Historical Figures

Pomare IV, Queen of Tahiti

Last updated:2022-07-25

Queen of Tahiti, Pōmare IV or Pomare the Great (1813 – 1877) reigned for fifty years. She sees the arrival of the British and then the French, against whom she strives to fight.

Contacts with Europeans

Daughter of Princess Teriitaria Tamatoa, herself daughter of Tamatoa III, King of Raiatea, and Pōmare II, King of Tahiti, ‘Aimata was born on February 28, 1813 in Pare (Tahiti). The name she receives at birth means "eye eater". According to an ancient Tahitian custom, during ritual sacrifices, the sovereign swallows the eye of his vanquished enemy.

At the time of his birth, first contacts with European explorers had been established for about fifty years. Samuel Wallis (in 1767), Louis-Antoine de Bougainville (1768), James Cook (1769, 1773, 1777), William Bligh (1788) in particular landed and stayed on the island, establishing sometimes conflicting and sometimes friendly relations with the Tahitians. Now known to Europeans, Tahiti became a stopover for certain whalers on their fishing expeditions; In particular, they introduced alcohol and diseases which had a devastating effect on the population.

From 1797, British missionaries settled in Tahiti, to spread Christianity there and to fight against Tahitian culture and cults. Princess ‘Aimata’s father, Pōmare II, converted in 1812 and this conversion, along with the arrival of the missionaries, marked a turning point for the inhabitants of the island. Christianity spread and, under the influence of the monks, the Pomare code was established in 1819 to conform Tahitian society to what Europeans judged to be good morals:obligation to cover the whole body, prohibition of dances, songs, tattoos , crowns of flowers… Tahitian culture and society are profoundly transformed.

Accession to the throne

Pōmare II died in December 1821. Although Aimata's junior, it was his son Teriʻitaria Pōmare who became king under the name of Pōmare III. He is only a year old; his mother, Teremoemoe, and Tahitian chiefs under the control of the missionaries exercise the regency. In 1824, the religious organized for the first time a coronation ceremony in Tahiti, contrary to custom. Under the influence of the missionaries, a legislative assembly was created to bring the Tahitian monarchy closer to a constitutional monarchy. The enterprise of controlling local cultures is being strengthened, with in particular the pure and simple prohibition of traditional cults.

In December 1822, ‘Aimata was married to Tapoa, future king of Bora-Bora. His little brother, the child-king, died of dysentery in January 1827, at the age of six. 'Aimata, then thirteen years old, succeeded her and became queen as 'Aimata Pōmare IV Vahine-o-Punuateraʻitua. She is the fourth sovereign of the Pomare dynasty, instituted around 1790 by her grandfather, and whose name means “cough at night” (pō – night / mare – cough). A name chosen by Pōmare I st in honor of his daughter, who died of tuberculosis.

Queen of Tahiti

The queen is very young, and little trained in the exercise of power. His first years of reign are complicated. At first, Pōmare moves away from the official Protestant religion and approaches the Mamaia, a syncretic cult mixing Christianity and traditional religions. The British missionaries inevitably see this movement with a bad eye; the cult is harshly repressed, and the clerics strive to bring Pōmare back into their sphere of influence. British Protestant clergyman George Pritchard becomes the Queen's chief adviser.

Pōmare is also experiencing difficulties related to the weakening of monarchical power. Under the brief reign of his little brother, in fact, certain local chiefs took advantage of the regency to reconquer parcels of their power; they sometimes openly contest the authority of the queen. Westerners – whalers, traders, religious… – are settling on the island in increasing numbers, and order is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

After acceding to the throne, Pōmare divorced her husband and married Ariʻifaaite, chief on the island of Huahine. They will have nine children, three of whom die in infancy.

French protectorate

In 1834, a French Catholic mission of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary settled in the Gambier Islands, in what would become French Polynesia; the period saw the beginnings of the establishment in the Pacific of a France that wanted to fight against British domination in the region. In 1838, two priests from the mission installed on the Gambier Islands, Fathers Laval and Caret, landed in Tahiti; Pōmare has them arrested and expelled. France demands reparation, and seizes the pretext to intervene.

In 1842, the French Admiral Abel Aubert Du Petit-Thouars who had just taken possession of the Marquesas Islands in the name of France, landed in Tahiti. He takes advantage of the weakening of the power of Pōmare to ally himself with the local chiefs hostile to the queen and the British. After making them sign a request for French protectorate, Du Petit-Thouars forces Pōmare to ratify the treaty. The queen retains power over internal affairs, but France is in charge of external relations.

The Franco-Tahitian War

The situation does not last. As early as 1843, influenced by Pritchard, Pōmare withdrew the flag of the protectorate to hoist the Tahitian flag, a gesture of open revolt against France and the protectorate that she was forced to sign. The French reaction was not long in coming:in November 1843, Du Petit-Thouars annexed Tahiti. The queen went into exile in the northwest, to the Leeward Islands which would be integrated into the French Establishments in Oceania in 1898.

The Franco-Tahitian War broke out in March 1844. Pritchard was expelled the same year, and this expulsion, like the pastor's role in the revolt, aggravated tensions between the French and the British, a crisis known as the "Pritchard affair". . Fighting takes place between French soldiers and rebellious Tahitians; they lasted two and a half years, until December 1846 with the capture of Fort Fatahua by the French, which confirmed their victory. Two months later, Pōmare returns to Tahiti. She recovers her throne but, forced to accept the protectorate, sees her prerogatives reduced in favor of the representative of France.

End of reign

The power and domination of the French in Tahiti and in this region of the Pacific Ocean are growing. In 1863, they got rid of the British missionaries by bringing in members of the Paris Evangelical Mission Society, a Protestant missionary association. The population having become predominantly Protestant, the French thus regained control of spirituality. The influence of the religious, like the presence of more and more foreigners, is gradually disintegrating the traditional ways of life.

Pōmare IV retains the throne until his death. She died at the age of 64 in Papeete, in September 1877, after 50 years of an exceptionally long reign. The eldest of his surviving children, Prince Teratane Pōmare, succeeded him under the name of Pōmare V. Little invested, he abdicated after three years of reign and ceded the kingdom of Tahiti to France, which became a colony.

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