Mangareva and the Gambier Islands- Friday, December 12, 2014
Pictures include: Cathedral that was the first Catholic Cathedral in French Polynesia, alter with mother of pearl icons, remains of the convent where 200 girls went to school.
A day at sea passing the Acteon Group of Islands brought seas too rough for any snorkeling or diving. But, we passed each island in the chain and talked about them and their nesting bird populations. None are inhabited and all are atolls with beautiful lagoons enclosed by these necklaces of coral.
The next day we arrived at Mangareva, the first of the Gambier Islands we’ll visit. Pitcairn, Henderson and Docie are the others in the group we’ll visit. We found Mangareva to be very welcoming and interestingly will be the last place this ship can anchor before reaching the southern tip of South America. We were able to navigate into the lagoon, drop anchor and zodiac ashore.
Catholic missionaries first came to this island in the early 1830’s, built a huge church, established a convent where up to 200 girls were educated and established themselves as “rulers” of the island. The Cathedral Saint-Michel in Rikitea built in 1841 is the largest and oldest of historical churches in Polynesia. The people say that the rapid conversion to Christianity occurred because a Polynesia princess had predicted the fall of paganism and that new person would come to worship one god. To prove this, she was able to find an anchor hidden by one of the former kings who supported her visions.
We walked to the Cathedral with altars adorned with mother of pearl, then climbed to the abandoned convent. Hidden beneath the overgrowth was a deep hole where emergency food stores were kept for the people in the convent should there be a drought or food shortage. A few specimens of ancient carvings (moai) similar to those found on Easter Island, but much smaller were found by archeologists on this island. Mangareva was first re-discovered by British Captain James Wilson who christened the highest peak (441 meters), Mt Duff after his ship. Gambier was the Admiral who financed the voyage in 1825.