A devout population
Contrary to “Old Europe” where Catholicism is in decline, religion has kept a very special place in French Polynesia where people not only believe in God but go to church regularly.Thus when election days are on Sundays, one can see the famous mama -wearing their most beautiful clothes- going to the polling house just after church.
The two main denominations are – mostly for historical reasons – the Protestant (45%) and the Catholic Churches (34%), followed by the Mormon church (6%), the Seventh Day Adventists (4,8%), the Sanito (3,5%), the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1,5%), the Jews and many others denominations.
Britain converts Polynesia
The British missionaries from the London Missionnary Society disembarked in Tahiti in 1797 in order to convert indigenous to Protestantism. Since his power was not recognized by the whole population, King Pomare welcome this new support with open arms. In 1819, his son King Pomare II, student and follower of the missionaries, became the first Polynesian to be baptized. But this christening was the source of many dissensions since Pomare II asked it both for religious and political motives, whereas it was an unique occasion for the British to convert the whole population.
In 1830, Christian missionaries arrived in the Gambier islands and despite of the many efforts of the British missionaries to stop them, the Christians converted the inhabitants of the Gambier and the Marquesan islands. In 1844, the Mormons arrived in Polynesia and made their first conversions in the Tuamotu islands.
British missionaries transformed considerably the Polynesian political and social organisation as well as its culture. They created an alphabet system -still used today- that transformed a culture exclusively oral into a culture of writings. They translated the Bible into reo Tahiti (Tahitian), they helped at creating a monarchical system held by the Pomare family and a code of laws, named Pomare Code. But the puritan British missionaries imposed many tabu (interdictions) as well -notably as for tattooing and dancing- and made pagan cult places and idols be destroyed.
Politics and religion
Contrary to France where secularity is a main principle, politics is strongly linked with religion in French Polynesia. Thus, all political meetings start with a prayer – whatever the political trend. Moreover, pastors and deacons have much influence on morals and take an imporant part in social and political debates, and as a consequence on laws application in French Polynesia (eg : abortion was only legalized on 2003 though it was legal in France since 1973).