PAUMOTU, Tuamtotu, or Low Archipelago, a broad belt of 78 atolls in the Pacific Ocean, belonging to France, between 14° and 24° S., and 131° and 149° W. They trend in irregular lines in a north-west and south-west direction, the major axis of the group extending over 1300 m. The largest atoll, Rangiroa, with a lagoon 45 m. long by 15 wide, is made up of twenty islets. Fakarava, the next in size, consists of fifteen islets, and its oblong lagoon affords the best anchorage in the group. Hau has fifty islets, and its lagoon is dangerously studded with coral. The symmetrically placed eleven islets of Anaa suggested to Captain Cook the name of Chain Island. Heavy storms sometimes greatly alter the form of the atolls. The first discovery of part of the archipelago was made by the Spaniard Pedro Fernandez Quiros in 1606. Many navigators subsequently discovered or rediscovered various parts of the group — among them may be mentioned Jacob Lemaire and Willem Schouten (1616), John Byron (1765), Philip Carteret (1767), Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1768), Captain James Cook (1769), Lieutenant Bligh (1792), Captain Wilson of the “Duff” (1797), Otto von Kotzebue (1815 and 1824), Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1819-1820) and Charles Wilkes (1839) who made a detailed survey of the islands. As a result almost all the islands bear alternative names. The dates given are those of first discovery. In the north-west part of the chain are Rangiroa (Vliegen, Deans or Nairsa, this part of the group bearing the name of the PaUiser Islands); Fakarava (Witgenstein, 1819), the seat of the French resident; Anaa (Chain, 1769), Makemo (Makima, PhiUips, Kutusov, 1803), Hau (Hao, Harp, Bow, 1768). North and east of these are Manihi (Oahe, Waterlandt, 1616), Tikei (Romanzov, 1815), the Disappointment group (1765) of which Napuka is the chief island, Pukapuka (Henuake, Honden, Dog, 1616), Raroia (Barclay de Tolly, 1820), Angatau (Ahangatu, Arakchev, 1820), Akahaina (Fakaina, Predpriatie, 1824), Tatakoto (Narcissus, Egmont, Gierke, 1774), Pukaruha (Serle, 1797). In the southern part of the archipelago are Hereheretui (Bligh, Santablo, 1606), the Duke of Gloucester group (1767), Tematangi (Bligh Lagoon, 1792), Maruroa (Braburgh, Matilda, 1767), the Actaeon or Amphitrite group (discovered by the Tahitian trading vessel “Amphitrite” in 1833), Marutea (Lord Hood, 1791), and the Gambler or Mangareva group (1797), of which Mangareva (Gambler, Peard) is the chief member. To the south again are: Pitcairn (q.v.), Ducie, and a few other islets, which are British and do not properly belong to the Paumotu Archipelago. The Gambler Islands are a cluster of four larger and many smaller volcanic islets, enclosed in one wide reef. The wooded crags of Mangareva, the largest islet, S m. in length, rise to a height of 1315 ft. and are covered with a rich vegetation, quite Tahitian in character; but, as in the other Paumotus, there is a dearth of animal life.
The climate of the islands is healthy, and they have a lower mean temperature than Tahiti. The easterly trade winds prevail. Rain and fogs occur even during the dry season. The stormy season lasts from November to March, when devastating hurricanes are not uncommon and a south-westerly swell renders the western shores dangerous. Plants and animals are scantily represented. Coco-nut palms and the pandanus thrive on many of the islets, and the bread-fruit, banana, pine-apple, water-melon and yam have been introduced from Tahiti into the western islands. Mammals are represented by a few rats; among land-birds parakeets, thrushes and doves are noticeable; and of reptiles there are only lizards. Insects are scarce. But the sea and lagoons teem with turtle, fish, moUuscs, crustaceans and zoophytes. Coral is luxuriant everywhere. From the abundance of pearl oysters the archipelago gets its traders' name of Pearl Islands.
The Paumotus are sparsely inhabited by a fine strong race of Polynesians, more muscular and mostly darker-skinned than that inhabiting Tahiti. In the west considerable intermixture with other races has taken place. In physique, language, religion and customs the Gambler Islanders closely resemble the Rarotongans. The pearl fisheries in the rocky and surf waters are a source of revenue, the pearls being sold in Tahiti. The best harbour of the group is that of Fakarava, which, together with Mangareva, is open to trade.
The land area of the entire group is about 330 sq. m., and the population is about 6000. The group passed under the protection of France in 1844, and was annexed in 1881, forming part of the dependency of Tahiti.