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Hawaii–Tahiti relations refers to the historical relationship between the independent Hawaiian Kingdom and the Kingdom of Tahiti. Relations included one treaty, proposed marriage alliances and exchanges of trade and diplomatic representatives from the early 1800s to 1880.

Hawaiian–Tahitian relations
Map indicating locations of Kingdom of Hawaii and Kingdom of Tahiti





According to oral traditions the second migration of Polynesians to the Hawaiian islands came from the south from a place called Kahiki, often identified as Tahiti.[1] This second migration allegedly replaced some of the older Marquesan settlers and form the new aliʻi class. Communication between the two regions ceased for more than half a millennium[why?] before the arrival of Captain James Cook who was already famous for exploring the Pacific islands including Tahiti. He and his crew were struck by the similarity between the Tahitian and Hawaiian languages, and many crewmen were able to communicate with the Hawaiians.[2] Some of the first Tahitians came to Hawaii aboard foreign vessels as sailors or translators. In 1804, British Captain John Turnbull brought a Tahitian couple to Kauai.[3] Tahitians missionaries led by William Ellis from the London Missionary Society, arrived to assist the American missionaries in Hawaii.[4]

A few years prior to 1804, King Kaumualii of Kauai had sent an envoy to Tahiti to select a wife suitable to his lineage and position and no doubt to forge an alliance with the Tahitians in the event King Kamehameha I were to attempt to invade Kauai. The man never returned to Kauai and instead settled in Tahiti. Before his kidnapping by Queen Kaahumanu in 1819, Kaumualii had planned on a voyage to Tahiti with Reverend Hiram Bingham I for the purpose of exploring the possibilities there for trade and missionaries.[3]

Through use of western weaponry, native rulers on both islands were able to consolidate their power and defeat rival chiefs. Kamehameha I united all eight islands of Hawaii by 1810. Pōmare I managed to unite the island of Tahiti along with Moʻorea, Tetiaroa, and Mehetia; although he was never able to conquer Maiao or the Leeward Islands, which remain independent and ruled by three other separate kingdoms. There were some instances of correspondents between the Kamehameha Dynasty and the Pōmare Dynasty.[citation needed]

A double marriage alliance was proposed by the two kings in which a daughters of each would be married to a son of the other. Kekāuluohi was chosen for this but, with the death of Pōmare, plans for a match collapsed.[5]

Both the rulers of Tahiti and Hawaii adhered to the Protestant faith and did not hesitate in persecuting native Catholics and deporting Catholic missionaries (in the case of Tahiti, Queen Pōmare denied such doings) which resulted in conflict with France, the dominant Catholic power during the 1800s.[6] Hawaii was able to escape colonialism by gaining the recognition of France, Great Britain, and the United States, while Tahiti was not so fortunate. In 1842, Queen Pōmare IV was forced to accept a French protectorate over her kingdom, and in 1843 French troops were landed in the islands by Admiral Dupetit Thouars, effectively placing Tahiti under French control and rendering the queen a mere puppet ruler.[citation needed] Queen Pōmare wrote to King Kamehameha III:

Dupetit Thouars taking over Tahiti on September 9, 1842

O King of the Sandwich Islands, may you be saved by the true God!
This is my word to you. In a certain newspaper, printed and circulated at Honolulu, called the Polynesian, there are made known to all men some false statements, spoken by Frenchmen and those who agree with them.
I write this little word to you to tell you to undo the wrong and injury done to me, your sister, Queen of the Islands of the South, and tell the editor and printer to print in the Polynesian this word, the copy of a letter that I have written to the King of the French, and which makes known the truth, and the truth only.
Beware of the Roman Catholics and the friends of the Roman Catholics.
Encampment of Vaioau, Island of Raiatea, this twenty-fifth of September, 1844.
The foregoing is a true translation, and I am witness of Queen Pōmare's signature.

GEO. PLATT.[7][8]

Meeting between Dupetit Thouars and Hawaiians in July 1837

Sympathetic to the Tahitian Queen, Hawaiians were horrified at the situation in Tahiti, knowing full well that Hawaii was as susceptible (if not more so) to European colonial aggressions in the Pacific. The Hawaiians were especially fearful of the French.[9] The French admiral Dupetit Thouars, that had invaded Tahiti, landed in Hawaii a decade before in 1837 aboard the French frigate La Venus and had demanded the Premier Kaʻahumanu II and the young King Kamehameha III to stop persecuting the French Catholic missionaries; at that time Dupetit Thouars was only a captain of an exploring expedition and didn't have the power or men to put any pressure on the Hawaiians. The demands were ignored and the anti-French stance of the government continued until the 1839 Laplace Affair which forced the Hawaiian government to acknowledge the rights of Catholic in their realm with the Edict of Toleration and pay $20,000 in compensation.[citation needed] Western pressure on Hawaii continued with the 1843 Paulet Affair, involving the British, and the threat of annexation was ever present. From the palace of Honolulu, Kamehameha III wrote back to her on February 4, 1845:

To Queen Pomare,

Aliʻi of Tahiti
Respectful greetings to you.
I received your letter on the 25th day of September with a copy of your petition to the Christian King, Louis Phillippe, the King of France. As soon as I received it I quickly ordered these documents to be published in the Polynesian, in accordance with your idea that the people of this land should hear of it.
I have frequently heard of your troubles and of the death of your Government and of your grief, but I don't have the power [mana] within me to help you. At one time, however, I thought of fetching you, and of bringing you to live here in Hawaiʻi with us, but upon reflection I hesitate lest you soon become a refugee from your own country. Therefore I have put aside my thoughts to invite you to come here. Perhaps this latter thought is right [pono] because I have heard things may be right again. Perhaps it is better for you to rely upon the generosity of the King of France, in order that you might not prejudice your petition that seeks redress and affection from him.
Just before this, I had a problem similar to yours, although yours is the graver situation. God was truly generous to me, and my Government emerged victorious at this time. In my time of trouble certain people stood by my side to aid me. I had a foreigner [haole] who had sworn an oath before me, to have no other Sovereign but myself, and he worked with vigor as is the foreigner's way, quickly deciding what was for our good and what should be done. There were other foreigners also, and including my man, T. Haʻalilio. They were in Britain and in France. As soon as they heard of the events here in Hawaiʻi, they quickly petitioned the British Government in order to ascertain if their approval had been given. Here I reign with the support of some righteous foreigners and I think therein my Government shall endure in times when I am again troubled by foreign governments. My own people and those from foreign lands are equally protected under me. I reign in peace. I am not too frequently bothered by very burdensome tasks, but it is my duty to observe and supervise all the work that my Officers do.
Please be generous to my Hawaiian people that travel to your land, as I am generous to your people of Tahiti. Indeed, as I generously care for your people that come here to Hawaiʻi
Oh Sovereign, I deeply regret your trouble. May the Lord that is our Savior liberate you. May you be blessed through the Sacrifice of salvation.
Fond farewell,

Kamehameha III.[10]

Photograph of young Tahitian-Hawaiian boy and girl, 1909

The French Admiral De Tromelin invaded Honolulu in 1849, caused $100,000 in damage and took the king's yacht, Kamehameha III, which was sailed to Tahiti.[11] Hawaii escaped French annexation because the balance of American, British and French interests in the islands made it impossible for any of the three nations to annex the islands.

In 1849, Tahitian Princess Ninito Teraʻiapo, accompanied by her cousins, all nieces of Queen Pōmare IV, arrived in Honolulu from Tahiti as guests of the Admiral De Tromelin.[11][12] She was betrothed to Prince Moses Kekūāiwa, but arrived to news of his death. Instead she married John Kapilikea Sumner. Ninito returned to Tahiti with her husband, who served as Hawaiian consul to Tahiti for a number of years.[13][14]

In November 24, 1853, Tahiti and Hawaii signed a postal treaty which set Tahitian postage at 5¢ per ½ oz. and Hawaii postage at 5¢ per ½ oz. This was the only formal diplomatic treaty between the two countries.[15][16][17][18]

Hawaii maintained a consul in the Tahitian capital Papeetē,[19] and this representation continued after the French annexation of Tahiti in 1880, but as a diplomatic gesture to France and its colonies rather than to the former relationship between Tahiti and Hawaii.[citation needed]

Diplomats from Hawaii to TahitiEdit

Diplomatic representation in Papeetē in the kingdom was through a series of ad-hoc envoys, and a post roughly equivalent to the current diplomatic rank of Ambassador of Consuls to Tahiti. Records are scant of Consuls prior to the 1880s.


Flag of Huahine

King Kamehameha II had a brief correspondent with Mahine Tehei'ura, King of Huahine, one of the three independent kingdoms in the windward sided of the Society Islands, which was linguistically and culturally tied with Tahiti. Here is a translation of one of the first Hawaiian letters ever written:

Hawaii, August 16, 1822

I will now make a communication to you. I have compassion towards you on account of your son's dying. My love to you with all the chiefs of all your islands. I now serve the God of you and of us. We are now learning to read and write. When I shall become skillful in learning I will then go and see you. May you be saved by Jesus Christ.

Liholiho Kamehameha II.[25]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kamehiro 2009, p. 41.
  2. ^ Schütz 1994, p. 41.
  3. ^ a b Joesting 1988, pp. 60–61, 111.
  4. ^ Anderson 1999, p. 34.
  5. ^ Jarves 1843, p. 204.
  6. ^ Judd 1937, pp. 53–65.
  7. ^ The Investigator 1846, p. 111.
  8. ^ Forbes 1998, p. 421.
  9. ^ Banner 2007, pp. 151–152.
  10. ^ Schweizer 2005, p. 249.
  11. ^ a b Taylor 1929, pp. 433–440.
  12. ^ Barrere 1989, pp. 75–107.
  13. ^ Deering 1899, pp. 101–108.
  14. ^ Topolinski 1981, pp. 50–58.
  15. ^ Heart of the West: San Francisco as a postal hub from 1849 to 1869
  16. ^ Treaties, Conventions And International Agreements Of The Kingdom Of Hawai`I. Retrieved on 2011-11-02.
  17. ^ Hawaiian Kingdom 1875, pp. 41-42.
  18. ^ "Postal Convention between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the French Protectorate Government of Tahiti, Nov. 24, 1853.". Retrieved on 2011-11-27.
  19. ^ The Hawaiian journal of history: Volume 25
  20. ^ Thomas G. Thrum (1883). All about Hawaii. Honolulu: Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. 75.
  21. ^ Thomas G. Thrum (1884). All about Hawaii. Honolulu: Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. 77.
  22. ^ Thomas G. Thrum (1885). All about Hawaii. Honolulu: Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. 85.
  23. ^ Thomas G. Thrum (1886). All about Hawaii. Honolulu: Honolulu Star-Bulletin. p. 82.
  24. ^ a b Thomas G. Thrum (1910). All about Hawaii. Honolulu: Honolulu Star-Bulletin. pp. 95, 104, 119, 162.
  25. ^ Gulick & Gulick 1918, pp. 97-98.