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Austral Islands (French Polynesia)

Îles Australes

Last modified: 2017-05-29 by ivan sache
Keywords: austral islands | iles australes | stars: 5 (blue) | penu | pestle |
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[Austral Islands flag]

Flag of the Austral Islands - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, after the official construction sheet, 13 January 2004

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Geography of the Austral Islands

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

The Austral Islands comprise five high islands: Raivavae (16 sq. km), Rurutu (32.3 sq. km), Tubuai (45 sq. km), Rimatara (8.6 sq. km), and Rapa (40 sq. km). There also are two uninhabited low islands: Maria (or Hull) and the Marotiri Rocks (or Bass).
This group is called the Austral Islands because of their location, which gives them the most southern latitude of any islands in French Polynesia. That puts them on both sides of the Tropic of Capricorn.

The Austral Islands became part of French Oceania in 1880. Their official census population was 6,563 in 1996. There are very few Europeans and Chinese. People in the Austral Islands are attracted to the big town of Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, where they regroup in certain neighborhoods, such as the "Quartier Rurutu" at Vaininiore.
The Polynesians living in the Austral Islands were converted to Christianity by Protestant missionaries. Today they live off their main crops of taro and vegetables, potatoes and coconut palm plantations. The Austral Islands also grow coffee, which is shipped to Tahiti along with market gardening products and various fruits. Lagoon fishing and deep-sea fishing are fairly active.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2005

Flag of the Austral Islands

The Territorial Government Decree of 4 December 1985 governing the display of the flag of French Polynesia stipulates that the flags of the archipelagos and islands of French Polynesia may be flown next to the Territorial and National flags.
The construction sheet for the flag and its explanation were available on the website of the representation of French Polynesia in China (website no longer available).

The flag of the Austral Islands, in proportions 2:3, is vertically divided red-white-red (1:3:1) with a blue emblem in the white stripe. The emblem is made of a penu surrounded by five blue stars. The colours are prescribed as red Pantone 185c and blue Pantone 286c.
The five stars represent the five high islands constituting the Austral Islands while the penu is the symbol of the archipelago. The red stripes recall that the archipelago is part of French Polynesia.

A penu is a traditional pestle made in volcanic stone. Its specific shape and the high density of the stone made of the penu a tool very useful to crush tubers, medicinal plants and fruit pulp.
The most famous of these tools come from the the island of Maupiti (located near Bora-Bora, Society Islands). The penu makers from Maupiti were in the past highly estimated for the quality and beauty of their production; this production, unexpectedly stopped at the end of the 19th century, resumed in the 1970s.
The website of the "Institut de la communication individuelle" of French Polynesia tells this story in a short video a beautiful penu from Maupiti offerred in 1966 by its owner to the Museum of Tahiti and Her Islands. A penu from Maupiti has a specific T-shaped; the penu on the flag of the Austral Islands probably shows the specific local shape.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, Santiago Dotor & Ivan Sache, 1 March 2009

Former flag of the Austral Islands

[Austral Islands former flag]

Former flag of the Austral Islands - Image by Ivan Sache, 20 June 2010

As shown on a photo published on 3 June 2002 in Les Nouvelles de Tahiti (No. 12347), the former flag of the Austral Islands is horizontally divided yellow-red-white-green-blue with a vertical stripe placed along the hoist, covering 1/3 of the flag length and charged with the black writing ARCHIPEL / DES / ILES / AUSTRALES. There is no evident correspondence between the colours of the stripes and the traditional colours of the five components of the archipelago, used in their flags.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 20 June 2010