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The Polynesian Triangle

The following description of the Polynesian Triangle is drawn largely from the research of Kipeni Su'apa'ia, Ph.D., which was published in 1962.


In central and eastern Pacific is a large triangular area where the world known "Islands of Wonders" live the happy and charming Polynesians. They inhabit the Polynesian Triangle which includes such popular groups as Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti (or Society), Cook and Marquesas Islands. In it also are smaller and scattered groups, such as the Ellice (now Tuvalu), Phoenix, Tokelau, Austral, Tuamotu and the Equatorial Islands. There are also rarely visited islands, such as Futuna, Wallis, Niue, Pitcairn, Rapa, Mangareva, Henderson, and Easter Island. The word "Polynesia" means many islands - it comes from the Greek words poly which means many and nesos which means island.

Map of the Polynesian Triangle

The triangle is formed by a line drawn from Hawaii to new Zealand, bending westward to include the Ellice Islands (Tuvalu) and passing between Fiji andTonga. This north to south forms the base. Easter Island is the apex, located 4,000 miles to the east. The Marquesas lie almost to the center of the eastern line; from Easter in the south to Hawaii in the north. Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti and Cook islands are surrounded by the triangle. New Zealand, the farthest south group of Polynesian Islands is where the Maoris live.

The striking unity of the languages spoken in these different islands, as well as sufficient similarities in their arts, culture, custom and tradition allow the world scientists and anthropologists to agree that the Polynesians are a racial unit. It takes a voluminous chapter to record all the interesting features of the different island groups. The remaining part of this chapter, therefore will be only a concise record of the main islands' characteristics, location and production.


The only islands north of the equator is the Hawaiian Group of eight islands - they are Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Palmyra, Fanning and Christmas are the only other small islands that are located north and are almost crossed by the equator. Hawaii is 2,020 miles southwest of San Francisco. It is extended 154 degrees 40' to 162 degrees west longitude, and from 18 degrees 55' to 23 degrees north latitude. It is now the fiftieth state of the United States.

Recorded history of Hawaii begins with the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778. In 1795, King Kamehameha I defeated the King of Oahu. He had conquered his rivals in the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai and Lanai. The King of Kauai and Niihau was absorbed to the Kamehameha kingdom by a treaty of peace prior to his death in 1819. The first missionaries arrived in 1820. A treaty with the United States was signed in 1826 by Kamehameha III. Liholiho (Kamehameha IV) succeeded to the throne in 1854. His wife, Queen Emma, was the composer of the world-famous Hawaiian farewell song - Aloha Oe. Lot (Kamehameha V) became king November 30, 1863. This was followed by King Kalakaua's reign. An important accomplishment of Kalakaua's reign was the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1875, in which the Hawaiian sugar industry was launched on a large scale. His sister, Liliuokalani, was immediately proclaimed Queen when he died in San Francisco January 20, 1891. She surrendered to a provisional government in January 17, 1893. A Republic of Hawaii was established July 4, 1894 with Mr. Dole as president. A treaty of annexation was successfully negotiated when William McKinley was President of the United States. The act was ratified by joint resolution of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. It was signed by the President on July 7, 1898. Thus Hawaii became an integral part of the United States August 12, 1898. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese Air Force. Immediately the United States declared war. It marked the disastrous second  World War. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii was admitted to statehood and became the fiftieth of the United States. Hawaii's largest industries now are pineapple, sugar and coffee. Honolulu is now one of the world's most popular resort places. Several steamers and airplanes now call daily at the Honolulu harbour and airport. Hawaii is the crossroad of the Pacific where all nationalities are happy and live together in harmony and true brotherhood.


It is in New Zealand that the Maoris live. It is known to be the land of beef and mutton. Although it is only one-thirteenth the size of the United States, it has nearly half as many sheep as the United States and produces a much greater proportion of wool than the United States. There are sheep farms and "green pastures" everywhere. All the Polynesians living south of the equator are fond of the New Zealand brands of butter, corned and frozen beef. Many of them would not buy any other brand.

Captain Cook, in 1769, brought the first pig to New Zealand. The Maoris now own over five million acres of land, situated mostly in the North Island. The Land Board appointed by the government will now allow a Maori to sell and part with all of his land. Britain has the bulk of the New Zealand trade but the United States comes next.

Politically, New Zealand is a Dominion within the British Commonwealth of nations in south Pacific, 1,200 miles east of Australia. The Dominion proper has an area of 103,416 square miles. It is divided into two main islands - the North and South Islands. Wellington is the capital and Auckland is the largest city. They are both in the North Island. The Cook Islands and Western Samoa were controlled by Britain under a New Zealand Administration. The Resident Commissioners' headquarters were in Rarotonga, Niue and Apia.

In the past, every great Maorian chief had his face tattooed with ornamental spirals and designs to commemorate his exploits in battle. Like the Samoans, they are tattooed on the thighs and hips from the waist to knees. However, their patterns are not the same. The Maorian women have luxuriant dark hair. The older ones are now and then seen with their chins and lips tattooed. It is after an ancient fashion which signifies their submission to their chief husbands. It was also honoured as a mark of nobility.


Like other branches of Polynesia, the Tongans are unable to trace a journey of the first people who populated the 36 islands of Tonga. There are 150 islands in all that make up the Tongan group, but most of them are small, and remote. Their myths and legends were often used in guessing at the time of past wars and festivals, travels and arrivals. Having no written records in the early days, the Tongans did as other Polynesians did and handed down from person to person the date4s of important historical events. Some persons in Tonga support the theory of Dr. Peter Buck that the Polynesians originally migrated from Asia. Many think that the Tongans are descended from people who lived in Arabia, and thus they are related to the Hebrews. Their rules of tabu (taboo) and other customs are identically the same. Some claim that the Tongans are related to the Japanese, who had similar division of society and two lines of rulers - spiritual and temporal. Like the Samoans, many believe their ancestry is traced back to the gods.

There is a much closer similarity between the Tongan and Samoan languages than with languages of other Polynesian groups. The word Tonga, which means south, is taken by many of the wise men of Tonga to suggest their migration from Samoa, because the Tongan group is south of the old island-home Samoa. It is claimed that many of the plants and animals of Tonga came from Samoa. One of their several legends described that Chief Maui obtained from Samoa the fish-hook with which he pulled up Tongatabu (Tongatapu) from the bottom of the ocean. The Tongans are firm in their belief that they came from Samoa to Tonga in spite of the fact that Hawaii has the name like "Savaii" of Samoa. In Hawaii also is a district named "Kona."

In 1918 the Queen Salote Tubou (Tupou), at the age of 18, succeeded to the throne after the death of her father, King George Tubou II. Besides keeping Tonga prosperous and united, her Majesty made her kingdom world popular by being the only Queen among the world nobilities who att3nded Queen Elizabeth's coronation in London. The Queen of Tonga was honoured by a return royal visit from the Queen of Great Britain and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in Nukualofa, December 29, 1953.

The islands of Tonga are scattered over a comparatively wide expanse of the South Pacific ocean. They are located between 150 degrees and 22 degrees south latitude and 173 degrees and 175 degrees west longitude. By ship from Fiji to Samoa a person passes the date line, over the 180t meridian, east longitude. he would then go from one day into the day before. Going to Hawaii from South Polynesia a person would cross the equator.

TAHITI (Society Islands)

Tahiti was named the "Society Islands' by Captain Cook in 1769 in honour of the Royal Society of London. The group is formed of 13 islands - Tahiti (or Otaheite), Eimeo, Maitia, Maiaoiti, Otaha, Tetuaroa, Moorea, Tulua, Lord Howe's Island, Sicilly Island, Huahine, Raiatea, and Borabora (Bora Bora). Its area is 636 square miles. The island of Tahiti was taken possession of in the name of Louis Philippe by a strong French force in 1844. The native rule under its chiefs concluded in 1880 by a treaty signed with France.

The chief agriculture in Tahiti is an estate in the hands of an English company. The export of Tahiti is mostly of coconut oil, oranges, lime, kauri and pearl shells. Papeete, their main seaport, is popular among the tourists and writers from all over the world. The Tuamotus were made popular lately by the landing there of the raft, Kon-Tiki, from Peru. The Protestant missionaries under the name "London Missionary Society," arrived in 1797 in their own mission ship. The first missionaries to Samoa were members of this group accompanied by native teachers from Tahiti. They arrived in Samoa in 1830. The Catholics came to Tahiti next. There are now in Tahiti Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists and Latter Day Saints.


The Marquesas belonged to France since 1842. They are composed of 12 islands which are divided into two groups - the northern and Southern. The area is 480 square miles. It is located in 8 degrees to 11 degrees south latitude and 138 degrees 30' to 141 degrees west longitude. The two largest islands are Nukahiva (Nuku Hiva) and Hivaoa (Hiva Oa). Some mountains rise to 4,000 feet. The men are well-formed and tattooed. The women have pleasant features and good complexion. They are considered as finest of the sex in all Polynesia.

The islands were discovered in 1595 by Alonza Mendana de Neyva. Hood Island was added to the group in 1774 when Cook and Forsters arrived. In 1797 three more islands were discovered by Ingraham, an American, who named them the Washington Islands.  


The people of Easter Island live in the farthest eastern end of the Polynesian Triangle. Cook's Bay or Ile de Paques is situated in 27 degrees 11' south and 111 degrees 55' and 30 seconds west. It is the only anchorage which is protected from the winds of the southeast and the east which are the prevailing winds there the year round.

Goats, sheep and pigs, with the seeds of oranges and lemons, cotton and corn were distributed by ships which followed Roggeween's voyage in 1722. Around the Easter Islands, Society and Cook Islands is said to be part of the "Lost Continent." The peaks of Easter, Pitcairn, and Mangareva are believed to be the surviving sentils of a ridge that once stood alongside the Andes. The ridge is now submerged under the Pacific Ocean.

Polynesian Voyaging
The Trail of Plants and Animals
Polynesia Home Page
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Samoa Postcards and Picture Galleries
Oceania Postcards and Picture Galleries
Jane's Oceania Home Page
Jane Resture's Oceania Page
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