Last modified: 2009-03-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: rapa | austral islands | star (blue) | crown (yellow) | canton: france |
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Quoting the website of the Presidency of French Polynesia (page no longer online):
Rapa is also known as Rapa Iti or Oparo in order to distinguish it from Easter Island, whose Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. Rapa is located in the extreme southeastern corner of the Austral Islands at 27º38'S and 144º:20'W. The island has an area of 40 square kilometers (15.4 sq. miles).
Rapa is the remains of a large volcano cone that now has a height of 650 meters (2,133 ft.). The eastern side of the cone has been breached so that the ancient crater now forms the wide Haurei Bay.
Rapa is 1,240 kilometers (771 miles) south of Papeete on the island of Tahiti, making it the most remote island in French Polynesia. Its extreme southern location means it has a relatively cool and humid climate, no coconut trees and an ocean too cold to allow a coral reef to grow.
The first European visitor was Captain George Vancouver, who arrived in 1791 aboard the HMS Discovery. At that time the population of Rapa was an estimated 2,000. They were divided up into 14 tribes that were often at war with each other. The people of Rapa used single-hulled outrigger canoes powered by pointed paddles. The canoes were made of many small pieces of timber that were sewn together with sennit. Some double canoes, equipped with sails, could carry 40 warriors.
Christianity arrived on Rapa in 1826 when six Tahitians were sent there as missionaries by the Rev. John Davies. While the tribal wars ended, the people of Rapa were exposed to raids by Peruvian slaving ships, which carried many islanders off to work on the guano islands off the coast of Peru. Those who survived and eventually returned to Rapa brought smallpox with them. An epidemic broke out, reducing the population to only 120 persons in 1867. France declared a protectorate over the island that same year and annexed Rapa after having attracted England's attention. The British saw Rapa as a logical port-of-call for trading ships operating between Panamá and New Zealand.
Due to its remote, isolated location, Rapa was cut off from the rest of French Polynesia. Communications with Rapa were so rare that the gendarme living on the island learned on the same day that World War I had begun in 1914 and that an armistice had been signed in 1918.
The population of Rapa is 521 (1996 census). The people form a very close-knit community. The islanders mostly live in the village of Haurei, which is located next to the south entrance to Haurei Bay.
Ivan Sache, 21 August 2005
The flag of Rapa, as seen at the headquarters of the Tahitian Football Federation in 2006, is white with a blue star surmonted by a yellow crown, and two thin horizontal red stripes on top and bottom of the flag. The upper stripe has the French national flag in canton and bears the name of the island in white capital letters.
Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 24 December 2008