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THE ISLAND OF LOVE

Surely Captain Samuel Wallis of H.M.S. Dolphin could hardly believe his eyes that day in 1767 when an army of Polynesians paddled more than 500 canoes across the lagoon at Matavai Bay, many of them loaded with pigs, chickens, coconuts, fruit, and topless young women "who played a great many droll and wanton tricks" on his scurvy-ridden crew. Secretly sent by King George III to find terra australis incognita (the mysterious southern continent that theorists said was necessary to keep the earth in balance) Wallis had instead discovered Tahiti.

The next year, the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville was similarly greeted when he arrived at Hitiaa. Bougainville noted that one young woman "carelessly dropped the cloth which covered her and appeared to the eyes of all beholders much as Venus showed herself to the Phrygian shepherd - having indeed the form of that goddess." With visions of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, Bougainville promptly named his discovery New Cythere in honor of her hometown. It has ever since been known as The Island of Love.
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