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Vicariate Apostolic of Marquesas Islands

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Located in Polynesia, includes all the Marquesas Islands, eleven in number, lying between 7º 50' and 10º 30' S. lat. and between 138º and 141º W. long. The area comprises 480 sq. miles. The islands are mountainous and rocky, but have fertile plains. The aborigines are cannibals who live mainly by fishing, and dwell in huts of wattles and branches. The chief products are the bread-fruit tree, the coconut, the banana, orange, and sugar-cane. Horses, pigs, sheep, cotton, and tobacco have been introduced by the missionaries. The islands were discovered in 1595 by Mendaña and named Marquesas after the Marquess de Mendoza, at that time Viceroy of Peru, from which country the expedition had sailed. The first Mass was said there 28 July, 1595. In 1791 the northern islands were visited by Ingraham, an American, and by Marchand, a Frenchman, who took possession of the group in the name of France. On 4 August, 1836, three missionaries of the Congregation of Picpus entered the Bay of Vaithu, Fathers Desvault and Borgella, and Brother Nil. They found the natives given to tattooing, cruel and defective in morals. In 1774 some whaling vessels left the dread disease, phthisis, among the natives, and it has continued to work havoc there. The population in 1804 was reckoned at 17,700; in 1830 it had shrunk to 8000; at the present time it is about half that number. Between 1838 and 1848 there were 216 baptisms of adults; between 1848 and 1856, 986 baptisms. In 1858 the missionaries opened schools at Taiohaé, and in 1900 these schools were instructing 300 children. In 1894 the use of opium by natives was prohibited; in 1895 the selling or possessing of alcohol was made a criminal offence, and in 1896 attendance at school was made obligatory. In 1900, however, in consequence of the passing of the Associations Law in France the schools were closed by the Government. Efforts of the missionaries to enforce attendance at their private schools met with limited success. The present Vicar Apostolic, Mgr. Martin, of the Picpus Congregation, titular Bishop of Uranopolis, arrived in 1890 and took up his residence at Antouna on Hiva-Oa. The residence of the civil governor is at Taiohal on Noukouhiva.


There are in the islands, 1 Vicar-Apostolic; 9 priests, 5 brothers of the Picpus congregation; 4 brothers of Ploermel; 9 sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny; 10 native catechists; 40 stations scattered over 6 islands; 1 hospital which cares for 160 lepers. Present population, 3300 Catholics 150 Protestants, about 300 pagans. The Marquesas Islands have been a Vicariate Apostolic since 15 April, 1848.

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