Bora Bora History
|Bora Bora was formed around four
million years ago after volcanoes erupted from the sea bed.
As the volcano sank back into the Pacific Ocean, a ring of coral
reefs, or atolls, formed to mark the ancient coastline. The
infamous Bora Bora lagoon also formed between the reef and the
island around this time. The volcanic core that still remains
on the main island of Bora Bora is actually sinking at a rate
of one centimeter per century. It will take about 25 million
years for Bora Bora’s main island to sink completely into
the ocean, leaving just a coral atoll.
Today, Bora Bora is a mountainous island with three peaks, Mount
Otemanu as the highest at 2,379 feet (725 meters). Often draped
in white clouds, these natural landmarks take on mysterious qualities
that remind visitors of Bora Bora’s ancient mythical past.
Many historians believe that Bora Bora has been inhabited since
the ninth century, after the first Polynesian settlers sailed through
Teavanui Pass, the only break in the coral wall. They named the
island Vavau, which means, “First Born,” as ancient
legends suggest that this land was the first to rise from the water.
Historical accounts differ on how the island got its current name,
but somehow it evolved into Pora Pora and then eventually Bora Bora,
probably in 1769 when Capt. James Cook established the Leeward Society
Islands: Rai'atea (largest island of the Leeward group), Bora-Bora
, Huahine, Maupiti, Tahaa, Maiao, Maupihaa, Tupai, Manuae, and Motu
Two European explorers both laid claim to the island a year apart
in the 18th century, English navigator Samuel Wallis for Great Britain
followed by the French navigator Louis Antoine de Bougainville.
The French won out in the end. Protected by its warriors, the island
resisted colonization until conquered by France in 1888. In 1946,
Polynesia, including the Society Islands, became an overseas territory
of France. By 1958, it became French Polynesia. The islands received
internal autonomy status in 1977, with several modifications since,
and have been slowly increasing its local executive power.
Americans first noticed Bora Bora during World War II. Because
of its geography, the American military used the island as a supply
base in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The 5,000 GIs set up huge naval guns to defend against a surprise
attack by Japan (which never occurred) and built the island’s
first airfield on Motu Mute. The runway was French Polynesia’s
main connection to the outside world and was used for international
flights until the current Tahiti Faa’a Airport was finally
built in 1961.
Bora Bora’s worldwide reputation has been built by many artists,
writers and navigators. American author Herman Melville penned two
stories of Polynesian life in 1846 and 1847. In the 1890s, celebrated
French artist Paul Gaugin composed an illustrated book called Noa
Noa, which spoke of ancient Polynesian culture. It told the story
of the Areori who resided on Bora Bora and of the god’s first
miracle creation Noa or “fragrance.” Even Broadway and
Hollywood have found inspiration in Bora Bora. The island’s
war time history inspired the romantic Broadway musical and movie
South Pacific, and De Laurentis shot his 1979 film Hurricane there.