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 French Polynesia
Capital: Papeete

Language: French 61.1% (official), Polynesian 31.4% (official), Asian languages 1.2%, other 0.3%, unspecified 6%

Currency: franc (CFPF)

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

Area: total: 4,167 sq km (118 islands and atolls)
land: 3,660 sq km (slightly less than one-third the size of Connecticut)
water: 507 sq km.

Population: 233,488; same ethnic group as Maori in New Zealand and Hawaiians in U.S.; population density of 66.14 persons per sq. km.; growth rate: 1.46%; 52% lives in urban areas

Geography: In the region known as Oceania, Polynesia is composed of 5 archipelagoes in the South Pacific Ocean about one-half of the way from South America to Australia. It is spread over a maritime area of 5.5 million sq. km. (often compared to the size of Europe). The terrain is a mixture of rugged high islands and low islands with reefs, and there are a lot of lagoons and bays. Forest area comprises 28.69 % of the land area.

Natural Resources: timber, fish, cobalt, hydropower

Health: Infant Mortality Rate: 8.61%; Life Expectancy at Birth – overall: 76.3 years; female: 78.9 years; male: 73.9 years

Education: Literacy: 98%; Duration of compulsory education: 10 years

Executive branch (chief of state): French President – Nicolas Sarkozy; President of French Polynesia -Gaston TONG SANG (since December 2006); President of the Territorial Assembly – Antony GEROS (since May 2004)

Executive branch – elections: French president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; high commissioner appointed by the French president on the advice of the French Ministry of Interior; president of the territorial government and the president of the Territorial Assembly are elected by the members of the assembly for five-year terms (no term limits)

Type of Government: dependent democracy

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal

Judicial Branch: Court of Appeal; Court of the First Instance; Court of Administrative Law

Legal system: based on French system

Legislative branch: unicameral Territorial Assembly (57 seats; members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)

Constitution: October 1958 (French Constitution)

Economy: Since 1962, when France stationed military personnel in the region, French Polynesia has changed from a subsistence economy to one in which a high proportion of the work force is either employed by the military or supports the tourist industry. Tourism accounts for about 20% of GDP and is a primary source of hard currency earnings.

Thirteen percent of the population works in agriculture, 19% in industry, and 68% in services. Principal agricultural products include fish, coconuts, vanilla, vegetables, fruits, coffee, poultry, beef, and dairy products. Trading is carried out mostly with France and the United States. Industries are tourism, pearls, agricultural processing, and handicrafts. Main exports are cultured pearls 53.8%, coconut products, mother-of-pearl, vanilla, and shark meat.

Food: raw fish (red tuna), fish, farafu (fermented fish), baguettes, cheese, charcuterie, hamburgers and fries are popular meals at snack stands; vanilla, Hinano beer, pork and chicken, sweet potato, fruit (papaya, bananas, pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, grapefruit, watermelon, breadfruit)

Condensed History: The first Polynesians first settled on the islands in AD 300 and were organized in petty chieftainships. They do not share a common history before the establishment of the French protectorate in 1889. In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing on the Mururoa atoll after a three-year moratorium. The tests were suspended in January 1996. In recent years, French Polynesia’s autonomy has been considerably expanded.

Full History: The French Polynesian island groups do not share a common history before the establishment of the French protectorate in 1889. The first French Polynesian islands to be settled by Polynesians were the Marquesas Islands in AD 300 and the Society Islands in AD 800. The Polynesians were organized in petty chieftainships.

European discovery began in 1521 with the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Other explorers arrived, including James Cook in 1769. Christian missions began with Spanish priests in 1774, and Protestants from England settled permanently in Polynesia in 1797.

King Pomare II of Tahiti was forced to flee to Moorea in 1803; he and his subjects were converted to Protestantism in 1812. French Catholic missionaries arrived on Tahiti in 1834; their expulsion in 1836 caused France to send a gunboat in 1838. In 1842, Tahiti and Tahuata were declared a French protectorate, to allow Catholic missionaries to work undisturbed. The capital of Papeete was founded in 1843. In 1880, France annexed Tahiti, changing the status from that of a protectorate to that of a colony.

Having declared a protectorate over Tahuatu in 1842, the French regarded the entire Marquesas Islands as French, and later claimed other islands. In 1885, France appointed a governor and established a general council, thus giving it the proper administration for a colony. The islands of Rimatara and Rurutu unsuccessfully lobbied for British protection in 1888, so in 1889 they were annexed by France.

In 1940 the administration of French Polynesia recognised the Free French Forces and many Polynesians served in World War II. In 1946, Polynesians were granted French citizenship and the islands’ status was changed to an overseas territory. The islands’ name was changed in 1957 to Polynesie Francaise (French Polynesia).

In 1962, France’s early nuclear testing ground of Algeria became independent and the French Polynesian islands were selected as the new testing site; tests were conducted underground after 1974. In 1977, French Polynesia was granted partial internal autonomy, which was extended in 1984. French Polynesia became a full overseas collectivity of France in 2004.

In September 1995, France stirred up widespread protests by resuming nuclear testing after a three-year moratorium. The last test was in January 1996, after which France announced it would accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and no longer test nuclear weapons.