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On 17 june 1767 Samuel Wallis discovered Tahiti and on 23 june he landed in Matavai Bay. The next day, he sent armed men on shore to take official possession of the island to which he gave the name of “King George III’s Island”,

The Society Islands archipelago is generally believed to have been named by Captain James Cook on his first voyage (1768-’71), in honor of the Royal Society, the sponsor of the first British scientific survey of the islands; however, Cook states in his journal that he called the islands Society “as they lay contiguous to one another”.  

The Teva, weakened by wars with other powerful chiefs, were finally dominated by the Pomare family who were equipped with European arms. Tu, a local chief belonging to the Pomare, managed to vindicate his claim to greater powers because of the number of relatives he had throughout the Society Islands. and became Pomare I. His son, Pomare II (†1821) became king in 1815. He asked to be baptized in 1812, thus abandoning his traditional Gods.  Before his despotic reign began, a religious war had broken out, but it was terminated by the victory of the Christian converts in the battle of Fei pi in 1815.

This defeat marked the theoretical end of the traditionalists and of the ancient regime. From now on, the Pomare family became dominant.  In this way, the Arii, sages and priests, were to disappear along with idols and primitive tools.


A crown was sent by the government of Great Britain through the London Missionary Society to King Pomare II of Tahiti in 1824. Pomare II however, had died on 7 December 1821. Therefore the crown came to his young son Pomare III (*1820-†1827) who was inaugurated 1821 but for whom the crown was too large to be useful for a coronation. [1] Probably the crown has been used at the coronation of Queen Aimata Pomare IV Vahine.


Crown of Tahiti, 1823 or 1824

Gilded silver, Æ 19.5 cm.

Coll. and Photo Musée de Tahiti es ses Îles, Punaauia, Tahiti


In 1837 Queen Aimata Pomare IV Vahine (1827-1877), requested the English to make Tahiti a protectorate from 1838.

In 1842, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars arrived in Tahiti, having previously annexed the Marquesas for France. The Queen had withdrawn to Moorea in that time waiting for the acceptance of her request by London. In her absence, the admiral organised the leading pro-French chiefs into signing a demand for French protection.  Diverse threats eventually persuaded the queen to sign the contract, and the country was proclaimed a French protectorate on 9 September 1842. In 1843, Papeete received confirmation that the protectorate treaty had been ratified by Louis-Philippe and Armand Bruat was appointed Governor of the Marquesas.  He took up residence in Tahiti, as it was more convenient.

Before his departure admiral Dupetit-Thouars had forbidden the queen to fly her personal flag from her palace, and had had the official protectorate flag reinstated by armed force.  Queen Pomare was outraged by this attack on her sovereignty and complained to the king of France. An ensuing war ended when on 17 December 1846, the French took the Fautaua fort and peace was declared.

Pomare IV ended up by joining the cause, and on 7 January, 1847, the signing of the agreement between the local chiefs and the French government was celebrated. However, the French did not manage to get the Leeward Islands included in the treaty, and they were declared independent in June, 1847. The successor to the queen, her son, Pomare V, finally gave his territories to France on 29 June, 1880.

Rulers of pre-colonial Tahiti

Vai ra’a toa Tû Pomare I

paramount ruler 1768

king 1791-1803

Pomare II

1st time 1803-1808



Pomare II

2nd time 1815-1821

Teri’i tari’a Pomare III


Tari’i tari’a Ari’i peaea vahine

regent 1821-1827

Aimata Pomare IV Vahine

Queen 1827-1847

Tahiti a French Protectorate

Aimata Pomare IV Vahine

Queen of the Society Islands and Dependencies 1847-1877

Ari’i aue Pomare V


29.06.1880 Annexation by France

effective 30.12.1880


The “Etablissements Français de l'Oceanie”

At the time of the French protectorate, the central structure of Tahitian administration was composed of the royal court, the Assembly and the district councils. French authority was represented by the governor, assisted by diverse officers and civil servants.

In 1866, the Tahitian legislative assembly voted for the French legislation proposed by the governor. The Gambier archipelago, under French protection since 1844, was annexed in 1881 In 1885, Tahiti and her archipelago were given the official title of the “Etablissements Français de l'Océanie”.  Huahine was annexed in 1897 and the Austral lslands' archipelago, under French protection since 1889, became a colony in 1900. 

If up until 1880 France had only exercised her sovereignty over the Marquesas Islands, by the beginning of the twentieth century, her empire included all the archipelagos. French rule was not accepted in the Îles Sous le Vent (Leeward Islands) however, without a long struggle from 1889 to 1897.

In 1958 the colony was granted restricted autonomy and became a Territoire d´Outremer with the name Polynésie Française.




The Arms

A flag was adopted for the Établissement français d’Océanie in a proclamation of 9 September 1842. It was of the proportion 2Í3 and of three breadths red, white and red, 1:2:1. In the upper left corner was a three-coloured french yacht.

The proclamation reads: 

“Le pavillion contient le yacht français dans le pavillion tahitien. Le pavillon tahitien a le battant égal au guindant plus la moitié: il consiste en un drapeau rouge traversé en largeur par une bande blanche de hauteur égale à celle des deux bandes rouges réunies. Le yacht tricolore français se trouve dans le coin supérieur gauche. La bande blanche qui le sépare du pavillon tahitien a pour largeur une dixième du guindant du yacht”.


The arms of Polynésie Française were adopted by letter of  Governor Jean Chastenet de Géry dated 14 September 1939.

It was:


Arms: Tierced per fess Gules and Argent, 1:2:1, in dexter chief an escutcehon tierced per pale Gules, Argent and Azure; and in fess point a schooner in full sail to the sinister Or.[2]


Roman Klimes

The Emblem

In fact we know nothing about the emblems of power that may have been used by the Tahitian rulers. The surviving portraits show them, unlike the Hawaiian kings for example, in simple dress without any regalia.  Contrary to the lack of any arms-like devices the flags used by the Polynesian rulers are quite well known.[3] Most of them show red and white stripes. After the islands became French protectorates the French tricolore was added in dexter chief.

No pictures of the seals used for the Etablissements Français de I'Oceanie are to be found in the existing literature. After WWII there appeared a quasi seal on coins, inspired by the French seal of state. This shows the personification of Commerce, on her head a winged helmet, sitting on a lions’ throne, keeping in her left the torch of liberty and in her right a cornucopia. Behind the throne are the Tables of Law.




On the reverse is a seascape with an outrigger canoe and palmtrees on the shore of Moorea, and the skyline of Tahiti in the distance. The name of the colony reads “Établissements Français de l’Océanie” and “Polynésie Française” respectively.


A new flag was adopted, together with the emblem, on the 23rd of November 1984. The flag shows the traditional colours red and white arranged in red-white-red stripes, the white stripe twice as large as the red ones. In the middle of the white stripe is the emblem. This consists of a stylized seascape with white and blue waves and a rising sun of ten bundles of orange coloured rays, and over all a red piroge, a double hulled Polynesian proa under sail. On the platform of the piroge are five human figures symbolizing the alliance of the five archipelagoes of which French Polynesia consists. In the emblem the sea symbolizes wealth and the sun  the light. [4]


ð See illustration in the head of this essay



A rare example of heraldry within the Overseas Territory are the arms of the capital Papeete. It shows an ancient castle, palmtrees and trade crops before mount Orohena (2241 m) and mount Ronui (1332 m) the highest mounts on Tahiti, all within a garland. The motto surrounding the device means “Integrity is the Warrant of Power”.




Achievement of the “Groupement de la Gendarmerie de la Polynésie française”.


The gendarmerie of French Polynesia has its headquarters at Papeete



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© Hubert de Vries 2009-12-20 Updated 2011-12-28; 2015-09-09




[1] Brus, René: Crown Jewellery and Regalia of the World. Amsterdam 2011. P. 186

[2] Info and reconstruction: Roman Klimes

[3]  See also: emblemes.free.fr/domtom/pol.php?page=archipels for modern flags.

[4] The historical information is taken from internet. The information about the emblem from K.-H. Hesmer, 1992.