Somewhat smaller than Tahiti, Raiatea is the second largest of the Society Islands in French Polynesia. The proper spelling of the name, rarely used though, in the Tahitian language is Ra’iatea, meaning bright sky; Ulieta is an obsolete transcription commonly used in the 19th century. The chief town on Raiatea is Uturoa, administrative center for the Leeward Islands (French Îles Sous-le-vent). The islands of Raiatea and Tahaa are both enclosed by the same coral reef, and may once have been a single island.
Raiatea is both the largest and most populated island in the Leeward Islands, with a land area of 167.7 km² (64.7 sq. miles) and a total population of 12,024 inhabitants at the August 2007 census. The population density is 72 inhabitants per km². Ra’iatea is widely regarded as the ‘center’ of Polynesia and it is likely that the organised migrations to Hawaii, Aoteroa (New Zealand) and other parts of East Polynesia started at Ra’iatea. A traditional name for the island is Havai’i fanau fenua (Hawai’i birther of land).