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Mangareva Cathederal. Successful Jesuit priests from the Gambier Islands moved on to Tahiti.
Pacific Island Guide  >  French Polynesia  >  Gambier Islands

General Information

Gambier Islands or Mangareva.  The Mangareva Islands, or Iles Gambier, are volcanic islands which lie at the eastern end of the Tuamotu Archipelago about 900 miles from Tahiti. The inhabited islands comprise Mangareva, Taravai, Aukena, and Akamaru, with some smaller islands which are surrounded by an outer coral reef through which there are three deep passages. On the bounding reef there are a number of coral islets. Short valleys on the main islands have fertile soil capable of growing cultivated plants.
Native traditions indicate that the earliest settlers filtered through from the Tuamotus.  Bananas, sweet potatoes, taros, and yams were also introduced, and as they do not grow in the neighboring Tuamotu atolls, they were probably introduced from the Marquesas, as was the paper mulberry, for clothing.

The staple food of the islands is fermented breadfruit. The pig was present in the past, for it appears as a historical memory, but neither the dog nor the fowl was present. In the course of time, canoes were succeeded by rafts, both for fishing and inter-island transport.

The majority are Protestant. LDS Missionaries have begun to work here. These atolls have a population of about 6,500 people.
 France’s creation of a protectorate for Tahiti in 1871 and the departure of Father Laval brought about an end to theocracy in the Gambiers. Today Gambier's main industry is jewellery-making of mother-of-pearl.
Taken from www.colonialvoyage.com Christianity, which continues to play an important part in their lives. Currently, 55 per cent of the population is Protestant, about 30

They are: Mangareva (Pearl), Taravai (Belcher), Temoe, Aukena (Elson), and Akamaru (Wainwright)

Historical Background

1300 Native tradition says Tupa arrived from Iva  and introduced the breadfruit, coconut, and other trees. He also introduced the worship of the god Tu and the building of maraes.

1400 Much of the lush forestation on Magareva was depleted.

1500-1800 Civil war and cannibalism happened on the islands.

1800-1850 Whaling ships stopped here..

1823 Frederick Beechey entered the lagoon of the Gambier Islands.
1834 The people of these islands were converted to Catholicism four years after the arrival of Father Honoré Laval, Father François Caret and Friar Columban Murphy of the Belgian Jesuit order of priests.  Even after the missionaries had learned enough of the language to attempt the conversion of Te Maputeoa, their progress was slow. The king thought they should perform some of the miracles of which they had told him. He suggested that they walked on the lagoon. Laval replied that only God could do that. The time had now come for the king to go to the island of Taravai to hold court on disputes concerning boundaries of family land. The high priest insisted that Laval and his colleagues should go along with the king.For as time went on, Laval's zeal seemed to have approached madness. The people were forced to wear modest garments and without protest they accepted the teachings of the new God, who, they thought, might be another manifestation of their own. Christian marriage came for the first time to the Gambiers. The customary freedom of the younger folk were forbidden and a native police force, directed by Laval, inflicted severe penalties for infringements of his moral code.

1836 Caret and Murphy leave for Tahiti and Laval becomes the ruler.  He installed a code of strict moral laws and forced the natives to dress. over more than a decade, he inforces a huge building program, resulting in some 116 coral and stone buildings, including a 1.200 seat cathedral (Saint-Michel) was build in Rikitea, the largest in French Polynesia. During his rule, 5,000 of the 6,000 native people died.

1841 Hurricane in the Gambier Islands.

1862 Peruvian slave traders try to kidnap natives.  They discover Laval's desportic reign and report him.

1870 Laval is removed from Managareva and taken to Tahiti.  Four hundred sixty three native people are left on Mangareva.

1996 Of the 6,000 people in Mangareva, 55% are Protestant, 30% are Catholic, 6% are Mormon (Church of Jesus Christof Latter-day Saints), and 2% are Adventist.

Parts of the above story are from The Leaning Wind by Clifford Gessler, published by D. Appleton-Century Company, New York, 1943

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