Pacific Islands

The islands in the Pacific Ocean were ruled by a hierarchy of hereditary tribal chiefs before European explorers visited in the eighteenth century. Visits by sailors had some impact, but the arrival of Europeans determined to stay in the islands was the key element leading to change in the dress of Pacific Islanders. The London Missionary Society saw it as their duty to convert the islanders to Christianity; to that end they sent missionaries in 1797 to the Society Islands, and with the support of the Pomares, the most powerful ruling family in the islands, by 1815 British missionaries had taken control of the islands. They did not just affect the islander's religious beliefs but had a significant impact on the culture by prohibiting traditional dance and music, while concurrently eliminating evidence of native religion.

Conflict between the French and British occurred on most islands as each nation tried to assert control. In the Marquesas, the French expelled the British and secured influence over the area, leaving the ruling Pomare family as token rulers. A French colony was proclaimed when King Pomare V was forced to abdicate in 1880 and within a few years it included the Marquesas, Society Islands, Austral Islands, Gambier Archipelago, and Tu-amotu atolls. After World War II, Tahitians who had fought for France brought pressure against the government to extend French citizenship to all islanders; in 1957 the territory was officially renamed the Territory of French Polynesia.

Throughout all of the Pacific Islands, there has been a rebirth of indigenous culture since the 1970s. The Tahitian and Hawaiian languages are again taught in schools, and on some islands the indigenous language is even used in government meetings. Culture is being reclaimed from its near-death experience at the hands of missionaries, and in the islands the traditional arts, dance and music are now celebrated. The Pacific islands are now home to ethno-tourism, and the cultural displays of traditional arts are featured.

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  • stefan winkel
    Who owned the pacific islands in the nineteenth century?
    5 years ago

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