French Polynesia - (Ocenania)

Information about French Polynesia

4167 square kilometres
Roman Catholic 34.3%, Prot 45.2%, Latter Day Saints 6%, Advent 4.8%, Sanitos 3.8%, others 5.9%
Christian (%)
Protestant (%)
Reformed (%)

French Polynesia consists of 118 islands grouped in 5 archipelagos scattered across four million km 2 of the Pacific Ocean, an area the size of Europe (without the former USSR). Tahiti, with 1,042 km 2 , is the largest among these islands, which total a land surface of only 4,000 km 2 .
First settlements took place between 300 and 600 A.D.The Spanish navigator Magellan was in 1521 the first “Westerner” to arrive in this region. He was followed by Mendana (1595); various Dutch, English, and Spanish ships sailed through the Tuamotu islands between 1606 and 1765. In 1767 Samuel Wallis “discovered” Tahiti and took possession of it in the name of King George III. A year later the French explorer L. A. de Bougainville “discovered” it in the name of the French King. In 1769, 1773, and 1771 the English captain James Cook conducted three expeditions through the region. The famous “mutiny on the Bounty” and the survival journey back to England of Captain Bligh greatly captured the imagination of Europeans.
The London Missionary Society (LMS) became in 1797 the first mission body present in the Pacific by sending missionaries to Polynesia. In 1815 King Pomare II was converted and with him most of the population (“cujus regio, ejus religio” was not only true in Europe!). The first RCath missionaries arrived in the archipelago of the Gambiers in 1834 and progressed to Tahiti in 1836. They were not welcome since Protestantism was by law the only established religion. French commander La Place threatened to fire on Tahiti’s main city, Papeete, unless the RCath were allowed freely to exercise their religion. Queen Pomare IV gave in. After more threats and bluffs a protectorate treaty was signed with France in 1842.
Between 1856 and1866 a first wave of over 1,000 Chinese from mainland China and Hong Kong arrived on the cotton and coffee plantations, mainly in the archipelago of the Marquises. A second wave arrived between 1907 and 1930.
In 1880 France annexed the archipelago of Tahiti, then the Leeward Islands and the Austral Islands (1897-1900). During World War II Bora Bora was used as a US military air base; until then Polynesia could be reached by boat only. In 1945 all Polynesians became French citizens. An independence movement started in 1947 under the leadership of Pouvanaa a Oopa. In 1949 he was elected into the Parliement of France, and reelected in 1951 and 1956. In 1958 General de Gaulle asked all French colonies by way of a referendum to decide their political future. In French Polynesia only 36% voted for independence. Within 12 months Pouvanaa was arrested, imprisoned for 8 years, and sent “into exile” in France for 15 years. He later became a senator and a lay preacher of the Evangelical Church. Progressively (1977 and 1984) autonomy was handed over to the local elected authorities. Today Polynesia is a French “overseas territory with internal autonomy.” Although a growing number of voices are in favor of cutting all links with France, the Legislative Assembly of the Territory voted in 1996, by a two-thirds majority, in favor of a sustained relationship with France.
Between 1963 and 1996 France tested, under mounting international protest, almost 200 nuclear bombs (first 41 in the atmosphere, later 152 underground). Launching sites in Moruroa and Fangataufa have since been dismantled.
The Evangelical Church of French Polynesia (EEPF) (cf. no. 1) includes some 45% of the total population and over 98% of all Prot Reformed believers in French Polynesia, while several dozen other small to tiny denominations also claim the Protestant heritage. There are some Reformed among them, mostly individual splinter congr of which three constitute today a loose Confederation of Reformed Churches of French Polynesia. This body has become the “omnium gatherum” for all those who are in favor of independence and who disagree with the policies, structure, administration, or theological direction of the EEPF. It once counted up to 13 congr, but barely more than 3, with a total of less than 500 members, are really active today. Most of these autonomous Reformed single- congregation churches have been founded and/or led by former pastors of the EEPF who had previously studied at the Pacific Theological College (PTC) in Suva (Fiji).


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