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Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia)

Îles Marquises

Last modified: 2020-02-01 by ivan sache
Keywords: marquesas islands | iles marquises |
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Flag of the Marquesas Islands - Image by Jens Pattke, 10 May 2019

See also:

Geography of the Marquesas

The Marquesas Archipelago (9,264 inh.) is organized as the Communauté de communes des îles Marquises (CODIM), established on 29 November 2010 by Decree No. 867 and composed of the municipalities of Fatu Hiva (612 inh.), Hiva Oa (2,243 inh.), Nuka Hiva (2,951 inh.), Tahuata (653 inh.), A HREF="pf-mq-uh.html">Ua Huka (673 inh.), and Ua Pou (2,213 inh.). The seat is at Atuona (Hiva Oa).
[Haut-Commissariat de la République en Polynésie française]

The 12 Marquesas Islands are spread over an area of 997 square kilometers and each of the islands offers a very similar landscape. These are high islands of volcanic origin, flat in places, dominated by needles and peaks of lava, five of which are taller than 1,000 meters. Steep cliffs that are directly exposed to the attacks of ocean swells border the deserted plateaus. The coastal cliffs are interspersed with deep valleys.
The Marquesas Islands have no protective coral reefs or lagoons. That explains why flat coastal surfaces are rare, making it difficult, if not impossible, to build roads along the coasts connecting one valley to another. So road transportation is replaced by the use of boats for traveling between villages, which requires building port facilities for cargo ships. One of the rare exceptions is Taiohae Bay, which offers a safe anchorage for all ships.
The archipelago is divided up into two groups:
- The northern group of Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Eiao and a few reefs surrounding Nuku Hiva;
- The southern group of Tahuata and Fatu Hiva, which are dominated by Hiva Oa.

The archipelago was discovered in 1595 by the Spanish sailor Alvaro de Mendana, which called them Marquesas de Mendoza, as a tribute to the spouse of the Vice-Roy of Peru. The short form Marquesas was rapidly prefered. James Cook rediscovered the islands in 1774 and France annexed them in 1842. It is estimated that the total population of the archipelago before discovery by Western sailors was about 100,000. Like in other islands of the Pacific Ocean, the Western sailors brought diseases. The cultural ethnocide decreased the population to 6,000 in 1872, 3,000 in 1911 and 2,200 in 1930.In the past, the Marquesas were an important link in the Polynesian migrations to Hawaii, the Society Islands (Leeward and Windward Islands), New Zealand and Easter Island.
[Former website of the Presidency of French Polynesia]

The French painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) left France, his job, wife and children, for Tahiti in 1891, and later moved to the Marquesas, where he died. Gauguin was fascinated by the Polynesians, whose ancient culture had already been nearly totally destroyed by the French missionaries and colonial administrators. It has been shown that most of the scenes shown on Gauguin's paintings were recreated by the painter rather than observed in situ. Gauguin's paintings were saved from destruction by the Navy officer and writer Victor Segalen (1879-1919). Nearly one century after Gauguin, the Belgian singer Jacques Brel (1929-1978) also abandoned its European life and moved to the Marquesas, to which he dedicated one of the most emotional songs of his last record (Les Marquises).

Ivan Sache, 10 May 2019

Flag of the Marquesas

The flag of the Marquesas (official presentation) is prescribed by Municipal Deliberation No. 33 (text), adopted on 30 November 1998 by the Community Council of the Marquesas (10 votes for and 2 against) and published on 15 March 2019 in the official gazette of French Polynesia, pp. 4,806-4,808.
The drawing of the flag, its meaning, and technical specifications (dimensions and colors) are given in Appendix 1.

Meaning of the flag and of the "matatiki".

The Marquesas flag was created on 30 December 1978 by the founding members of the Motu Haka association, who selected the colors and the "Matatiki" idea.
Yellow ("èka"), a color that reflects the youth and festivity.
Red ("kuà"), the chiefs' "Tapu" (sacred) color.
White ("maïta" / "tavaïè"), the priests' "Tapu" 'sacred) color.

The "matatiki": literally the look of Tiki, the first man in the Marquesas mythology, who invented art of sculpture and tattoo whose main symbols came from his body. The sacred ornaments on the "matatiki"'s cheek makes this look "tapu".
For several years, the original "matatiki" has been transformed, or even simplified. In late 2017, upon request by the elected members of the CODIM, the "matatiki" was redesigned by the Patutiki association.

Features of the flag.

The Marquesas flag is a rectangle of 1 m on 1.5 m, constituted of four parts, each of a different color:
- on top, a yellow polygon;
- on base, a red polygon;
- on the left, a white triangle. The three colors meet in the flag's center.
- a "matatiki" inside the white triangle. The charge is framed by a blue rectangle that should not be shown on the flag but is used to place it inside the triangle.

The aforementioned dimensions can be increased or decreased to a length "L" and a width "H" provided the ratio H/L = 0.67 is respected [which contradicts the "1 m x 1.5 m" dimension given above!). Beside the dimensions, all reproduction of the flag shall respect the color specifications.
The construction sheet provides the emblem's proportions as L/3.8 x H/3.3. The emblem is placed L/15 from the flag's hoist and H/2.8 from its upper edge.

The colors are specified as:

           Pantone         RGB          Hex
Yellow       123C      254 206   0    #feceOO
Red          1795C     238  37  43    #ee252b
White                  255 255 255    #ffffff
Black                    0   0   0    #000000
The re-design of the emblem is credited to Teiki Huukena (b. 1974 in Nuuku Hiva), author of the Dictionary of Marquesas Tattoos (2 volumes).
[Hommes de Polynésie, 21 July 2017]

Ivan Sache, 10 May 2019

Former flag of the Marquesas


Former flag of the Marquesas Islands - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, after the official construction sheet, 13 January 2004

The flag of the Marquesas, in proportions 2:3, is horizontally divided yellow-red with a white triangle placed along the hoist and stretching over the half of the flag length. A black tiki is placed in the triangle. The colors are prescribed as red Pantone 185c and yellow Pantone 111c.
White represents peace and the tiki with open eyes is characteristic of the culture of the Marquesas. Yellow recalls the eka dye used by the inhabitants of the archipelago to coat their body during traditional festivals. Red was the symbol of the kings of the Marquesas.
[Représentation de la Polynésie française en Chine]

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, Santiago Dotor & Ivan Sache, 28 August 2005

This flag was hoisted for the first time on 14 December 1980 at the inauguration of Desert Land airfield on the island of Nuku Hiva.

Jaume Ollé, 5 April 1999


Flag of the Marquesas Islands, as shown in the Flags of Aspirant Peoples chart - Image by António Martins, 11 January 2004

A similar flag, but with proportions 1:2, appears in the Flags of Aspirant Peoples chart [eba94], #178, with the following caption:
Subdivision, French Polynesia.

Ivan Sache, 17 September 1999