Marquesas Islands

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Marquesas Island Chieftess in a traditional tapa cloth costume.
Pacific Island Guide  >  French Polynesia  >  Marquesas Islands

General Information

These islands are known in Polynesian legends of the Maori, Hawaiians, Rarotongans, and Easter Islanders as the Sacred Land of Hava`iki, from whence their ancestors came. They lie ten degrees south of the equator, are 4,000 miles west of Peru, and are the northernmost of French Polynesia. Population is about 1,800 people, most of them living on Hiva Oa.

The Marquesan language is the ancestor of modern Polynesian languages. Tahitian and Hawaiian are dialects of ancient Marquesan. Though 1,200 miles further away than Tahiti, the Hawaiian language more nearly parallels Marquesan than Tahitian. It is also similar to Mangarevan (Gambier Islands) and Rarotongan (Cook Island) languages.

The islands in this group are:

Mendana (southeast) group: Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Mohotani, Rouatoua, and Fatu Huka. Washington (northwest) group: Nuku hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Ituka, Eiao, Hiao, Hatutu,, and Motu-Oa.

Historical Background

1595 Spaniard Mendana de Neyra and Quiros discovered the southeastern group of the Marquesas.
1791 Englishman Marchand Ingraham discovers the northern Marquesas
1792 Whalers visit the Marquesas
1837 Englishman Pritchard is appointed consul to the Marquesas.
1839 French commander Laplace intervenes to gain freedom for Catholic activities. War goes on in the Marquesas.
1840 Pritchard leaves for England to ask for British protection.
1842 French annex the Marquesas and land a detachment of troops at Taiohae, Nuku Hiva. Islanders kill 26 Frenchmen in Tabuate, Marquesas.
1843 The French protectorate of the islands is acknowledged by Britain, in spite of Pritchard’s return.
1849-50 French troops withdraw from the Marquesas.
1860 War begins in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, Raids of the Peruvian slave traders begin.
1863 Former slaves, returned from Peru, bring small pox to the Marquesas. There is a rapid depopulation, due to smallpox, drunkenness, human sacrifice, cannibalism, warfare, and prostitution.
1881 France establishes a civil administration in the Marquesas.
1914 German raiders are shelled at Papeete and exiled to the Marquesas.
1961 Taiohae is chosen as the site of the vicariate of the Marquesas.

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