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Like other islands in the Society group, Tahiti is the creation of volcanic eruptions. The larger circle of Tahiti, Tahiti Nui, came into existence around two-and-a-half to three million years ago; the smaller circle, Tahiti Iti, was created less than a million years ago.

Tahiti was not the first of the Society group to be populated in the great Polynesian migrations. Legends have the first settlers arriving in Tahiti from Ra'iatea, which was the most politically important island despite being much smaller than Tahiti.

Tahiti's importance increased as more and more European visitors chose to make the island their preferred base and the island soon became a minor pawn in the European colonial game.

Tahiti's population is currently about 170, 000, which constitutes more than 60% of French Polynesia's entire population. Tahiti is the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia.