Gambier Islands

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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. These atolls have a population of about 6,500 people. Whaling ships stopped here in the 19th century. One of the last strongholds of cannibalism, overzealous missionaries worked the population to death. late 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. According to the recorded genealogies, a voyager named Tupa arrived from Iva in about the year 1300 A.D. and introduced the breadfruit, coconut, and other trees. He also introduced the worship of the god Tu and the building of maraes. He probably came from the Marquesas, to which he returned. 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 social organization and religion had affinities with central Polynesia, but local variations developed.
The majority are Protestant. LDS Missionaries have begun to work here.

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

Historical Background

1000 -1400 Native inhabitants on Mangareva deforested the once richly forested  island by using almost all of the timber.

1500-1800 Civil war and cannibalism are found on the islans, due to lack of vegetation.

1800-1850 Whaler ships visit the islands..

1823 Frederick Beechey enters the lagoon of the Gambier Islands.
1834 A Catholic mission is begun on Manngareva by Belgian Jesuit priests.  Over a two-year period, Islanders build a large cathedral from crushed coral.

1836 Jesuit priestss leave for Tahiti.

1841 Hurricane in the Gambier Islands.

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