Mangareva is the central and largest island of the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia. It is surrounded by smaller islands: Taravai in the southwest, Aukena and Akamaru in the southeast, and islands in the north. Mangareva has a permanent population of 1,641 (2007) and the largest village on the island, Rikitea, is the chief town of the Gambier Islands.
The island is approximately 8 km (5.0 mi) long and, at 18 km² (7 mi²), it comprises about 56% of the land area of the whole Gambier group. Mangareva has a high central ridge which runs the length of the island. The highest point in the Gambiers is Mt. Duff, on Mangareva, rising to 441 m along the island's south coast. The island has a large lagoon 15 miles in diameter containing reefs whose fish and shellfish helped ancient islanders survive much more successfully than on nearby islands with no reefs.
Mangareva was once heavily forested and supported a large population that traded with other islands via canoes. However, excessive logging by the islanders during the 10th to the 15th centuries resulted in deforestation of the island, with disastrous results for its environment and economy (see Gambier Islands for more details).
The first European to arrive to Mangareva was British Captain James Wilson in 1797 on ship Duff. Wilson named the island group in honour of Admiral James Gambier, who had helped him to equip his vessel.
The island was ruled by a line of kings that ruled until the French formally annexed the islands in 1881.
Mangareva is an important travel link to Pitcairn Island. Practically the only way a traveler can reach Pitcairn Island is to fly to Tahiti, then to Mangareva. From there, a 32-hour boat ride will take one to the island. Some reach Pitcairn by commercial shipping traffic, but that is less and less common as shipping lanes don't typically pass close to Pitcairn.
Culture and fiction
Painter and author Robert Lee Eskridge's book Manga Reva: The Forgotten Islands (Bobbs Merrill; 1931) offers first-hand observations of the environment, peoples, and traditions of Mangareva. The book includes original illustrations and photographs by the author. In 1962, adventure-fiction writer Garland Roark acknowledged Eskridge's work in a foreword to his novel The Witch of Manga Reva. Eskridge also wrote and illustrated a children's book about his visit to Mangareva: South Sea Playmates (Bobbs Merrill; 1933).
Mangarevan People had developed binary system 300 years ahead of Europeans. The discovery of the binary system being used as far back as 1450 CE is particularly surprising, given its location. The island of Mangareva in Polynesia was not a technological hub by any standards and the fact that they were able to develop such a simple yet intricate mathematical system speaks both to the of math as well as a cultural complexity that was not expected from this group. This old way of common numbering has been all but lost. Because the islands were controlled by the French for such a long period of time, the Arabic number system with which we are most familiar has taken its place. The researchers also discovered that mathematicians on the island combined the two number systems into a novel binary system, in which 10 was multiplied by increasing powers of two and . This also allowed them to cut down on the number of digits involved in traditional binary systems. For example, 130 is represented in binary as 10100010110000010, but with the Mangarevan system, it is shortened to VTK. V (varu) stands for 80, T (tataua) is 40, and K (takau) is 10. Though the blended system wasn’t perfect, it had several advantages because of its simplicity. Because it was wholly unexpected to find such a sophisticated mathematical system on these small, undeveloped island hundreds of years before some of the most intelligent Europeans were able to figure it out, there may be much more to discover about blending human culture and mathematical comprehension.
- James Wilson
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