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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2



The political histroy of modern Tahiti began in 1946, with Pounanaa o Oopa, when he backed the claims of the war veterans. He was elected to the French Assembly in Paris in 1949.

In 1956, thanks to a socialist government in France, a law called ‘lei-cadre’ was voted to push on the evolution of overseas territories, and this law gave a little more power to the territorial assembly, the number of members being increased to thirty. At the same time, a Government Council of five members was created, the President of which must always be the Governor. This law was promulgated in the Territory one year later on July 22, 1957.

In the following elections, Pounanaa and his party won the majority of the seats (17 out of 30) in the Assembly, and he became Vice-President and Minister of Internal Affairs.

In 1958, General de Gaulle, President of the French government, organised a referendum to offer to all French colonies a larger liberty and even independence, if they wanted it. But at the same time, the General exhorted the voters to say ‘Yes’ and stay with France. He even threatened those who would dare say ‘No’ to cut all future help page 91 and assistance from France. Pounanaa decided to support those who voted ‘No’. Because of the defection of some of his companions and, above all, because of the enormous difficulties he had to reach the people of the outer islands, since we didn't have very good means of transport nor communication, 64% of the population voted ‘Yes’. One must add that, for the first time, most of the French people living on the island or just passing through for a few days had been to the polls.

These elections took place on September 28, 1958. On October 11, Pounanaa was arrested and put in prison under the pretext that he had participated in a plot to set fire to the City of Papeete. The next year he was judged and condemned to eight years' imprisonment and he was exiled from his country for fifteen years after his imprisonment. (He was taken to France and put in a prison there).

In 1962, rumours were heard about the probability of testing nuclear devices in the islands. They were quickly refuted by France. It was only on 3rd January, 1963, that General de Gaulle himself announced to a Tahitian delegation which had gone to Paris to visit him, that he had decided to have a nuclear testing base in Polynesia.

Towards the end of the year, Teariki (brother), who had become deputy to the French Association, made his official protest during the seven minutes he was entitled to speak in during the year in that Assembly.

On July 2, 1966, the first bomb exploded. The same day, our new political party, the PUPU HAERE AI'A TE NUNAA IA ORA, had its first congress in Papeete.

On September 6, 1966, General de Gaulle came to Tahiti to observe the explosion of an A-bomb. My brother, John Teariki, took that unique opportunity to read and hand to the general a paper in which he protested energetically against the nuclear tests and asked for changes in the statutes of French Polynesia.

Every year, during the months suitable for the tests, page 92 fifteen thousand military people were stationed in Tahiti and the Tuamotu islands - that number was reduced to half for the rest of the time the nuclear testing was going on.

Thousands of Polynesians from the outside archipelagoes, Marquesas, Tuamotu, Australs islands, Gambies islands, came to Tahiti with their families to work for the new military installations. Without any proper land in Tahiti, they had to live in slums around Papeete.

Thousands of French citizens came from France to make a profit from the economic boom which followed. They opened new shops, built new breweries - the latter were the ones that profited most from the money made by the Tahitian workers.

In March 1966, Francis Sanford, who had founded a new political party, became deputy to the French Assembly. He united with Teariki to protest against the nuclear tests. At the end of 1967, the Territory Assembly was renewed and the Pupu Haere Ai'a won the majority with the Te E'a Api.

At the first working session, on November 3, 1967, Sanford and Teariki asked the government of the French Republic to give self-government to French Polynesia.

In july 1968, after the students' uprising in Paris put on a new referendum, Sanford and Teariki campaigned on the theme of self-government for internal autonomy. They won three-fifths of the votes.

Everytime they have had a possibility to do so, they asked for control of the radioactivity and the end of the nuclear tests. They never received a direct answer. The ministers for Overseas in Paris refused to receive them.

For example, when one of these ministers, Mr. Rey, left Tahiti for Paris, thousands of Tahitians autonomists came by the airport bearing the Tahitian flag, red, white, red. An angry French gendarme grabbed one of the flags from the hands of a Tahitian, threw it to the ground and stamped on it. A Tahitian replied in the same way with a French flag. If the two leaders of the autonomists parties had not been able page 93 to quiet down the crowd, there could have been a terrible fight. But the minister, on his arrival in Paris, told the press: “There is no political problem in that Territory”.

Since Pounanaa's deportation to prison in France in 1958, the Tahitian people have been asking for his return. In 1968, he had a slight stroke. (He was 73-years old). The French government was afraid that if he died in France it would be difficult to control the reactions of the Tahitians, so Pounanaa was sent back to Tahiti where he was received as a national hero. Little by little he recovered his health and he went back into politics. In 1971, he was elected representative for Tahiti in the French Senate. With Francis Sanford, the two Tahitian representatives in Paris now are autonomists and are against the bomb. Both, in 1973, put forward proposals asking for self-government. One of the minor parties, the Independent Party, did the same in 1974.

It was not until September this year that the French Government sent to the Territory Assembly its own project for a new statute for consultation.

This statute takes back some of the rights which had been given to us by the “lei-cadre” in 1956. Instead of a governor, we shall have a high commissioner who will go on directing the administration. We shall no more have our say on our dominial lands. Thus the local Assembly loses a great part of its importance. The only real right the Assembly still has is to vote the taxes - a most unpopular task.

This is only a very short resume of the political situation in French Polynesia. This situation concerns women just as much as does men. Since the end of the war, we have had the right to vote. We are affected by the consequences of that political situation. We give birth to children who will suffer from the political situation - physically from the radioactivity fall-out, and morally because of the dependence on a faraway colonialist country.

We have the right to speak up just as much as the men.

But this right for political evolution which is recognised formally by the French Constitution in its preamble and page 94 in its articles 53 and 74, it seems that this right has been forgotten by the French government.

This is why we need you - all of you - all those who have now the chance to live in a free country, and those who, like us, are still under the domination of a foreign nation.

Help us, through your government, or individually, or if it is necessary, through the United Nations.

Already, through international reaction against nuclear testing in the Pacific (atmospheric tests) the French military people have changed to underground testings.

It is no better, in our opinion, but it shows that the French government is afraid of the outside world.