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Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia)

Îles Marquises

Last modified: 2009-03-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: marquesas islands | iles marquises | marquises | tiki | head (black) |
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[Marquesas Islands flag]

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

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Geography of the Marquesas

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

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.

This 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 Winward Islands), New Zealand and Easter Island.

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 best songs of his last record (Les Marquises).

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2005

Flag of the Marquesas

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 are available on the website of the representation of French Polynesia in China.

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 colours 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.

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

[Marquesas Islands flag]

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