Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Thu 13 Jun 2013 21:27
Mangareva Island



Location of Mangareva in the Pacific Ocean


Mangareva is the central and largest island of the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. It is surrounded by smaller islands: Taravai in the southwest, Aukena and Akamaru in the southeast, and islands in the north. Mangareva has a permanent population of 1,641 (2007) and the largest village on the island, Rikitea, is the chief town of the Gambier Islands.

The island is approximately five miles long and, at seven miles square, it comprises about 56% of the land area of the whole Gambier group. Mangareva has a high central ridge which runs the length of the island. The highest point in the Gambiers is Mt. Duff, on Mangareva, rising to 441 metres along the island's south coast. The island has a large lagoon 15 miles in diameter containing reefs whose fish and shellfish helped ancient islanders survive much more successfully than on nearby islands with no reefs.


History: Mangareva was once heavily forested and supported a large population that traded with other islands via canoes. However, excessive logging by the islanders during the 10th to the 15th centuries resulted in deforestation of the island, with disastrous results for its environment and economy.

The first European to arrive to the island was British Captain and explorer James Wilson on the 24th of May 1797 in passing on ship Duff, with his crew and some protestant missionaries from the celebrated London Missionary Society (LMS) on their way to Tahiti.

Wilson named the island group in honour of Admiral James Gambier (own blog), who had helped him to equip his vessel. Quality oyster shells were good business and this made Rikitea an important stopping and provisioning point as well as the centre of commerce for the Mangarevans.

Before the arrival of the missionaries, the Mangarevans were polytheistic and had lived in the archipelago for around eleven centuries. James Wilson re-discovered the Gambier,  Yet it wasn't until 1826 when the first European, Frederick Beechey, put a foot on land of this archipelago, which had been preserved by its sheer distance from other islands. This English officer was the first to meet the Mangarevans. Numbering around five thousand, the islanders lived on the four principal islands under their chief, King Maputeoa, who resided in Rikitea. The Mangarevans had their own dialect and had no meat in their diets, just fish. Until 1834 very few Europeans elected to actually live on these islands, unlike Tahiti where Europeans including protestant missionaries from the LMS had resided for over thirty years.


Father Honore Laval, at the age of twenty six, along with three other Picpucien fathers, Liausu, Caret and Murphy, left Bordeaux on the 22nd of January 1834. Their destination, (on board the ship Sylphide and then the Peruviana), was the Gambier Islands by way of Peru and Valparaiso, Chile. Without a coin in their pocket they sailed away with the belief that "providence would take care" of them. Expatriated to the other side of the world towards the unknown, the missionaries tested the limits of their fervent and sincere faith. When the four fathers disembarked on the 7th of August 1834 in Akamaru, they met "docile" people who, it seemed, wouldn't have trouble accepting their message. And surprisingly, this was so. The first mass would be celebrated on the 15th of August 1834, only eight days after the missionaries' arrival. Two years later on the 25th of August 1836, Maputeao, king of the Gambier, was baptised and became King Gregorio. The Gambier archipelago was then to see the first Catholic stone church in French Polynesia.

The notebooks of Gilbert Soulie, the "baptiser," made notes everyday for a period of nearly thirty years about his life in Magareva. A strange prophesy was told by Father Gilbert: "We speak of the famous prophesy that beat down the spirits of the Mangarevans: before the arrival of Europeans, a Mangarevan priestess named Toapere told the people that a foreign boat would arrive and that the reign of a mighty god would soon install itself in the Gambier Islands - the Mangarevan gods were only small gods ...When we arrived, many old people remembered the prophesy and saw that we were the ones who were bringing them the 'big god.'"

The island was ruled by a line of kings that ruled until the French formally annexed the islands in 1881.


Mangareva's history and its ancient links with the Pitcairn and Henderson islands is well-covered in Jared Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005).



BB 1st Rikitea 001

Transportation: Mangareva is an important travel link to Pitcairn Island. Practically the only way a traveler can reach Pitcairn is to fly to Tahiti, then to Mangareva. From here, a thirty-two-hour boat ride will take passengers who have to promise to support themselves for three months until the boat returns. Some people reach Pitcairn by commercial shipping traffic, but that is less and less common as shipping lanes don't typically pass close to the island.


BB 1st Rikitea 004

We watched the boat leaving on her return journey to New Zealand, due back in three months.


Culture and fiction: Painter and author Robert Lee Eskridge's book Manga Reva: The Forgotten Islands (Bobbs Merrill; 1931) offers first-hand observations of the environment, peoples, and traditions of Mangareva. The book includes original illustrations and photographs by the author. In 1962, adventure-fiction writer Garland Roark acknowledged Eskridge's work in a foreword to his novel The Witch of Manga Reva. Eskridge also wrote and illustrated a children's book about his visit to Mangareva: South Sea Playmates (Bobbs Merrill; 1933).




NASA picture of Mangareva





                     SURPRISINGLY FRENCH