Tahiti Virtual Jewish History Tour
Alexander Salmon, the first Jew to reside in Tahiti, married into the Tahitian royal family when he married Arrioehau, a Polynesian princess. Salmon was a banker from France and the son of a rabbi from London. Upon reaching Tahiti, in his travels in the south Pacific, he fell in love with Arrioehau, the leader of the local Teva tribe. However, Tahitian law made it illegal for any Polynesian to marry a foreigner. For three days, Queen Pomare IV suspended the law by royal order, giving Salmon time to be granted the title of Ariitaimai (South Seas Companion) and they married. The daughter of Alexander and Arrioehau was the last queen of the Tahiti Island.
With the arrival of Catholic priests, most Jewish settlers on the islands assimilated into the local population or converted to Catholicism. The majority of Jews on the island of Tahiti are descendants of North Africans. The first Jewish community was established in the 1960s with the arrival of Algerian Jewish refugees.
The Association Culturelle des Israelites et Sympathisants de Polynesie (ACISPO), established in 1982, represents the Jewish community on the island. This association has collected testimonies of Jewish immigrants to Tahiti, dating back to the Algerian migrants of the 1960s. Because much of the Jewish community has intermarried, both Jewish and non-Jewish spouses are active in the society. There is no official Jewish cemetery, but there are several graves with Jewish markings on the tombstones. Today, the Jewish community of Tahiti includes approximately 120 Jews.
In 1993, a synagogue and community center were completed in Papeete, the capital. A year later, in 1994, the synagogue built a mikvah. Two of the community's Torah scrolls were provided by the Egyptian Jewish community of Paris, and the other was contributed by a Los Angeles community. Services are led by a community member and are conducted according to the Sephardic tradition. A few times a year, a rabbi comes from the United States to teach Talmud and educate the children on Jewish customs.
Sources: World Jewish Congress; AmyIsrael