Milan Ratislav TEFÁNIK Slovak politician, general and diplomat, astronomer, tireless traveler and artist (photographer).|
Born on 21 July 1880 in Kosariska (now Slovakia), he had dual nationality, that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then that of Czecho-Slovakia, on the one hand, and French nationality on the other. He died in the crash of his plane in Bratislava, May 4th, 1919. His name has been given to several streets, squares, airports and schools in Slovakia, the Czech Republic or France. He left Prague for Paris in 1904 to continue his studies of astronomy, publishes university books and organizes astronomical expeditions and diplomatic missions around the world.
During the First World War, he participated in combat as an aviator, then he was responsible for the creation of the meteorological service within the French army. He then became Vice-President of the Czech-Slovak National Council, alongside Benes and Masaryk. It is TEFÁNIK who persuaded the French government to support the Czechoslovak cause. Thus, he gave the decisive contribution to the birth of Czecho-Slovakia, of which he was minister of the war of the first government.
TEFÁNIK lived nearly a year in Tahiti in 1910. He landed on May 1st, 1910. He went back there in 1913 on his way to Ecuador. His task was to observe the passage of Halley's comet in Tahiti and the solar eclipse of April 28th, 1911 in Vavau (Tonga). To make his observations, he set up a wooden Observatory on the hills of St Amelie at Mont Faiere. He was very popular with the natives, who gave him the name "Taata Hi'o Feti'a", "the man who looks at the stars". The Observatory was accidentally burned on September 9th, 1948. The arrival of TEFÁNIK prompted, especially through his photographic activities, several families of Czech and Slovak origin to settle in Tahiti, from 1926. These families created a Czech society of colonization, supported by a bank of Prague . Some tried to colonize the Papenoo Valley, others went to the Toovi Plateau in Nuku Hiva (Marquesas islands) as a result of internal dissension. Among the arrivals we can mention:
Jaroslav Otcenasek, Jean Duchek, Rudolph Panek, François Cape Town, Rudolph Klima, and Milos Rivnac.
Others, less well known, went later to work to Makatea.
Rudolph Klima wrote an article about TEFÁNIK and the Observatory in the Bulletin de the Society of Oceanic Studies, number 96 of 1950. TEFÁNIK took the first photographs of the Pacific countries, including Tahiti.
These photos then circulated, especially in Central Europe, and helped to make Tahiti known in this region of the world. In 1994, an expedition from Slovakia brought a commemorative stele of TEFÁNIK, for which the city of Papeete had a pillar erected on the site of the old TEFÁNIK Observatory.
On the occasion of the International Philatelic exhibition in Prague (Praga 2018) from August 15th to 18th, 2018, the Polynesian Post wishes to pay tribute to this exceptional astronomer who has put his scientific knowledge at the service of Polynesia, and helped to promote the myth of Tahiti in Europe.