Tahiti—Jewel of the South Seas
TAHITI—the very name conjures up all kinds of mental pictures! French explorer Bougainville called it The New Cythera, since it reminded him of a delightful Mediterranean island also known as Kíthira. Tahiti’s beauty has inspired artists and poets. To some, it is another name for paradise.
However, for many years now, a group of people has been speaking in Tahiti about a coming paradise. This same message is being preached in every inhabited country in the world. But is it needed in Tahiti, of all places? To help you understand, allow us to tell you a little about this island.
Tahiti the Beautiful
Is Tahiti as beautiful as people say? No doubt about it! It is not a big island—just 402 square miles (1,041 sq km). But its highest mountain reaches 7,339 feet (2,237 m). The whole island is ringed by a road 75 miles (121 km) long.
One of the glories of Tahiti is the turquoise-colored lagoon that surrounds it. Farther out, the sea is a deep blue color, and forming the barrier between the deep sea and the lighter-colored lagoon is a coral reef on which crashing waves form a garland of white foam. Thus, from the air Tahiti looks like a jewel nestling in a turquoise-colored jewel box. Some even call it the jewel of the South Seas.
The climate? Warm and humid but tempered by refreshing trade winds. From November to March is the rainy season, when the temperature and humidity are both high. The vegetation is dense and exuberant. Especially along the coast and in the valleys will you find an abundance of coconuts, mangoes, breadfruit, avocados, and bananas—everything you would expect in a tropical paradise!
And the flowers? Close your eyes and imagine breathing air scented with sweet frangipani. Now open your eyes and be delighted by a profusion of hibiscus and bougainvillea. Try to visualize the unusual waxed flamingo flower and, especially, the tiare tahiti, the white, sweet-smelling flower that Tahitian men and women wear in their hair. Yes, Tahiti is blessed with an abundance of flowers.
There are seabirds in Tahiti, but there are few animals native to the island. However, the surrounding seas more than compensate. Beautiful corals shelter a wide variety of shells and shellfish. Both in the lagoon and in the deep ocean beyond, the eye is delighted by colorful parrot fish, wrasse, surgeonfish, perch, loach merou, and red mullet. Lurking in rock crevasses and also watching the show—although not to admire its beauty—is the hungry muraena and, farther out, the ominous form of the shark.
This beautiful island was first discovered by those master navigators, the Polynesians, sometime around the fifth century C.E. They learned to enjoy its wild beauty and live off its fertile soil and well-stocked waters. They worshiped a god called Taaroa, who was said to be attended by secondary divinities. Religious ceremonies took place in quadrangular enclosures called marae, at one end of which was an altar for the sacred Tiki idols, where human sacrifices were offered.
For more than a thousand years, these first inhabitants lived undisturbed. In fact, their descendants are still there today. They are called the Tahitians. But in the 18th century, the island was “discovered” again, this time by the European navigators, such as Wallis, Bougainville, and Cook. Tahiti became world famous. The newcomers brought some benefits to the Tahitians, such as metal, new fabrics, writing, and, especially, the Bible. They also brought problems. Tahiti became involved in conflicts, and finally, in 1880, the Tahitian king Pomare V gave Tahiti to France. Today, it forms the administrative center of a group of islands known as French Polynesia.
The golden skin and the long raven hair of the Tahitian women has often been popularized by artists such as Paul Gauguin. Nowadays, as Tahitians marry Chinese, Europeans, and other peoples, the race is becoming quite cosmopolitan. The Tahitian language spoken by the original Tahitians is still widely used. It is a beautiful tongue but lacks many words needed in modern life. Hence, in everyday conversation, you hear Chinese, English, and other foreign words mixed in with Tahitian. French is also spoken here, since Tahiti is under French administration.
Things Are Changing
The land and the people are delightful. Tahitians are still skilled in the traditional Polynesian craft of carving mother-of-pearl and wood. They use the local shells to make beautiful necklaces and hanging ornaments, and they know how to weave coconut and pandanus leaves into mats, baskets, and hats. But their outstanding skill is singing and dancing. They seize every opportunity to enjoy themselves with delicious food, beautiful flowers, music, songs, and dances (as well as, unfortunately, much alcohol and tobacco).
Nevertheless, Tahiti bears the unmistakable marks of the 20th century. Much of its beauty is being exploited. Commercial interests scour the seas for shells, and hunt sharks for their teeth and turtles for their shell. Meanwhile, the seabirds, once so numerous, are gradually being crowded out by an expanding human population along the coast.
Pollution is a problem too. Tahiti has some beautiful beaches, many of them—surprisingly—of black sand. But the seas wash up unpleasant garbage on some of the beaches.
For many years Tahitians have had a legendary and well-deserved reputation for friendliness, generosity, and hospitality. Unhappily, however, colonization and the tourist trade have diminished this natural impulse, sacrificed to some degree to the realities of the modern world. There are also other problems that started in the ’60’s with the French nuclear testing in the South Pacific and the installation of an international airport. Since then, material prosperity has led to some corruption.
The Coming Paradise
Of course, Tahiti has never really been a paradise in the fullest sense of the word. In spite of the island’s beauty, Tahitians have always suffered from the problems common to all mankind, such as sickness and death. In addition to that, many look at what Tahiti was and what it is becoming, and fear for the future. Thinking people hope that the deterioration will not continue, but where can they look for reassurance?
At the end of the 18th century, the first missionaries of Christendom arrived in Tahiti. They translated the Bible into Tahitian, and this remains the most widely respected book in the island. Today, though, there are many religions in the country, most claiming to be Christian. Yet, at the same time, there is much crime and violence, as well as racial discrimination and nationalism. It seems that Christendom has been unable to point the way to a solution to these problems.
That is why Jehovah’s Witnesses have been telling Tahitians about the coming of the true Paradise. They are explaining the purposes of the God whose name, Jehovah, appears thousands of times in the Tahitian Bible. They show how this God prophesied that mankind would begin to ‘ruin the earth,’ even the more remote and more beautiful parts of it. (Revelation 11:18) And they are delighted to show that Jehovah will not allow this to go unchecked. Rather, his Kingdom under Christ Jesus will bring a real paradise not only to Tahiti but to all the islands and continents of the earth. (Psalm 98:7-9) God’s Kingdom will also solve those problems, such as sickness, suffering, and death, that affected Tahiti even in its more idyllic days. (Revelation 21:3, 4) Thus, Tahitians are being encouraged to exercise their legendary hospitality to welcome the incoming rule of God’s Kingdom, to their everlasting blessing.