Even though French Polynesia is far from everywhere aside from other Pacific nations, it's closest ties are with France and thus, the TV news is a mix of local reporting and emissions from Europe. Major events in France hit Tahiti deeply, but daily talk is usually about local issues ranging from corrupt politics to school sports. Recently the country has fostered closer relations with the rest of Polynesia (from Hawai’i to New Zealand), but overall French Polynesia is disconnected from its sister cultures, a real island unto itself.
Culturally, French Polynesia is rediscovering itself. In the last 25 years, the Tahitian language has been reclaimed as a subject now required in schools and as a university-level discipline. Tahitian dance is flourishing, tattoos have become the norm and Ma’a Tahiti (traditional Tahitian food) has been transformed into haute cuisine. Even a few pre-European Tahitian events are being resuscitated, such as the Matari’i i Ni’a in November, marking the beginning of the ‘season of abundance’ – Westerners more pessimistically call this the ‘wet season’.
While technically a part of France, French Polynesia is, for the most part, self-governing. Since 2004 the government has been in turmoil as the main political parties battle it out and try to woo members of the assembly to flip-flop the balance of power. While democratic elections decide how many assembly seats go to each party, once there the members can switch allegiances. When it’s a fragile majority, which is usually the case, one or two changes can overturn the entire government. From 2004 to 2014 this happened 13 times, but Edward Fritch is blowing the trend by remaining president since September 2014.
Motions of Independence
All these puzzle pieces make the big picture bad news for the French Polynesian people. They no longer have faith in their politicians or political systems, the economy is failing and France seems less and less inclined to offer large sums of money to keep everything afloat. There's a word for this in the Tahitian language: Fiu, meaning fed up, over it or just plain tired. There is hope that a new generation of politicians will come along who will bring the country forward instead of stagnation, but so far these saviors are nowhere to be seen.
Plentiful, Unprofitable Pearls
The 1990s were the gold-rush years for Tahitian pearls. But the country’s infrastructure wasn’t able to deal with the business that was generated. A lack of government regulation meant there were no production limits or quality guidelines. Buyers became wary; worse, an imposed export tax made pearls more expensive. Add a global recession and the availability of cheap Chinese-produced pearls, and the market collapsed. Today, with the price of a Tahitian pearl at one-quarter of what it was in 2000, only a few larger farms and a scattering of family-run farms are still in business.
Tourism in Free Fall
While elsewhere in the Pacific tourism is back on the rise, Tahiti’s stats fell and now are rising only slightly; this makes the number of visitors per year not much greater than those of 1996 (around 150,000, compared to 180,000 visitors in 2014). This is a harsh blow to a country whose primary industry is tourism. Many blame the costly airfare, but the country's reputation as a high-end-only destination may also be to blame. Another thing to think about, a large part of tourism is on cruise ships that don't impact local economies very much. It’s sad, because the destination has so much more to offer than its packaged image suggests.