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French Polynesia is a collection of 118 islands covering a vast area of the southeastern Pacific Ocean and divided into five scattered archipelagos: Society Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu Archipelago, Gambier Islands, and the Tubuai Islands. The capital is Papeete, Tahiti (Society Islands). The larger islands are volcanic with fertile soil and dense vegetation. The more numerous coral islands are low lying. The climate is tropical. Missionaries arrived in Tahiti at the end of the 18th century, and in the 1840s France began establishing protectorates. In 1880–82, France annexed the islands and they became part of its colony of Oceania.
Volcanic in origin, the islands are part of a vast submerged mountain chain, probably a southeasterly extension of the Cook Islands (New Zealand). Scattered over an area some 800 miles (1,300 km) long, they comprise five inhabited islands—Raivavae (6 square miles [16 square km]), Rapa (15 square miles [39 square km]), Rimatara, (3 square miles [8 square km]), Rurutu (11 square miles [29 square km]), and Tubuai (18 square miles [47 square km])—as well as the tiny, uninhabited Marotiri Islands at the southern end of the chain, and Maria Atoll in the north. The Tubuai Islands had long been settled by Polynesian peoples by the time of European contact. Four of the islands were sighted by Capt. James Cook—Rimatara and Rurutu in 1769 and Raivavae and Tubuai eight years later.
In 1791 George Vancouver sighted the southernmost inhabited island, Rapa, the broken rim of a former volcano curved around the harbour of Ahurei Bay. The whole group was brought under French control between 1880 and 1889.
The islands form an administrative subdivision of French Polynesia. The local capital is Mataura, on Tubuai.
Other major settlements include Amaru on Raivavae, Ahurei on Rapa, and Moerai on Rurutu. The inhabitants are predominantly Protestant. Polynesian traditions are unusually well preserved in the Tubuais because of the comparative isolation of the islands.
Marion Sentinel, July 23, 1903
UNITED STATES MAY GET
ISLANDS IN PACIFIC.
Rumor That France Intends to Transfer
Its Possessions to American Republic.
London, July 20.—A dispatch from Wellington, N. Z. calls attention to a rumor emanating from the French colony at Papeete, Island of Tahiti, which is current in New Zealand that France intends to transfer its possessions in the eastern Pacific to the United States.
The Paris correspondent of the Daily Mail says nothing is known of the rumor at the French war and colonial offices. The French possessions in the eastern Pacific consist of the Society islands, the most important of which are Tahiti and Moorea; the Tuametu islands, where the recent disastrous tidal wave occurred; the Leeward islands, comprising Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine and Berabora; the Tubual and Raivavae groups, the island of Rapa, the Gambler islands; Rurutu and Rimatara islands, and the Marquesas islands. Their total area 13 about 1,520 square miles and their population about 29,000.