History of Polynesia|
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 1995 20:11:39 -0400
From: PNEWS <email@example.com>
Subject: Brief History of Independence Movement
/* Written by peg:greenleft in igc:greenleft.news */
Title: A brief history of the independence movement
A brief history of the independence movement
By Norm Dixon, in Green Left Weekly
13 October 1995
The French occupied Tahiti in 1842. Between 1844 and 1847, rebels led the
ruling Pomare family and supported by the entire population waged a bitter
guerilla war against the French from mountain strongholds before being
The modern independence movement draws inspiration from Tahiti's most
respected nationalist, Pouvanaa Tetuaapua Oopa. Taking World War II French
leader General Charles de Gaulle at his word that political, social and
economic reforms would follow in the French colonies once the Nazis were
defeated, Pouvanaa was one of several hundred indigenous Tahitians who
joined the Free French forces in Europe and North Africa.
Upon their return to Tahiti in 1946, their eyes opened to the political and
social realities of the world by their sojourn in Europe, the discrimination
and injustices meted out to the local inhabitants by the French authorities
were unbearable. Already renowned as a fighter for the rights of Tahitians
before the war, Pouvanaa become their natural spokesperson. He was angered
to find that government jobs continued to be filled by bureaucrats from
France rather than by Polynesians.
In 1947, Pouvanaa led a militant demonstration that prevented the landing of
French officials arriving to take up local jobs. He and his supporters were
arrested and held for several months. Acquitted, he emerged from jail more
popular than ever.
In 1949, Pouvanaa was elected to the French lower house with a huge
majority. In 1952, he was re-elected with a 70% vote. Two years later his
party, RDPT (Democratic Assembly of the Tahitian People), won an
overwhelming majority in the Territorial Assembly.
In early 1958, Pouvanaa and the RDPT - which still controlled the largely
token Territorial Assembly - announced they favoured secession from France.
A tax was foreshadowed on business to fund an independent Tahiti. Pouvanaa's
move coincided with de Gaulle's referendum to inaugurate the Fifth Republic
and the bloody struggle in Algeria for independence. De Gaulle announced
that a no vote in any of France's overseas possessions would be regarded as
a vote for independence, and warned that all French aid and support would be
cut off immediately.
Pouvanaa campaigned enthusiastically on the slogan, "Tahiti for the
Tahitians ... Vote NO so that the enslaving yoke will be quickly removed
from around our necks''. The local and French settler capitalist classes,
the Catholic Church hierarchy, French civil servants and military personnel - many
of whom knew of contingency plans to shift nuclear testing from
Algeria to Moruroa atoll - and the French government were horrified.
A combination of political pressure and economic blackmail caused a split in
the RDPT. Pouvanaa found himself in the minority. The French authorities
banned him from radio, thus denying his message to the inhabitants of a
country whose 118 islands are spread out over an area the size of Australia.
The referendum passed with 64% in favour.
The French authorities moved rapidly to silence Pouvanaa completely. Using
his Algerian emergency powers, de Gaulle sacked Pouvanaa and his cabinet.
Pro-French and pro-capitalist demonstrators besieged Pouvanaa in his house.
Instead of breaking up the mob, French security forces arrested Pouvanaa on
trumped-up charges of planning to burn down Papeete.
After a year in solitary confinement, the veteran nationalist leader was
sentenced to eight years' jail and 15 years' exile. In 1963, the RDPT was
outlawed by Paris as a threat to the "integrity of the national territory''
after it opposed the arrival of French troops and the nuclear testing
program. With Pouvanaa and his movement crushed, preparations began
immediately to begin nuclear testing on Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls in
Until 1960, most of "French'' Polynesia's population sustained itself
through subsistence agriculture and fishing, and earned extra cash from
vanilla, copra and other crops. Within a decade Tahiti was importing most of
its food, and by the end of the 1980s over 80%. France set out to make
Tahiti totally dependent economically and financially.
Despite the setbacks for the independence movement in the early 1960s, local
politics remained dominated throughout the 1970s and early 1980s by parties
that called for greater and genuine autonomy. Many Tahitians who otherwise
would have supported complete independence were convinced that Tahiti's
dependence on France made divorce impractical. However, despite some token
measures, successive French governments opposed the relatively mild demands
for autonomy. Explicitly pro-French parties failed to gain majority support.
A new generation of Tahitians formed several militant parties that again
advocated independence in the 1970s. Oscar Temaru's Tavini Huiraatira,
formed in 1975, has grown to be the most important. From the beginning, the
party argued for immediate independence, immediate cessation of nuclear
testing and a redistribution of wealth.
In the 1980s, supporters of independence became the main opposition after
the pro-French party led by Gaston Flosse opportunistically embraced many of
the policies of the autonomists. Several former autonomists were coopted and
compromised. Flosse won tenuous control of the Territorial Assembly.
Electoral support for Tavini Huiraatira jumped from 6.4% in 1986 to 11.4% in
1991. The party won four seats in the 41-member assembly and recently the
party's numbers were boosted after another assembly member defected to it.
Temaru is today mayor of Fa'aa, a sprawling town of 25,000 mainly
working-class and poor indigenous people situated near the airport that
serves the capital, Papeete. He was elected in 1983 on an unambiguous
pro-independence and anti-nuclear platform. In the first round of the 1993
French national assembly elections, Temaru won 27% of the vote against his
pro-French opponent's 33%. Since then sentiment for independence has
The huge anti-nuclear and pro-independence demonstrations on June 29, July
14 and September 2-3 and the rebellion that immediately followed the first
test have shown, in the words of Oscar Temaru, "the entire world that the
majority of the Maohi people refuse the resumption of nuclear testing in our
backyard. We have organised the biggest demonstrations in the street to show
that we are the people of this country, not France.''
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