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Nuku Hiva (Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia)

Last modified: 2010-06-11 by ivan sache
Keywords: nuku hiva | marquesas islands | thierry (baron de) |
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[Nuku Hiva flag]

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

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Presentation of Nuku Hiva

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

Nuku Hiva's 330 square kilometers make it the largest island of the Marquesas archipelago. It is 1,500 kilometers northeast of Papeete, located at 8º49'S by 140º12'W. Its tallest point is Mt. Tokao (1,208 meters). Nuku Hiva has a quadrilateral shape with a length of about 30 kilometers and a width of 15 kilometers. The town of Taiohae, the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands, is located in the center of the southern coast at the foot of the deep Taiohae Bay. In effect, the town is in the center of a volcanic crater, half of which has collapsed into the ocean, creating the bay.
The 1996 census recorded a population of 2,375 persons divided up among three villages: Hatiheu (pop. 343, with 115 in Aakapa), Taipivai (pop. 345) and Taiohae (pop. 1,687). The population density of 7.2 persons per square kilometer is one of the smallest of any district in French Polynesia.

The first humans arrived in Nuku Hiva in 150 BC. There was a development period on Nuku Hiva that lasted until 1100 AD. Many stone facilities were built between 1100-1400 AD. They included platforms (pa'epa'e), tohua and me'ae. It was also during this period that artisans began what later became their famous sculpturing of tikis, such as those of the Taipivai Valley.

Captain Joseph Ingraham, an American explorer, was the first westerner to set foot on Nuku Hiva in April 1791. The island was subsequently visited by many ships seeking a safe harbor. The first European to arrive on Nuku Hiva was French navigator Etienne Marchand, in July 1791. He was followed by Josuah Roberts in 1792, Russian Admiral Krusenstern in 1804 and many sandalwood traders, whaling ship captains and adventurers of all types. Among the adventuersome were Englishman Edward Robarts and Frenchman Joseph Cabry, both of whom became somewhat famous for having become integrated into Marquesan tribes and participating in their fratricidal wars. Those wars reached a peak during a tentative annexation effort led by American David Porter in 1813. The Hapa'a tribe that lived in the Hakapa and Hakahaa valleys were reinforced by Captain Porter in 1813 and Jules Dumont d'Urville in 1828. This allowed the Hapa'a chief, Keata Nui, to impose his suzerainty over the entire island. Porter succeeded in defeating the Taïpi tribe found in Taipivai Valley. Members of the Taïpi tribe, with a reputation of being aggressive and ferocious, were often at war with their neighboring Hapa and Taoua tribes. Yet, despite the local battles going on, the Taïpi tribe welcomed many famous foreign visitors, such as Herman Melville, Jack London, Lewis Freeman and Alvin Seale, all of whom mentioned the tribe in their writings. The tribes rapidly regained their independence when Captain Porter left the island.
The Catholic Church began Christianizing the people of Nuku Hiva in 1839, their efforts being confirmed by France's annexation of the island in 1842. French forces built a fort at the entrance of Taiohae. But the Christianization effort was delayed by constant tribal conflicts, so it was not until 1854 that the first stone was put in place for the Taiohae Cathedral. But it was then that Nuku Hiva began to enter a long period of decline. A smallpox epidemic broke out in 1863, killing 1,000 persons. There also were raids by Peruvian slave ships, combined with the use of opium, which was introduced by the Chinese in 1883. All of this severely diminished Nuku Hiva's population, which dramatically fell from 12,000 in 1842 to only 635 in 1934. Czech settlers arrived at Nuku Hiva at the beginning of the 20th Century, but soon left for Tahiti, discouraged by Nuku Hiva's inhospitable land.

A rural exodus continued slowly, but thanks to an extraordinary birthrate, the population grew rapidly starting in 1950 and reached 2,375 by the time of the 1996 census. Taiohae was a stopover for the French shipping line Messageries Maritimes, whose ships operated between Marseilles, France, and Sydney, Australia. Taiohae is the administrative and political center for all of the Marquesas Islands. Among the town's facilities are a junior high school, hospital, cathedral and family pensions for visitors. The Toovi plateau was developed far inland to provide these islands with a forest reservation and pasturage for hundreds of heads of livestock.

Ivan Sache, 20 August 2005

Flag of Nuku Hiva

The unofficial flag of Nuku Hiva, seen at the headquarters of the Tahitian Football Federation (page no longer online) and used during the Games of the Marquesas Islands 2006, is white with a black frame and the name of the island in black letters in the middle.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 24 December 2008

Kingdom of Nuku Hiva, 1835

[Nuku Hiva flag]

Flag of Nuku Hiva, 1835 - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 August 2005

The Flags of Paradise chart [brt96] shows the flag of Nuku Hiva (Baron Thierry, July 1835), as a rectangular flag quartered blue and red.

The mysterious "Baron Thierry" was indeed the Baron de Thierry, a colourful French adventurer who contributed, although in a limited extent, to the history of New Zealand. The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966) has an entry for Charles Phillipe Hippolyte, Baron de Thierry (1793?-1864), subtitled "Knight errant".
Born in a French noble family exiled after the Revolution, the baron met at Cambridge the missionary Thomas Kendall, who purchased for him in 1822 a block of land in New Zealand. Various attempts to be officially supported in his colonization effort by Britain, the Netherlands and France all failed. Bankrupted, Thierry moved to the Americas in 1826.
The Baron eventually landed on his "kingdom" at Hokianga on 4 November 1837, to find that his colonists had deserted and his title to the land had been repudiated. Thierry resumed his errant life, settling for a while in California and Hawaii, and eventually coming back to Auckland, where he earned his life as a music teacher

The Nuku Hiva episode is described in the Encyclopaedia's article as follows:

On 1 June 1835 he sailed from Panama with his family. A call was made at the Marquesas, where, intoxicated by his first taste of the South Seas, he proclaimed himself king of Nuku Hiva.

Short before his death, Thierry published Historical Narrative of an Attempt to Form a Settlement in New Zealand, kept at the Auckland Public Library with other Thierry papers. The Nuku Hiva flag might be described in these documents.
J.D. Raeside, author in 1977 of Sovereign Chief, A biography of Baron de Thierry, confirms the Nuku Hiva episode in his notice on Baron de Thierry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (updated edition, 2007).

Ivan Sache, 24 January 2010