|Native name: |
The Gambier Islands form the easternmost part of French Polynesia
|Major islands||Mangareva, Akamaru, Aukena, Taravai|
|Area||29.6 km2 (11.4 sq mi)|
|Pop. density||51/km2 (132/sq mi)|
The Gambier Islands (French: Îles Gambier or Archipel des Gambier) are an archipelago in French Polynesia, located at the southeast terminus of the Tuamotu archipelago. They cover an area of 30 km2 or 12 sq mi, and are the remnants of a caldera along with islets on the surrounding fringing reef. They are generally considered a separate island group from Tuamotu both because their culture and language (Mangarevan) are much more closely related to those of the Marquesas Islands, and because, while the Tuamotus comprise several chains of coral atolls, the Gambiers are of volcanic origin with central high islands. The population of the archipelago is 1319 people.
The Gambier Islands include the Mangareva Islands (the Gambier Islands proper), which have an enclosing coral reef which is broken by only three passages to the open sea. Besides Mangareva, the other notable high islands of the group are Akamaru, Angakauitai, Aukena, Kamaka, Kouaku, Makapu, Makaroa, Manui, Mekiro and Taravai. These are primarily of volcanic origin. A number of others are actually coral islands, hence of secondary volcanic origin, including Papuri, Puaumu, Totengengie and the Tokorua group.
The Mangareva Islands are approximately 26.6 km2 in area, with a population in 2016 of 1319. The primary town is Rikitea, located on Mangareva, as is the highest point in the Gambiers, Mt. Duff, rising to 441 metres (1,447 ft) along that island's south coast.
The islands of Gambier comprises:
From the 10th to the 15th centuries, the Gambiers hosted a population of several thousand people and traded with other island groups including the Marquesas, the Society Islands and Pitcairn Islands. However, excessive logging by the islanders resulted in almost complete deforestation on Mangareva, with disastrous results for the islands' environment and economy. The folklore of the islands records a slide into civil war and even cannibalism as trade links with the outside world broke down, and archaeological studies have confirmed this. Today, the islands can support a population of only a few hundred.
In 1834, the French Picpus priests Honoré Laval and François Caret with their assistant Columba Murphy founded a Roman Catholic mission in the Gambiers. After their success here, they moved to Tahiti in 1836.
Mangareva along with its dependencies in the Gambier Islands were ruled by a line of kings and later regents that ruled until the French formally annexed the islands in 1881. A French protectorate was requested on 16 February 1844 by King Maputeoa but was never ratified by the French government. On 4 February 1870, Prince Regent Arone Teikatoara and the Mangarevan government formally withdrew the protectorate request and asked the French to not intervene in the kingdom's affairs. After Father Laval was removed to Tahiti, the native government changed their stance and an agreement between the native government and the French colonial authority in Tahiti was signed reaffirming the protectorate status on 30 November 1871. The Gambier Islands were finally annexed on 21 February 1881 under Prince Regent Bernardo Putairi and approved by the President of France on 30 January 1882.
The Gambiers served as a logistical staging base for French nuclear testing activity in Mururoa, approximately 400 kilometers away. During this time, the French military dragged a chain through some of the coral reef beds to cut a wider and deeper channel for deep draft vessels. Higher rate of infections by ciguatera were subsequently recorded.