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Gambier Islands (Tuamotu and Gambier Islands, French Polynesia)

Îles Gambier

Last modified: 2016-12-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: gambier |
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Flag of the Gambier Islands - Image by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, after the official construction sheet, 13 January 2004

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Presentation of the Gambier Islands

Quoting the website of the Presidency of French Polynesia (page no longer online):

The municipality of Gambier is located in the extreme southeastern corner of the Tuamotu archipelago 1,643 kilometers southeast of the island of Tahiti. The municipality is made up of the Gambier Islands Archipelago, the Actéon (or Actaeon) group of islands, and the atolls of Marutea Sud, Maria and Morane. This group of islands and atolls covers an area of 35 square kilometers.
There are four main islands within the Gambier Islands archipelago that share the same lagoon. They are: Mangareva (14 square kilometers), Taravai (5.3 square kilometers), Akamaru (2 square kilometers) and Aukena (1.5 square kilometers). The same lagoon also includes 10 small islands and islets, or motus. Geographers usually include the islands of Oeno and Pitcairn as part of the Gambier Islands Archipelago, but those islands are not part of French Polynesia.
The Gambiers, as this group of islands is often called, are volcanic clusters. They are all that is left of a former sunken volcanic crater that is much bigger than Tahiti Nui, the biggest portion of the island of Tahiti.

The first group of Polynesians to arrive here probably came from the Marquesas Islands around the year 1200 AD. Some contacts with what are today the southern Cook Islands have resulted in some legends that explain analogies made between the two archipelagos in connection with stone tools and shell work. Homes and burial grounds have been found on the small islands, but the remains of marae, often dedicated to the god Tu according to oral tradition, were disrupted by the major reforms undertaken by the Catholic Mission.

British Captain John Wilson of the London Missionary Society (LMS) was the first European to arrive in the Gambiers in 1797. He was aboard the ship HMS Duff. He named the group after Captain Gambier, a descendant of the French Huguenots who had supported the LMS expedition. The Gambiers became the object of an original evangelization experience involving Catholic missionaries between 1834 and 1871. 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. A code of laws known as the Mangarevan Code installed strict morals. A huge building program began in 1900, resulting in some 116 coral and stone buildings, which included churches, chapels, convents, teaching facilities, mills, weaving workshops and bread ovens, as well as wells and stone roads. 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.

Ivan Sache, 22 August 2005

Flag of the Gambier Islands

The Territorial Government Decree of 4 December 1985 governing the display of the flag of French Polynesia stipulates that the flags of the archipelagos and islands of French Polynesia may be flown next to the Territorial and National flags.
The construction sheet for the flag and its explanation are available on the website of the representation of French Polynesia in China.

The flag of the Gambier Islands, in proportions 2:3, is horizontally divided white-blue-white (1:1:1) with five stars placed 2 (blue stars in the upper white stripe), 1 (white star in the middle blue stripe) and 2 (blue stars in the upper white stripe). The blue colour is prescribed as Pantone 286c.

In 1837, the seaman Armand Mauruc, wanting to trade under the Gambier national flag, convinced King Maputeoa to adopt a national flag.
The fours blue stars in the corners of the flag represent the islands of Mangareva, Taravai, Aukena et Akamaru, whereas the central white star represents the isolated islet of Temoe. Blue stands for the ocean and white for purity and evangelization of the archipelago, which had already started in 1837.

Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, Santiago Dotor & Ivan Sache, 28 August 2005

London Missionary Society

Quoting the website of the Tahiti Post Office (information no longer online):

The Missionary Ship Duff
The three-masted ship Duff arrived in Tahiti's Matavai Bay on 5 March 1797, completing a 207-day voyage from London. The ship, commanded by Capt. John Wilson, had aboard 37 artisans and pastors of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and their families, who were to be resettled in the South Pacific on the islands of Tahiti, Tonga and the Marquesas. During his travels aboard the Duff, Capt. Wilson discovered the archipelago of Mangareva, which he named Gambier in honor of the British admiral sponsoring the expedition.
The Duff was captured in the Atlantic Ocean in February 1799 by a French privateer, making this the last time that the Duff flew the missionary flag of three doves carrying an olive branch against a crimson background.

Santiago Dotor, 18 February 1999

Mistaken flag of Mangareva

Quoting the website of the Presidency of French Polynesia (page no longer online):

Mangareva has an area of 14 square kilometers. Its tallest point is Mt. Duff, which has an altitude of 441 meters. The island's first inhabitants arrived in the 12th century AD. Mangareva has many archeological remains near Rikitea.
English pirate Edward Davis was probably the first European to sight Mangareva in 1687 before navigator Charles Wilson discovered the island on 24 May 1797. The first European to set foot on Mangareva was British Captain Frederick W. Beechey, who arrived aboard the ship HMS Blossom, which anchored at Rikitea in January 1826. Captain Beechey's published account of what he found on Mangareva attracted trading ships based in Tahiti and Valparaiso. Mangareva's inhabitants traded good quality oyster shells that were abundant in their huge lagoon for goods brought aboard the trading ships. Since the people of Mangareva had not yet been Christianized, the Sacred Heart Congregation chose the island in 1834 as its base for the first Catholic mission in this part of Polynesia.
Maputeoa, the king of the Gambiers, was living at Rikitea when the Catholic missionaries arrived. So it was this group of 1,200 people living here in 1830 who became the mission's core. Father Laval and Father Caret multiplied the construction of religious buildings (St. Michel Cathedral and the St. Agathe presbytery, monastery and convent). The construction also included non-religious facilities, such as a royal palace, a prison, lookout towers, workshops, etc. Many of these buildings may still be admired today.

Mangareva is divided into six districts: Rikitea, Kirimiro, Gatavake, Atituiti, Akaputu and Taku. Rikitea is Mangareva's main village and is the government center for the Gambier District. With few exceptions, most of the island's people live in Rikitea.

[Mangareva mistaken flag]

Mistaken flag of Mangareva - Image by Ivan Sache, 27 August 2005

A flag similar to the flag of Gambier but with a lighter shade of blue is shown in the Flags of Paradise chart [brt96] as the - mistaken - flag of Mangareva.

Ivan Sache, 27 August 2005