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Hiva Oa (Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia)

Last modified: 2009-03-21 by ivan sache
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[Hiva Oa flag]

Flag of Hiva Oa - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 24 December 2008

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Presentation of Hiva Oa

Quoting the website of the Presidency of French Polynesia (page no longer online):

Hiva Oa is the largest and most fertile of the islands in the southern group of the Marquesas Archipelago. It is located at 139º00'W and 9º45'S. Hiva Oa has deep valleys, a lush plateau and dense forests. The island, which covers an area of 320 square kilometers (123.6 sq. miles), has a curious and complex geological structure. All that is left of the volcano Taaoa is a 1,000-meter (3,281-ft.) high wall, which is on the edge of a volcanic crater. The volcano Atuona formed inside that crater. Further evidence of former volcanic activity is a ridge that forms a spine across the entire length of Hiva Oa, from Atuona to the former volcano Puamau, broken up only by the dike of Mt. Otua, which reaches to a height of 924 meters (3,031 ft.).
Atuona, the administrative center for the southern group of the Marquesas Islands, is 1,184 kilometers (736 miles) north of the island of Tahiti. Surrounded by the mountain on the land side and the Bay of Traitors on the ocean side, Atuona offers safe anchorage. But that anchorage area was abandoned by visiting sailboats and trading schooners after a port with a protective seawall was built in 1981 in the neighboring Tahauku Bay.

The many archeological sites found on Hiva Oa prove there was a very big population on the island during ancient times. The biggest tiki ever found in the Marquesas Islands was discovered in Puamau Valley.
The first European to discover Hiva Oa was Spanish navigator Mendana in July 1595. Few European explorers visited the island until the mid-19th century due to an aggressive population and wars involving the Hamau, Naiki, Pepane and Nuku tribes. France annexed Hiva Oa in 1842, but government civil servants were unable to install themselves on the island for the next nearly 40 years. During that period, another 40 cases of cannibalism were revealed at Puamau in 1876. Yet, Christianization efforts began on the island in 1855. And in 1872 settler John Hart arrived to raise cotton and livestock on 800 hectares (1,977 acres) of land at Tahauku, using Chinese and arorai as laborers. His land was turned over to the Société commerciale de l'Océanie in 1895 and was later bought by Emile Rauzy in 1932.
Hiva Oa was the French government's administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands from 1904 to 1940. It also was the headquarters for the Catholic bishop from 1893 to 1961. French painter Paul Gauguin and Belgian singer Jacques Brel spent the last years of their lives at Atuona. Both men are buried in the Calvary Cemetery on a hill behind Atuona.
The 1996 census found a population of 1,837 persons on Hiva Oa. Among those with regular jobs, 25% are involved with agriculture. Atuona has become a central town for the southern group of Marquesas Islands thanks to its commercial functions and its airport's role as a stopover connection.

Ivan Sache, 20 August 2005

Flag of Hiva Oa

The unofficial flag of Tahuata, seen at the headquarters of the Tahitian Football Federation and used during the Games of the Marquesas Islands 2006, is blue with a white frame and the name of the island in white letters in the middle.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 24 December 2008