Gambier Islands

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The Gambier Islands are in the remote southeast of French Polynesia and not often visited by travelers. In 1834 it was the location of the first Catholic mission in French Polynesia. It didn't take long before the island's entire population was converted. After that, father Honoré Laval established himself as the despotic ruler of the region. He completely destructed the native culture and customs and in the process decimated the archipelago's population. Upon his arrival the population was estimated at 5000 or 6000, but when he was finally exiled to Tahiti only 463 remained. Most natives had perished as a result of diseases and Laval's cruelties, while the rest simply fled the region. In his memoirs Laval speaks of the delight he felt destroying heathen temples and icons.

In their place Laval ordered the construction of Catholic temples, one of which is the marvelously decorated Cathedral of Saint Michael on Mangareva Island. The cathedral shows how far Laval's obsession had gone: it can accommodate 2000 people, four times the island's entire population.

Mangareva is served by air, several times a month. The chances are you will be stuck for several weeks in this forgotten part of the world once you get there. You'll be in for a boring time, as nothing really happens in the Gambier archipelago. The islands are 1630 km southeast of Papeete.


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