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Pacific Island Guide > French Polynesia
French Polynesia lies south of Hawaii and east of Tonga and Samoa. It is composed of 118 islands. From north to south the major island groups are:
- Marquesas Islands
- Tuamotu Islands
- Society Islands (Includes Tahiti)
- Gambier Islands
- Austral Islands
Papeete, Tahiti of the Society Islands is the capital. The population is about 92,000. About half of the people in French Polynesia live on the island of Tahiti. The number of members of the LDS Church in French Polynesia in 2008 was 19,711.
In this section you will find the following information:
A Case Study of Gisele Maeva Takanga Buchin Tehaavi, including her research process.
Historical background of French Polynesia from 1827 to 1957, taken from Gisele's own family history,
Research instructions from Ives Perrin,
Records on microfilm listed in the Family History Library Catalog, and
Links to more information about each island group.
My name is Gisele Maeva Takanga Buchin Tehaavi. My husband is Emile Auguste Tehaavi. We are currently serving as missionaries in the Family History Department (May, 2004) in Salt Lake City, Utah. The following is a description of how I have been gathering and working on my family history.
1. The first thing I did was to talk to my mother and ask what information she had.
My mother kept her genealogy in a book. It was legal size, like the archive binders. She would read to me out of it, but would not let me borrow it to copy it down in writing. She wanted me to memorize it. There were 7 of these books. My mother gave them to some missionaries to bring to Church Headquarters to have them input for the IGI and Ancestral file. They were supposed to have been taken here. I have not seen them since. But, the information for my ancestors is in the IGI, so I am assuming the information got there.
2. I copied the information from the IGI and put in on a pedigree chart.
3. I looked on the Internet on Ancestry.com and got a lot of information.
One line goes back to 1513. The Internet makes it possible. I copied that information onto the pedigree chart.
4. I remembered the stories my mother told me about my ancestors .
This way, I could put them together with other information I got as clues to lead me to more information. I saw that my cousins had submitted the same people for temple work, but with different dates and sometimes different spellings of the names. Some temple work had been done several times.I recorded the temple ordinance dates on my records so they will not be done again in the temple.
5. I’m writing the stories that go along with the names, dates, and places so other people can understand why my ancestors lived where they did, and what the sacrifices were that the ones who were early members of the Church made for their faith.
The following story is what I remember of what my mother told me."My great grandfather was born in France ( See pedigree chart which records him as Pierre Jules Buchin, born in 1833. below).
He married a woman whose father was English. (The pedigree chart shows her as Elizabeth Moehauti P. Gibson, whose father is Andrew Gibson, born in Liverpool England in 1813 and her mother as Vahinerii Moehauti Pupa).
My mother’s people were born in Taega (pronounced Taenga), which is in the western part of the Tuamotu Islandsto the east of the island of Anaa.
A powerful sect which combined Tahitian traditions with Christian ideas called the Mamaia rose up in the island of Tahiti in about 1827. They were rebelling against the teachings and power of the Christian missionaries. They had Mana, or power. This sect did not keep the ways of Mana according to the Tup`una, who are our ancestors. Mana is like the priesthood, and they did not keep the rules of it. To gain more power, the Mamaia told people they had to join them or be killed. The other choice was to flee. This sect and others, along with drought and over-population and seeking for freedom caused many of the people to migrate to other islands.
“The Sacred Land of Hawaiki” which some Maoris refer to as the place where their ancestors came from is Raiatea, in the Leeward Islands. They call it “Hawaiki Nui” and it has a place on it called “Taputaputea,” which is a holy place. It is a small triangle of land and it contains a wooden platform which is built high and has three levels. The levels represent to the islanders what we think of as Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial glories. (There is a picture of one of these “prayer platforms” in Cole and Jensen’s Israel in the Pacific, Page 146.)
Each island had a Taputaputea, which would face either north, south, east, or west. At the time when the Mamaia were in power, they destroyed many of these Taputaputeas in order to bring down the power of the priests.
Queen Pomare fought against the Mamaia chiefs. They finally all died out.
My mother’s father’s family lived on the island of Anaain the Tuamotos. In 1845, the Mormon missionaries Benjamin Grouard and Addison Pratt were having great success on the island of Anaa. They baptized almost every inhabitant of the island, and there were 3,500 members and 7 branches of the Church in the late 1840's. The members were strong and faithful, and by 1852, the Church had spread, scattered on 20 islands.
The Catholic Church, being the national church of the French Protectorate which was in power at the time, became concerned and started to persecute the Mormons. They passed a law against Mormons meeting together, even in family homes. They were forbidden to read, sing, and pray, and were continually watched.
At this time, Church Brethren were imprisoned in Tahiti and in Anaa. My ancestors hid in caves under the reef by day and got their food by night. They built canoes and provided them with food. The men worked on the canoes while the women got food and clothing ready and put water into gourds for drinking. Some gourds were several feet tall. They only grow on volcanic islands, so families had to trade for them.
They hid the canoe while they built it, and then they finally fled at night. There were two weeks when the sea was calm enough. They had to time their departure so as to not all leave at once. They could guide their canoes at night by looking at the stars. My mother could find places at night by doing the same thing, although I never learned the skill.
The missionaries (Pratt and Grouard) were deported by the government in 1852, and the members were forced to attend the Catholic Church at bayonet point. Six of the native brethren were killed by bayonet, rather than attend the Catholic Church. Finally, the imprisoned native brethren were allowed to return to their homes. But, no other church besides the Catholic Church can have meetings on the island of Anaa, even now.*1
The Church members populated the islands of Taenga, Fakaava, Faaite, Katiu, Makemo, Marutea, Hikuereu, Marokau, and Hao. They lived on their home islands for six months of the year, and then would travel to Hikueru to dive to get pearls and mother of pearl. This is why I was born in Hikueru rather than Taenga.
The members would travel and work together, keeping their organization as branches. They would meet once a month in a church house, and have regular gatherings more often. This kept them from the evils of gambling, drinking alcohol, smoking, etc. that were around them. There is no school during the diving.
The fathers and the oldest boys go diving. The men would dive down, sometimes as deep as 30 yards, holding their breath from 3 to 5 minutes. My grandfather (Kaheke Mariteragi or Fakapeka) was one of the best divers. He could hold his breath for 5 minutes. He made 50 dives a day at the height of his manhood. There are sharks around, and they have to come up gradually after a dive so they won’t get the “bends” from the change in pressure. They have to stop diving at age 55 because it is so hard on them.
The women would make dresses, shirts, and bread to sell. They would dry the abalone meat and get the pearls and prepare the mother-of-pearl in the shells. They would sell the dried abalone meat, the pearls, and the mother of pearl to a Chinese owner. This owner would lend them the money to equip them for the diving voyage. They would dive for 3 weeks to earn the money to repay him. He would pay them for the rest of the things they had gotten from their labors. They lived for the rest of the year on this money, and would go to Tahiti to get the supplies they needed for the rest of the year. My Grandfather was Branch President at Faaite. When children are 8 years old they go to Makemo.
My husband is Emile Auguste Tehaavi. His parents are from the Leeward Islands, Huahine. His family now lives in New Zealand. People of the Tehaavi family are in the Cook Islands also. And in the Mangaia Islands near Rarotonga. It took a fisherman 6 months to sail to Rarotonga from Tahiti a few years ago when he got lost. The winds and currents led him from Tahiti toRarotonga.
My mother’s name was Teuruhei Kokura Mariteragi. I was born on Hikueru. Some of the people there have red hair. Some Stories about Hikueru are that the 5th king went to Bora Bora on his canoe to get his wife. It took him 5 months. The people had to prepare for long voyages, and had to navigate well to reach their destinations.
Tumukiva, the 7th king, also went to Raiatea (near Bora Bora) to get his wife.
Instead of using a canoe, Tumukiva is said to have walked underground through a lava tube. His wife, Tiai Tau (which means Always Waiting), lived by a well. He saw her there. Her husband was always gone a lot on voyages, so he had a bird watching over her. Because Tumukiva came up through a well, the bird didn’t see him. He took her home to be his wife. She had red hair. The people on Hikueru who are of his family have red hair. Tumukiva said “Maehara, taku hinganaui” means “My wish has been fulfilled.”
My ancestors who built the chapel in Takaroa came from Mangareva. They learned to build gothic style churches using crushed coral. The Takaroa chapel was rebuilt, but in the same style as the original one. It is the pride and joy of the Members there. My Great Grandfather, Kaheka Mariteragi, took up the chapel the members of the Church had built in Fakareva and towed it to Takaroa on a platform between 2 canoes. There were no members in Fakareva any more, so he wanted it where the members would be. President Caumet published some pictures of the chapel in a book. He was one of the temple presidents in Tahiti.
There is also a picture of the Mission Schooner. It was in use from 1950 to 1956. I sailed to all of the islands with the mission president when I was a member of the Church Band. He organized it and I was in it for 3 years. I later became a teacher in the elementary schools of our Church. Our home is now in Moorea, Tahiti.
More Family History Work Ideas from Ives Perrin
Ives Perrin served as LDS Mission President in Tahiti, and as a Church educator in the islands of French Polynesia for several years. His suggestions for the steps a person from French Polynesia should take to get records after interviewing family members are as follows:
1. Secure an official government record.
Citizens are required to do this by law, but people on the outer islands sometimes put it off. People have a Polynesian name and an official French name. We must have the French name when we declare births with the government. We can find our parents’ records, which tell where we are from.
2. Go to the Family History Center in Papeete and ask for help from the directors.
Presently, Elder and Sister Gautier are the FHC Directors. They both are fluent in French, and Sister Gautier knows Tahitian. They both understand the full situation of getting access to records.
3. If you do not speak French, you should ask a translator to go with you.
A person needs to know the French language to use the government records.
4. Use the Family History Library Catalog to gain access to the records the Family History Library has.
One oral genealogy which a member gave to Ives contained 77 generations. It is also in the Family History Library Catalog under the subject French Polynesia - Church History. It also appears in the book Seasons of Faith and Courage, by S. George Ellsworth and Kathleen C. Perrin, Published by Yves R. Perrin. This book is also in the Family History Library Catalog. Use a Title search to find it.
Ives recommended that we read the book Tahiti in Ancient Days. It has information about Thor Heyerdahl’s expeditions. Another book with information about Heyerdahl’s research is American Indians in the Pacific.
Resources available for all of French Polynesia
Use the Family History Library Catalog.
Go to the Internet at familysearch.org and click on the Library tab. From that tab, click on the Family History Library Catalog. Type in French Polynesia to get a list of the islands and island groups and to see what records were made under this large jurisdiction.
Then we should type in the name of each island group for records in that jurisdiction and then type in the name of the island that interests you. On Tahiti, records are listed under the name of the town.
Also, do a keyword search on Tahiti. Over 220 items will appear.
Note: All of these islands are a protectorate of France.The people of these islands are full citizens of France. School children must learn French history. French is the governing language, and the civil records are kept in French. Jurisdictions are organized the same way
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.
A large number of oral genealogies and land records are also available.
Cole Jensen Collection
An important collection of compiled genealogies for the Pacific Islands is found in the Cole-Jensen Collection: Oral Genealogies and Genealogical Information Collected from the Polynesian Peoples and from the Pacific Islands. These records were collected over a 50 year period and microfilmed in 1984 by the Genealogical Society of Utah. The original collection consisted of 51 binders. The original materials no longer exist as an intact collection. However, there are nine microfilms of the binders available at various family history centers. They are numbers 1358001-1358009. This collection contains family group records, pedigree charts, and oral genealogies collected from the islands of Hawaii,New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Cook Islands, and French Polynesia, including the Society, Marquesas, Austral Islands, and the Tuamoto Archipelago. Look for the Mciorfilm numbers for French Polynesia by isalnd group, listed below.
Get further information for individual island groups.
When you put your family history together, you may not have many dates to work with. Study the history of the islands where your ancestors lived by starting with the historical background for the island group of your ancestors. To see a time line for each of the island groups and to find research resources for them, please click on each of the island groups listed above separately. This is because the Wiki can only hold certain amounts of information at one time, so it has been separated into sections.
See also the Portal: French Polynesia in FamilySearch Research Wiki.