Tahiti is estimated to have been settled between AD300 and 800 by Polynesians from Tonga and Samoa, although some estimates place the date earlier. The fertile soil combined with fishing provided food.
Although the first European sighting of the islands was by a Spanish ship in 1606, Spain made no effort to trade with or colonize the island. Samuel Wallis, an English sea captain, sighted Tahiti on 18 June 1767, and is considered the first European visitor. The relaxed and contented nature of the people and the characterization of the island as a paradise impressed early Europeans, planting the seed for a romanticization by the West that endures to this day.
Wallis was followed in April 1768 by the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, completing the first French circumnavigation. Bougainville made Tahiti famous in Europe when he published Voyage autour du monde. He described the island as an earthly paradise where men and women live happily in innocence, away from the corruption of civilization. His account illustrated the concept of the noble savage, and influenced utopian thoughts of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau before the French Revolution.
In April 1769 Captain James Cook visited the island on secret orders from the Lords of the Admiralty to view the Transit of Venus on 2 June. He set up camp at Matavai Bay and stayed on until 9 August. The population was estimated to be 50,000 including all the nearby islands in the chain. After Cook, European ships landed with greater frequency. The best-known was HMS Bounty, whose crew mutinied after leaving Tahiti in 1789. The European influence disrupted traditional society, bringing prostitution, venereal disease, and alcohol. Introduced diseases including typhus, influenza and smallpox killed so many Tahitians that by 1797, the population was only 16,000. Later it was to drop as low as 6,000.
In 1842, a European crisis involving Morocco escalated between France and Great Britain when Admiral Dupetit Thouars, acting independently of the French government, convinced Tahiti's Queen Pomare IV to accept a French protectorate. George Pritchard, a Birmingham-born missionary and acting British Consul, had been away at the time. However he returned to work towards indoctrinating the locals against the Roman Catholic French. In November 1843, Dupetit-Thouars (again on his own initiative) landed sailors on the island, annexing it to France. He then threw Pritchard into prison, subsequently sending him back to Britain.
News of Tahiti reached Europe in early 1844. The French statesman François Guizot, supported by King Louis-Philippe of France, had denounced annexation of the island. However, war between the French and the Tahitians continued until 1847. The island remained a French protectorate until June 29, 1880, when King Pomare V (1842–1891) was forced to cede the sovereignty of Tahiti and its dependencies to France. He was given the titular position of Officer of the Orders of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit of France. In 1946, Tahiti and the whole of French Polynesia became a Territoire d'outre-mer (French overseas territory). Tahitians were granted French citizenship, a right that had been campaigned for by nationalist leader Marcel Pouvana'a A Oopa for many years.  In 2003, French Polynesia's status was changed to that of Collectivité d'outre-mer (French overseas community).
French painter Paul Gauguin lived on Tahiti in the 1890s and painted many Tahitian subjects. Papeari has a small Gauguin museum.
recent news on TahitiWidespread strikes across Tahiti
Tahiti is being disrupted by industrial action.
Public servants are striking over the removal of their retirement bonuses, hotel employees are taking action over staff cuts and hospital doctors were expected to go on strike today.
The public hospital is expected to keep emergency wards open with skeleton staff if the strike goes ahead.
The French Polynesia health minister tried to avoid the stoppage by proposing a deal but unions fear the public sector minister could delay its implementation.
Meanwhile, Sheraton Hotel staff have walked off the job in protest against the dismissal of 18 of their colleagues.
The hotel staff were sacked because of a downturn in tourism to the Pacific island nation.
Widespread strikes across Tahiti
Radio Australia, Australia
Tahiti, fiesta and dual pianos
Abilene Reporter-News, TX