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.  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 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 fromIva  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 enters 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.

1836 Caret and Murphy leave for Tahiti and Laval bcomes the ruler.  A code of laws known as the Mangarevan Code installed strict morals. A huge building program, resulting in some 116 coral and stone buildings, which included churches, chapels, convents, teaching facilities, mills, weaving workshops and bread ovens, as well as stone roads. A 1.200 seat cathedral (Saint-Michel) was build in Rikitea, the largest in French Polynesia. 

1841 Hurricane in the Gambier Islands.

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