Because of its isolation, it took almost two centuries to the Europeans to discover Tahiti and her islands. And today, it is still obviously the same relative isolation that protects them as a haven of peace and serenity.
Although navigators had been criss-crossing the area: In 1521, Magellan stopped on the atoll of Puka Puka in the Tuamotus. It is only in 1595 that Alvaro de Mendana, coming from Spanish possessions in Latin America, discovered the Marquesas. In 1606, Fernando de Quiros sailed through the Tuamotu as well as Dutchmen Le Maire and Schouten in 1616, and a century later in 1722, Roggeven, who after discovering Easter Island, sailed through the Tuamotus and discovered Maupiti much more to the West.
But it was in June 1767 that Samuel Wallis, sailing further South, finally discovered the island of Tahiti, followed ten months later by French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville and on April 13 1769 by James Cook on his famous 3-mast ship "The Endeavour".. Site of the Endeavour's replica
Bougainville brought enthousiastic storie from his trip and the two weeks he spent in Tahiti and contibuted widely to creating the myth of a Polynesian paradise, completed by the observations of astronomer Véron and naturalist Commerson, who participated in the expedition aboard the 2 ships " La Boudeuse " and " L'Etoile".
But it was truly the expedition lead by James Cook on "The Endeavour" in 1769 that brought back quantities of geographical and anthropological information on the Society Islands, with very accurate topographic measurements and the presence, during his two other expeditions in Tahiti in 1773 and in 1779, of botanists, painters and astronomers.
In 1789, William Bligh, after the famous Bounty mutiny, drifted on a long boat all the way to the Dutch Indies, while a group of mutineers lead by Fletcher Christian found shelter on the island of Pitcairn located East of the Austral Islands, and another group played a major role in Tahiti's inter-tribal conflicts before being brought back by the British Navy.
In 1888, the annexion of the Leeward Islands archipelagos officially announced by Governor Lacascade started the revolts of Huahine and Raiatea. The insurrection lasted until 1897. In 1901, the Austral Islands were also annexed by the French.
Although located very far from World War I's battlefields, the Polynesians suffered the assaults of the German fleet, which in Papeete met with their resistance. In 1916, more than 1,000 Polynesians joined the fighting on the Orient, Champagne and Marne battle fronts.
In 1940 Tahiti allied itself to the Free France and on April 21, 1941 Polynesians volunteers joined Caledonian volunteers of the "Bataillon du Pacifique" and fought in Africa and Europe. In 1942, the Americans installed military equipment in a back-up base in Bora-Bora, but the front moved to the Philippines, thus sparing the South Pacific.
In 1946, Tahiti became a French Overseas Territory, then in 1958 it became French Polynesia. In 1977, the islands received a status of internal autonomy, modified in 1984 and again in 1990, moving toward an increase in local executive power.