Marquesas Islands

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

General Information

The Marquesas Islands (French: Îles Marquises or Archipel des Marquises or Marquises; Marquesan: Te Henua (K)enana (North Marquesan) and Te Fenua `Enata (South Marquesan), both meaning "The Land of Men") are a group of volcanic islands in French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France in the southern Pacific Ocean. The Marquesas Islands form one of the five administrative divisions (subdivisions administratives) of French Polynesia. The capital is Taiohae on the island of Nuku Hiva. The Marquesas Islands are the island group farthest from any continent in the world, lying south of the equator and northeast of Tahiti. They fall naturally into two geographical divisions: the northern group, consisting of Eïao, Hatutu (Hatutaa), Motu One, and the islands centered around the large island of Nuku Hiva: Motu Iti (Hatu Iti), Ua Pu, Motu `Oa and Ua Huka, and the southern group ofFatu Uku, Tahuata, Moho Tani (Motane), Terihi, Fatu Hiva and Motu Nao (Thomasset Rock), clustered around the main island of Hiva `Oa. The Marquesas are among the largest island groups of French Polynesia, Nuku Hiva being the second largest island in the entire territory, after Tahiti. All but Motu One are of volcanic origin.

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 Marquesas and gave them their name. 
1791 The American navigator Capt. Joseph Ingraham visited the northern Marquesas and named them the Washington Islands.
1792 Whalers visit the Marquesas
1813 Commodore David Porter claimed Nuku Hiva for the United States, but the United States Congress never ratified it.

1842 France, following a successful military operation on behalf of a native chief (named Iotete) who claimed to be king of the whole of the island of Tahuata, took possession of the whole group, establishing a settlement (abandoned in 1859) on Nuku Hiva.

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.
1870 French control over the group was reestablished.

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.

2007 The population of the Marquesas Islands was 8,632 at the August  census

Research Ideas

Use the Family History Library Catalog. 

Go to the Internet at and click on  Library. From that tab, click on the Family History Library Catalog. Type in Marquesas islands to get records in that jurisdiction. Then type in the name of the island that interests you.

Births, marriages, and deaths are recorded by the government, and citizens are required to have an official government record. Tables are published by the government every ten years giving an index to the names in the records. This facilitates genealogical research up to the time when the French first came to the islands. They have been keeping records since the early 1800's.
Notarial records are available from the year 1862.
Large numbers of civil registration records are available from 1843.
You can use a Film/fiche number search and look at the descriptions of the following microfilms for records from Fatu Hiva.:71085612, 1085613. 

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