The mystique of Tahiti as a tropical island paradise began when the first European visitors returned to their countries with reports of a gentle climate, friendly natives, abundant food and uninhibited love under swaying palms. Bougainville, Cook, the Bounty mutineers and even the missionaries helped perpetuate this image.
Poets, painters, writers, whalers, traders, beachcombers, drifters, sailors, voyagers, explorers, filmmakers and South Seas characters spread the fame of Tahiti far and wide. The legend of Tahiti as a sublime paradise has sustained people’s dreams for more than 200 years.
The Maohi ancestors of today's Polynesians were well-established in Tahiti and all the neighboring islands. The Marquesan island of Ua Huka contains an archaeological site dating from 300 A.D. Research reveals evidence of man's presence in Huahine as early as 850 A.D. Historians believe the Polynesians may have originated in Indonesia and spread eastward in two great waves as a result of population pressures.
Although the origin of the Polynesian people is still being debated, they believed themselves to be direct descendants of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother. Tahitian oral history tells of Ta'aroa, a benevolent god who created an entire retinue of gods and demi-gods, who were in constant communication with man.
Long before Captain Samuel Wallis sailed into Tahiti's Matavai Bay in 1767 and claimed the island for the King of England, Tahiti was settled by a dynasty of Maohi kings, the Hui Arii. Polynesian society was in full swing in Tahiti when nomadic tribes were still wandering and fighting throughout Europe. In addition to the colorful myths and legends of gods and heroes, the Tahitians had a well-developed hierarchy of social and religious chiefs, well-defined customs, a complicated code of court etiquette, sophisticated dances and drama and high standards of craftsmanship.
In this age of jet travel, the possibility of escaping to the romantic South Seas is a reality for voyagers from many countries. Tahiti still has the same qualities that enchanted Melville, Darwin, Zane Grey, Somerset Maugham, Nordhoff and Hall. Tahiti is a place of romance, legend and magic. Visitors can enjoy landscapes unchanged since the voyage of the great navigators; beaches and turquoise waters as beautiful as Robert Louis Stevenson observed from his yacht; welcoming faces and colors as vivid as Paul Gauguin painted them. With such exquisite beauty, even the most taciturn of visitors agree that Tahiti is as much a state of mind as it is a romantic paradise.
The scenery, the flowers, the laughter and the fun of Tahiti still thrive. These, and the Polynesians themselves, are Tahiti's legendary assets.