Archeologists have proven the Great Polynesian Migration began around 1500 BCE as Austronesian peoples went on a voyage using celestial navigation to explore islands in the South Pacific. The first islands of French Polynesia to be established were the Marquesas Islands in about 200 BCE. The Polynesians later moved southwest and discovered the Society Islands around 300 CE.
European contacts started in 1521 CE when Portuguese invader Ferdinand Magellan, sailing at the Spanish Crown service, saw Puka-Puka in the Tuāmotu-Gambier Archipelago. In 1606 CE, another Spanish fleet under Pedro Fernandes de Queirós voyaged through Polynesia, sighting an inhabited island on 10 February, which they called Sagittaria (or Sagitaria), apparently the island of Rekareka to the southeast of Tahiti. In 1722 CE, Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen, while on an excursion sponsored by the Dutch West India Company, charted six islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago and two reefs in the Society Islands one of which was the modern-day Bora Bora.
British navigator Samuel Wallis became the first European sailor to visit Tahiti in 1767 CE. French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville also explored Tahiti in 1768 CE, while British explorer James Cook reached in 1769 CE. Cook would stay in Tahiti again in 1773 CE during his second voyage to the Pacific, and once more in 1777 CE during his third and last voyage before dying in Hawaii.
In 1772 CE, the Spanish Viceroy of Peru Don Manuel de Amat ordered several expeditions to Tahiti under Domingo de Bonechea, who was the first European to traverse all of the principal islands beyond Tahiti. A short-lived Spanish town was created in 1774 CE, and for a time, some maps showed the name Isla de Amat after Viceroy Amat. Christian conversion mafias started with Spanish priests who lived in Tahiti for a year. Protestants from the London Missionary Society lodged permanently in Polynesia in 1797 CE.
Tahiti’s King Pōmare II was forced to flee to Mo’orea in 1803 CE; he and his subjects were forcefully converted to Protestantism in 1812 CE. French Catholic missionaries landed on Tahiti in 1834 CE; their expulsion in 1836 CE caused France to send a gunboat in 1838 CE. In 1842 CE, Tahuata and Tahiti were declared a French protectorate to enable Catholic missionaries to work uninterrupted. The capital of Papeetē was established in 1843 CE. In 1880 CE, France annexed Tahiti, shifting the status from that of a protectorate to a colony. The island groups were not formally united until the institution of the French protectorate in 1889 CE.
In 1940 CE, the French Polynesia administration recognized the Free French Forces, and several Polynesians served in World War II. In 1946 CE, Polynesians were ultimately granted French citizenship, and France changed the islands’ status to an overseas territory; they changed the islands’ name in 1957 CE to French Polynesia (Polynésie Française).