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NASA picture of Mangareva Island
|Area||15.4 km2 (5.9 sq mi)|
|Length||8 km (5 mi)|
|Highest elevation||441 m (1447 ft)|
|Highest point||Mt. Duff|
|Overseas collectivity||French Polynesia|
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 1,239 (2012) and the largest village on the island, Rikitea, is the chief town of the Gambier Islands.
The island is approximately 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) long and, at 15.4 square kilometres (5.9 sq mi), 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 metres (1,447 ft) along the island's south coast. The island has a large lagoon 24 kilometres (15 mi) 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 at Mangareva was British Captain James Wilson in 1797 on the ship Duff. Wilson named the island group in honour of Admiral James Gambier, who had helped him to equip his vessel.
Mangareva along with its dependencies in the Gambier Islands were ruled by a line of kings and later regents until the French formally annexed the islands. A French protectorate was requested on 16 February 1844 by King Maputeoa but was never ratified by the French government. On 4 February 1870, Prince Regent Arone Teikatoara and the Mangarevan government formally withdrew the protectorate request and asked the French not to intervene in the kingdom's affairs. After Father Honoré Laval was removed to Tahiti, the native government changed its stance and an agreement between Prince Regent Arone and the French colonial authority in Tahiti was signed reaffirming the protectorate status on 30 November 1871. The Gambier Islands were finally annexed on 21 February 1881 under Prince Regent Bernardo Putairi and approved by the President of France on 30 January 1882.
Mangareva is reached by boat from the nearby airport across the lagoon.
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 the traveler to the island. Some reach Pitcairn by commercial shipping traffic, but that is less and less common as shipping lanes do not 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. It 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).
The Mangarevan people developed a binary number system centuries ahead of Europeans. In 2013, the islanders were discovered to have developed a novel binary system that allowed them to reduce the number of digits involved in binary counting: for example, representing 150 requires eight digits in binary (10010111) but only four in the Mangarevan system (VTPK, where V (varu) means 80, T (tataua) is 40, P (paua) is 20, and K (takau) is 10). As binary counting is unknown in other Polynesian societies, it most likely formed after Mangareva was settled between 1060 and 1360 AD. Since Gottfried Leibniz would not invent the modern binary number system until 1689, the Mangarevan binary steps prefigured the European invention of binary by as many as 300 to 600 years.
In 2020, Mangarevan binary counting was shown to be an extension of a traditional Polynesian method of counting. Polynesian societies are known to count specific types of objects differently, and they count objects both singly (one by one) and collectively (by twos, fours, or eights). In each case, counting remains decimal (one, two, three…), though the unit counted varies (one, two, four, or eight). In Mangareva, counting collective items decimally produced productive terms for ten (takau or ten singles), twenty (paua or ten pairs), forty (tataua or ten groups of four), and eighty (varu or ten groups of eight). Given the availability of these terms and their associated numerical values, binary counting was then a simple adaptation of traditional Polynesian counting, which set aside every tenth item to mark ten of the items being counted (in New Zealand, this method was misunderstood by Europeans as undecimal or base-11 counting). In the traditional method, the pile of set-asides would then be counted the same way, with every tenth item marking a hundred (second round), thousand (third round), ten thousand items (fourth round), and so on. In Mangarevan binary, in the first round items were counted as before, but in the second round and thereafter they were grouped into eights (varu) and then fours (tataua), twos (paua), and singles (takau). Once counting had shifted to binary units in the second and subsequent rounds, the method was no longer decimal, suggesting an explanation for the upper limit of 800 (for items counted singly) observed for the counting system.
St Michael's Cathedral on Mangareva island
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