Marquesas Islands

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Marquesas Island Chiefess 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. In Marquesan they are: Te Henua (K)enana (North Marquesan) and Te Fenua `Enata (South Marquesan), both meaning "The Land of Men")  They are one of the five administrative divisions (subdivisions administratives) of French Polynesia. The capital is Taiohae on the island of Nuku Hiva

The Marquesas Islands group are the farthest from any continent in the world. They are also one of the largest island groups, Nuku Hiva being the second largest island in the entire territory. They lie ten degrees south of the equator, are 4,000 miles west of Peru, and are the northernmost of French Polynesia. Most peoplef live on Hiva Oa.  All but Motu One are of volcanic origin. The climate is drier than that of other Pacific islands.

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.

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.

Of all the major island groups of the Pacific, the Marquesas Islands suffered the greatest population decline as a result of diseases brought by European explorers. These diseases reduced the estimated sixteenth century population of over 100,000 inhabitants to about 20,000 by the middle of the nineteenth century, and to just over 2,000 by the beginning of the twentieth century.

The islands in this group are:

Northern group:  Eïao, Hatutu (Hatutaa), Motu One

Mendana , or southeast group: Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Mohotani, Rouatoua, and Fatu Huka.

Washington, or northwest group: Nuku hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Ituka, Eiao, Hiao, Hatutu,, and Motu-Oa.

Historical Background

300  Sea-faring Polynesians, thought to originate from Samoa populate the Marquesas.

300-1500 Marquesans depart for Hawaii, Tahiti, Rapa Iti and Easter Island as a result of overpopulation and drought-related food shortages,

'1595Spaniard Mendana de Neyra and Quiros discovered the Marquesas and gave them their name. 
1791The American navigator Capt. Joseph Ingraham visited the northern Marquesas and named them the 
Washington Islands.
1792Whalers visit the Marquesas
1813 Commodore David Porter claimed
Nuku Hiva for the United States, but the United States Congress never ratified it.
1837Englishman Pritchard is appointed consul to the Marquesas.
1839French commander
Laplaceintervenes to gain freedom for Catholic activities. War goes on in the Marquesas.
1840Pritchard leaves for England to ask for British protection.
1842French annex the Marquesas and land a detachment of troops at
Taiohae, Nuku Hiva. Islanders kill 26 Frenchmen in Tabuate, Marquesas.
1842France, following a successful military operation on behalf of a native chief (namedIotete)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.
1843The French protectorate of the islands is acknowledged by Britain, in spite of Pritchard’s return.
1849-50French troops withdraw from the Marquesas.
1860War begins in
Nuku Hiva,Marquesas. Raids of the Peruvian slave traders begin.
1863Former 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.

1800s  Famous French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel spent the last years of their lives in the Marquesas, and are buried there. American novelist Herman Melville's experiences in the Marquesas formed the basis for his novel Typee. 

I1881 France establishes a civil administration in the Marquesas.
1888  Robert Louis Stevenson visited the Marquesas and wrote about his experiences and impressions there in 1900, in a book called In the South Seas. 

1914 German raiders are shelled at Papeete and exiled to the Marquesas
1950s Thor Hyerdahl lived on Fatu Hiva and wrote a book about it

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.

French Polynesia in FamilySearch Research Wiki