[Documents menu]History of Polynesia
Date: Fri, 13 Oct 1995 20:11:39 -0400
From: PNEWS <odin@shadow.net>
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 finally defeated.

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 1966.

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 undoubtedly increased.

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.''

First posted on the Pegasus conference greenleft.news by Green Left Weekly. Correspondence and hard copy subsciption inquiries: greenleft@peg.apc.org

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