French Polynesia, The People of French Polynesia
French Polynesia had a population of 257,847 in 2002, yielding an average population density of 61 persons per sq km (158 per sq mi). Some 53 percent of the territory’s inhabitants live in urban areas, with the largest population concentration in greater Papeete. Other towns include Faaa and Pirae, also on Tahiti.
Polynesians represent about two-thirds of the population of French Polynesia. Of the remainder of inhabitants, about 15 percent are of mixed Polynesian-European or Polynesian-Chinese descent, about 10 percent are of French origin, and about 5 percent are ethnic Chinese. Although French and Tahitian (a language of the Malayo-Polynesian family of Austronesian languages) are both official languages, French is the language used in government and commerce. Various other Malayo-Polynesian dialects are also spoken, particularly in the outer islands. Protestant Christians constitute more than half of the population and are mostly ethnic Polynesians. Roman Catholics constitute about a third of the people and include ethnic French and also Polynesians from the Marquesas and Tuamotu archipelagos.
Education in French Polynesia is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. The government finances public education and also subsidizes a large number of private schools operated by churches. The literacy rate is high. The French University of the Pacific was founded in Papeete in 1987. A small number of French Polynesians attend colleges in France.
The way of life in French Polynesia varies depending on location. Papeete is a cosmopolitan city with a strong Western influence. Residents of the city enjoy French cuisine and eat mainly imported food. Most clothing and other goods are also imported, largely from France. By Pacific Island standards, the cost of living in Papeete and other urban areas on Tahiti is extremely high. On more remote islands, the lifestyle is much slower in pace. In these areas, people rely more heavily on subsistence activities and materials found locally.
French Polynesia celebrates French national holidays. Canoe racing and other water sports are popular. Tahitian music and dances have enthusiastic audiences.