Gambier Islands

Gambier Islands

Infobox Islands
name = Gambier Islands

image caption = Flag of the Gambier Islands
image size = 150px

native name = Îles Gambier
native name link = French language
nickname =
location = Pacific Ocean
coordinates =
archipelago = Polynesia
total islands = 14
major islands = Mangareva, Akamaru, Aukena, Taravai
area = 31 km²
highest mount =
elevation =
country = France
country admin divisions title = Overseas collectivity
country admin divisions = French Polynesia
country capital city =
country largest city =
country largest city population =
country leader title =
country leader name =
population = 986
population as of = 2002
density =
ethnic groups =
additional info =
The Gambier Islands ( _fr. Îles Gambier or _fr. "Archipel des Gambier") are a small group of islands in French Polynesia, located at the southeast terminus of the Tuamotu archipelago. 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, especially the primary island, Mangareva, are of volcanic origin. Because of its proximity, the nearby atoll of Temoe (coord|23|20|46|S|134|28|28|W|) is sometimes included among the Gambiers.


Together with the Tuamotus, the Gambier Islands form Îles Tuamotu-Gambier (French: "(les) (Îles) Tuamotu-Gambier" or officially "la subdivision administrative des (Îles) Tuamotu-Gambier"), one of the five primary administrative divisions ("subdivisions administratives") of French Polynesia.

The Gambier Islands (Gambier), together with the islands in the eastern part of the Tuamotus (Anaa, Fangatau, Hao, Hikueru, Makemo, Napuka, Nukutavake, Puka-Puka, Reao, Tatakoto and Tureia), form "Îles Gambier et Tuamotu Est", one of the 6 electoral districts ("circonscriptions électorales") for the Assembly of French Polynesia ("Assemblée de la Polynésie française").

The commune of Gambier is made up of the Gambier Islands (with uninhabited Temoe Atoll 40 km east of the main Gambier group), the uninhabited Acteon Group to the west (Matureivavao, Tenararo, Tenarunga, Vahanga), and the atolls of Marutea Sud, Maria Est and Morane. This group of islands and atolls covers an area of 35 km².

Although these archipelagoes is administered as a single municipality (commune), the main village is Rikitea, on the largest Island of Mangareva.


The enclosing coral reef is broken by only three passages to the open sea. Besides Mangareva, the other notable islands of the group are Akamaru (coord|23|10|52|S|134|54|56|W|), Angakauitai, Aukena (coord|23|07|42|S|134|54|01|W|), Kamaka, Kouaku, Makapu, Makaroa, Manui, Mekiro and Taravai (coord|23|08|12|S|135|01|33|W|). These are, like Mangareva, volcanic in origin. A number of others are actually coral islands, including Kauku, Papuri, Puaumu, Totengengie and the Tokorua group.

The islands are located at coord|23|09|S|134|58|W|., and are approximately 31 km² (12 mi²) in area. The total population in 2006 was 1,103 The primary town is Rikitea, located on Mangareva. The highest point in the Gambiers is Mt. Duff, on Mangareva, rising to 441 m along the island's south coast.


There was a time (approximately the tenth to the fifteenth centuries) when 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 tragic story. Today, the islands can support a population of only a few hundred. For a more detailed on the specific reasons behind the demise of Mangarevan population see Jared Diamond's "Collapse".

In 1834, the Belgian Jesuit priests Honoré Laval and François Caret founded a Roman Catholic mission in the Gambiers. After their success here, they moved to Tahiti in 1836. []

Effects of French nuclear testing on the Gambiers

:"(Due to the controversy surrounding the next section, each paragraph will be cited with a source or multiple sources where available. In some cases, the professional media has not been allowed to research this issue properly, due to the French government's restriction on foreign travel to the Gambiers. As a result, only first hand, previously unpublished information is available for certain facts. Stephen Midgley provides these facts. He lived on these islands for seven months from January to July 1993 and was able to interview many of the local islanders in depth over that time.)"

The Gambiers served as a logistical staging base for French nuclear testing activity in Mururoa. During this time, the French military dragged chain through some of the coral reef beds to cut a wider and deeper channel for deep draft vessels. Subsequently, the reef fish population became infected with a disease which makes most of them inedible to humans (consumption produces symptoms including painful rashes, sensitivity to light and itching which can persist for weeks and recur occasionally).Stephen Midgley, interviews and research on site, January to July 1993.] [cite web|url=,6903,1676239,00.html|publisher=The Guardian|title=French accused of Pacific nuclear cover-up|accessdate=2008-05-12]

Additionally, during the above-ground testing, local islanders were not provided with adequate protection, being housed in a sheet metal warehouse structure, with open ventilation to the outside. Many locals allegedly suspect that they were exposed to high levels of radiation, and that their island continues to produce food that is not fit for consumption. Anecdotal reports of high cancer rates continue. [ [ Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences] ]

French military vessels visited the area (as of 1993) every six months collecting specimens of water, food, human hair and other material, as well as taking detailed accounts of births, deaths and other demographic events, presumably for on-going research into the effects of the nuclear testing. The results of this research are not known to be published anywhere. Many islanders resent this secrecy and suspect it is because they are experiencing serious consequences of the nuclear testing on Mururoa. [Stephen Midgley, interviews and research on site, January to July 1993. Additionally Mr. Midgley personally witnessed a French naval vessel arrive at the islands, interact with the islanders and depart after 2-3 days in 1993.] Until the French government releases more data, the truth of these allegations will remain unknown.

The local islanders believe that the sinking of the "Rainbow Warrior" was related to these issues. [Stephen Midgley, interviews and research on site, January to July 1993]

The "Rainbow Warrior" was scheduled to visit Mangareva to take environmental and human samples for independent analysis. Many residents reportedly believe that this is a primary reason why the French government chose to destroy the "Rainbow Warrior", rather than to permit public examination of the effects of the testing program. (Source: Stephen Midgley, interviews and research on site, January to July 1993) [cite web|url=|title=Rainbow Warrior |accessdate=2008-05-12|publisher=Greenpeace] [cite web|url=|publisher=BBC News|title=Greenpeace marks bombing anniversary|accessdate=2008-05-12]


*Jared Diamond, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" (2005), Ch. 3

External links

* [ Atoll list (in French)]
* [ Death of a People.] A look at the decline of Mangareva and the missionary influence on the people of the Gambiers.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gambier Islands — /gam bear/ a group of islands in French Polynesia, belonging to the Tuamotu Archipelago. 8226; 12 sq. mi. (31 sq. km). * * * Island group (pop., 1996: 1,087), French Polynesia. It is the southeasternmost extension of the Tuamotu Archipelago. The… …   Universalium

  • Gambier Islands — geographical name islands S Pacific SE of Tuamotu Archipelago belonging to France population 620 see Mangareva …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Gambier Islands — Gam′bier Is′lands [[t]ˈgæm bɪər[/t]] n. pl. geg a group of islands in French Polynesia, belonging to the Tuamotu Archipelago. 8226; 12 sq. mi. (31 sq. km) …   From formal English to slang

  • Gambier Islands — /gæmbiər ˈaɪləndz/ (say gambeeuhr uyluhndz) plural noun a group of islands lying in the southern Pacific; a part of French Polynesia. 30 km2 …   Australian English dictionary

  • Gambier Islands — noun a group of islands in the south central Pacific; part of French Polynesia • Instance Hypernyms: ↑archipelago • Part Holonyms: ↑French Polynesia, ↑French Oceania …   Useful english dictionary

  • Flag of the Gambier Islands — The Flag of the Gambier Islands is the flag of the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean administered by France.In 1837, the seaman Armand Mauruc requested that King Maputeoa adopt a Gambier national flag to commence trade.The… …   Wikipedia

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