The one hundred and twenty-one islands and kingdoms that constituted the area known as French Polynesia were originally settled in the European early medieval period, with Europeans making first known contact across the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries. Several of the tribal groups populating the islands had leaders that mirrored contemporary monarchy, with rulers controlling anywhere from specific groups on the island to other nearby islands. French Polynesia produced several female chiefs who corresponded in actions and authority with their European female counterparts.
Elsewhere in Polynesia, other kingdoms had successive female rulers and continued this tradition after they gained their independence from European colonial states. The women listed below ruled across Huahine, the Marquesas, Tahiti, Bora Bora, and further afield in the Polynesian islands.
You can find out more about some of these fascinating women below!
- Nafanua (ancient)
- Salamāsina (fl. 16th century)
- Teha’apapa I (c. 1735-1790)
- Putahaie (eighteenth century)
- Pōmare IV (1813-1877)
- Teha’apapa II (1824-1893)
- Falakika Seilala (d. 1869)
- Teri’i-maeva-rua II (1841-1873)
- Marau Taaroa (1860-1935)
- Matelita (1872-1895)
- Lavinia Veiongo (1879-1902)
- Tehaapapa III (1879-1917)
- Makea Takau (1839-1911)
- Sālote Tupou III (1900-1965)
- Halaevalu Mataʻaho ʻAhomeʻe (1926-2017)
Dening, Greg. Islands and Beaches: Discourse on a Silent Land. Marquesas 1774-1880. Illinois: The Dorsey Press, 1980)
Gunson, Niel. “Sacred Women Chiefs and Female ‘Headmen’ in Polynesian History.” The Journal of Pacific History 22.3 (1987): 139-172
Williams, Madi. Polynesia, 900-1600. Leeds: Arc Humanities Press, 2021.