari’i in 1815. This marae was one of the first of Tahiti to be dedicated to the god “Oro”, the god of war and human sacrifice. This was the ultimate confrontation between the Polynesian civilization and Western civilization, and, the confrontation between two very different forces, that are the wooden weapons and firearms. The exact stories of this confrontation are rare, since here too, two modes of transmission have been confronted. A very powerful oral mode carried by strong values ​​and ancestral protocols, and, a written mode bathed in a colonization and a massive evangelization of the world and the autochthonous peoples.

The defeat of Opuhara marks the gradual and definitive destruction of most features of the Polynesian civilization, and the entry of this people into the area of ​​Christianity and colonization. As mass evangelism is initiated, a 20-year war of influence between English Protestants and French Catholics will begin, followed by almost fifty years of unification and pacification of these islands.

It is in this colonial context that Pape’ete will see the light of day, with the arrival in 1818 of the English pastor William Crook in Pare, name of the land where Pape’ete will be built. He has established a station with a temple in bamboo and a school on the Pā’ōfa’i land where the Protestant Temple is currently located. This is the starting point for the creation, 200 years ago (2018) of today’s Papeete.


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