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Austral isl Tubuai.PNG
Coordinates: 23°23′S 149°27′W / 23.38°S 149.45°W / -23.38; -149.45Coordinates: 23°23′S 149°27′W / 23.38°S 149.45°W / -23.38; -149.45
Country France
Overseas collectivity French Polynesia
 • Mayor Fernand Tahiata
Area1 45 km2 (17 sq mi)
Population (2002)2 2,171
 • Density 48/km2 (120/sq mi)
INSEE/Postal code 98753 / 98754

1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.

2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.

Tubuai or Tupua'i is the main island of the Tubuai Island group, located at 23°23′00″S 149°27′00″W / 23.38333°S 149.45000°W / -23.38333; -149.45000, 640 km (400 mi) south of Tahiti. In addition to Tubuai, the group of islands include Rimatara, Rurutu, Raivavae and the uninhabited Îles Maria. They are part of the Austral Islands in the far southwest of French Polynesia in the south Pacific Ocean. Tubuai island sustains a population of 2,049 people on 45 km2 (17 sq mi) of land. Due to its southerly position, Tubuai has notably cooler weather than Tahiti.[1]

The island is ringed by a lagoon formed by an encircling coral reef. A break in the reef that enables passage for ships is located on the north side of the island.[1] Tubuai has two volcanic domes, with its highest point, Mt Taita'a, being 422 meters (1380 feet).[2] Six or seven islets called motus lie along the reef rim that encircles the island. These were described in the late 1700s as having an abundance of Toa trees, which the native islanders used in housebuilding and in making war clubs and spears due to the wood's density.[3][4]

Early Polynesia[edit]

The island has been inhabited for more than 2000 years.[5] Anciently a road was built that encircled the island. There exists on the island today the stone ruins of a “great number of structures, house platforms, marae complexes, and cemeteries...”[6] According to David Stanley's South Pacific Handbook:

"The Austral islands were one of the great art areas of the Pacific, represented today in many museums. The best-known artifacts are tall sharkskin drums, wooden bowls, fly whisks, and tapa cloth."[1]

View of Tubuai looking across the lagoon from one of its motus

Arrival of Bounty mutineers[edit]

Tubuai was first viewed by Europeans when it was mapped by Captain James Cook in 1777, although his party did not disembark. Cook discovered the island's name, "Toobouai", from the natives who surrounded his ship in their canoes (a Tahitian named Omai, who part of Cook's group, translated).[7]

The next Europeans to arrive were the mutineers of the HMS Bounty in 1789. Mutineer Fletcher Christian in looking for an island on which to permanently hide had "scoured" Bligh's maps and nautical charts and decided on Tubuai.[7]

Upon arrival at Tubuai, a conflict arose while the mutineers were still on their ship and several islanders were killed in their canoes. The site of this event in the lagoon on the North side of the island is called Baie Sanglant (Bloody Bay).[2]

Mutineer James Morrison[8] wrote: "The Island is full of Inhabitants for its size and may Contain 3000 souls."[3] After only ten days on the island, the mutineers sailed for Tahiti to get women and livestock in which they were only nominally successful.[7] When they returned to Tubuai they built a fort on the Northeast part of the island at Ta'ahueia, manned with cannon and swivel gun which they named Fort George. The mutineer leader, Fletcher Christian, knew that settling on Tahiti was sure to mean the mutineer's eventual discovery and arrest, so despite being viewed as intruders, Christian was reluctant to view permanent settlement on Tubuai as unfeasible.[4] Christian favoured using diplomacy over time to eventually obtain wives, but many of the other mutineers insisted on raiding parties to take wives by force.[4] The islanders of Tubuai did not want to allow their women to stay at the mutineer camp, or to allow them to become wives.[4] They also were not disposed to trade food. It was not long before armed parties of mutineers started burning houses and desecrating marae during skirmishes to obtain women. More battles ensued and more natives were killed.[9] One mutineer, heavily-tattooed Thomas Burkett (who was later tried and hanged in England for mutiny) was speared in the side by one of islanders during one of the skirmishes.[10][11] After only two months since their first arrival on Tubuai the mutineers left for good.[1]


Increased contact with Europeans also meant more exposure to diseases to which the islanders had no immunity. This proved particularly devastating to the population of Tubuai. At some point during the 30 years from when the mutineers left the island on September 17, 1789, and the early 1820s when accounts by Christian missionaries began to be recorded, the population that was estimated by the mutineer Morrison to be 3000 was now reduced to no more than 300 people.[12][13][14] One Protestant minister when visiting a congregation on Tubuai on January 3, 1824 wrote that several islanders were still suffering from a devastating illness. He described the symptoms and noted that several hundred had died within the previous four years.[12]


Flag of Tubuai

Tubuai is the administrative capital of the Austral Islands,[15] and the commune consists solely of this one island, including the six or seven motus surrounding it. Tubuai was annexed by France in 1881.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d David Stanley (1985). South Pacific Handbook. David Stanley. pp. 116–. ISBN 978-0-918373-05-2. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Celeste Brash (1 May 2009). Tahiti and French Polynesia. Lonely Planet. pp. 233–. ISBN 978-1-74104-316-7. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  3. ^ a b "Detailed description of Toobouai by James Morrison". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Account by James Morrison: Narrative of events on Toobouai". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  5. ^ "Island brief". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  6. ^ "Tubuai archaeology". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  7. ^ a b c Greg Dening (1 March 1994). Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty. Cambridge University Press. pp. 88–92. ISBN 978-0-521-46718-6. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  8. ^ "Description of James Morrison". Retrieved 2012-01-02. 
  9. ^ Caroline Alexander (1 May 2004). The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Penguin. pp. 13–14. ISBN 978-0-14-200469-2. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  10. ^ Dening pg. 36
  11. ^ "Description of Burkett". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  12. ^ a b Daniel Tyerman; George Bennet; London Missionary Society (1831). Journal of voyages and travels by the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet, esq: Deputed from the London Missionary Society, to visit their various stations in the South sea islands, China, India, &c., between the years 1821 and 1829. Frederick Westley and A. H. Davis. pp. 75–. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  13. ^ Fragile Paradise: The Discovery of Fletcher Christian, Bounty Mutineer. 2005. p. 222. ISBN 978-1-59048-250-6. 
  14. ^ Hinz, Earl R., Howard, Jim (2006). Landfalls of Paradise: Cruising Guide to the Pacific Islands. University of Hawaii Press. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-8248-3037-3. 
  15. ^ (French) INSEE: Polynésie française

External links[edit]