TAHITI: Paradise Regained

Just about the last place France expected to be troublesome was Tahiti. The largest island of French Polynesia, Tahiti, 2,600 miles southeast of Hawaii, spends most of its time dreaming under swaying palms while the surf breaks gently on the coral reefs. Generations of expatriates—from Melville to Robert Louis Stevenson to Gauguin—have fled to the islands seeking forgetfulness in the company of sunlit skies and black-haired amoral vahines.

Trouble in paradise began in Papeete, capital city of the islands, when a Tahitian politician with the resounding name of Jean-Baptiste Céeran-Jeérusalemy and his...