Lesson 8: The Gambiers Islands

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A small group of volcanic islands often grouped with Tuamotu but more culturally and linguistically similar to the Marquesas. From the 10th the 15th centuries Gambier Islanders were known in the region as adept traders, but island folklore tells of over-logging of the islands, leading to environmental and economic collapse, leading to a vicious civil war. The islands became a stronghold of Catholic missionaries, including Honore Laval, who became known as the “Mad Priest” (scroll down about halfway on this page for an account of Laval and his stint as the Gambiers’ dictator) and developed into a center of French Polynesia’s pearl industry, but they have yet to rise again to their previous level of renown. More recently the Gambier Islands served as a French staging ground for their nuclear tests. The French have stopped testing bombs, but they still occasionally test the health of Gambier islanders to document the long-term effects of the bombs.

 

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