His name was Tu. He was named at birth Tu-nui-ea’a-i-te-Atua-i-Tarahoi Vaira’atoa Taina, meaning Great-Tū-Road-to-the-God. Tu was born around 1753 in the principality of Pare-Arue on the northwest coast of Tahiti. Through years of intrigue, persuasion, alliance making, and military might, Tu succeeded in uniting many different chiefdoms into a single kingdom.
Tu was eventually proclaimed king in 1788. His kingdom comprised the islands of Tahiti, Moʻorea, Mehetiʻa, and the Tetiʻaroa group. He adopted the name Pomare for the new royal house.
It was with Tu that the English Captain William Bligh had to negotiate with in 1789 to fill HMS Bounty with potted breadfruit plants as well with barrels of fresh water to sustain plants and crew on the planned voyage. It was with Tu, again, that Bligh negotiated in 1792 to obtain an even larger quantity of plants to fill the decks of HMS Providence.
One of Tu’s foot-soldiers was a man the British nicknamed Pappo who sailed with Bligh on HMS Providence to the Caribbean, arriving in Jamaica in the second month of 1793. This man had been instrumental in organising selection of five varieties of breadfruit and making sure that individual plantlings were robust enough to stand a chance of surviving the long journey westward.
Tu reigned as king for only three years until 1791. According to the traditions of Tahiti, his first son received the title King Pomare II at birth. As his son was an infant, Tu continued to rule acting as Regent until his death in 1803.
The portrait of Tu is by William Hodges who was attached to James Cook’s second expedition to Tahiti as a draughtsman from 1772 to 1775. Tu would have been in his twenties at the time of posing.
The kingdom of Tahiti lost its independence in the mid-1840s to France. Tahiti was annexed and colonised by France and is, today, constitutionally an Overseas Country of the Republic of France.
KINDLY NOTE: Tu, King Pomare I of Tahiti, is one of the many historical characters who play a role in the novel FINNEGAN by Michael Morrissey. Publication is planned for 2023.The novel supports the Tress That Feed Foundation www.treesthatfeed.org , the organisation which promotes breadfruit to feed people, create jobs, and benefit the environment.