Fatu Hiva is also the title of a book by explorer and archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl, in which he describes his stay on the island in the 1930s.
The name of the island in Marquesan is Fatu Iva (without "h": [ˈfatu ˈiva]). However, the name was recorded by Europeans as Fatu Hiva, perhaps under the influence of other Marquesan islands containing the element Hiva (Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa) and also because in French the letter "h" is silent. The spelling Fatu Hiva has now become official.
The island was named Isla Magdalena ("Magdalene Island") by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, a name rarely used.
The eastern coastline of Fatu Hiva is characterized by a number of narrow valleys, carved by streams that lead to the interior. Between these valleys are headlands which terminate in cliffs that plunge directly into the sea, making travel between them possible only by travelling over the high mountain ridges between them, or by boat. The largest of these valleys is at Uia.
The western coastline has two significant bays, Hana Vave (also known as Bay of Virgins or Baie des Vierges) in the north, one of the most picturesque sites in the South Pacific, and the well protected harbor of Omoa near the south. There are several smaller valleys between these two.
The center of the island is a plateau which is covered largely by tall grasses and pandanus trees. To the south of the plateau, running to the south, is a mountain ridge, called Tauauoho, its highest peak, at 1,125 m (3,691 ft.) is the highest point on Fatu Hiva. Proceeding to the north and northwest from the plateau is a mountain ridge called Fa‘e One, the highest peak of which is 820 m (2,690 ft.).
The first recorded sighting of Fatu Hiva by the Europeans was by the Spanish expedition of Álvaro de Mendaña on 21 July 1595. They charted it as Magdalena.
Administratively Fatu Hiva forms the commune (municipality) of Fatu-Hiva, part of the administrative subdivision of the Marquesas Islands. This commune consists solely of the island of Fatu Hiva itself.
The administrative centre of the commune is the settlement of Omoa, on the south-western side of the island.
The 2007 population of Fatu Hiva was 587, primarily spread across three villages: