The Gambier islands, located just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, are the smallest and most isolated of the large archipelagos of French Polynesia. The islands are almost a continuation of the Tuamotu archipelago, in fact they are located at its south-eastern end, around 23 ° south latitude and 134 ° west longitude, about 1,700 km south-east from Tahiti.
This group of islands covers an area of 31 sq km and has a population of around 1,500 inhabitants (2020). The Gambier islands, apart from the small uninhabited atoll of Temoe, which is located southeast of Mangareva, are all enclosed in the same coral reef. There are a total of 14 islands and some islets, closed on three sides by a semicircular coral reef 65 km long.
The main island of the archipelago is Mangareva (18 sq km; 1,500 inhabitants) where the capital of the Gambier is located, Rikitea. Other important islands of the group are Taravai (5.7 sq km; 7 inhabitants), Akamaru (2.1 sq km; 20 inhabitants), Aukena (1.35 sq km; 40 inhabitants) and Kamaka (0.5 sq km; 1 inhabitant). The highest point of the archipelago is Mount Duff (441 meters) on the island of Mangareva. The main activity of the inhabitants of the Gambier is perliculture, which is carried out in the waters of the Mangareva lagoon. The Gambier have a tropical climate, only the months of July and August are cool.
English captain John Wilson of the London Missionary Society (LMS) was the first European to arrive in the Gambier in 1797. The islands became the subject of a fanatical evangelization between the years 1834 and 1871, by the Catholic missionaries. The inhabitants of the islands were converted to Catholicism four years after the arrival of Father Honoré Laval, Father François Caret and Friar Columban Murphy.
A code of laws known as the Mangareva code imposed on the natives a moral grip. A huge construction program led to the construction of 116 coral and stone buildings, which included churches, chapels, convents, schools, mills, bakeries, stone roads etc. A 1,200-seat cathedral (Saint-Michel) was built in Rikitea, the largest in French Polynesia. The creation of a French protectorate in Tahiti in 1871 and the subsequent departure of Father Laval caused the end of this theocratic regime which had been established in the Gambier. Today the main resource of the islands is the cultivation of pearls and mother of pearl jewelery.
HOW TO GET TO THE GAMBIER
The Gambier airport is located on the islet of Totegegie, a motu along the coral reef that surrounds the islands. Air Tahiti connects the Gambier islands with regular flights with Tahiti, the time taken for the flight is 3 hours and a half.
- Surface: 31 sq km
- Population: 1,500 inhabitants