Link to Tahiti Papeete Mission history documents by Gerry Faeber:
Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific
R. Lanier Britsch
Published 1986 by Deseret Book Company
Anyone who has flown over or sailed the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean must marvel that primitive man ever found and peopled the Pacific islands. How the early Pacific voyagers found Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, and the thousands of other islands has only recently been understood. But who the ancient seafarers were, what their names were, and how they survived to establish homes and the peculiar cultures of the islands will never be more than partially understood.
Western man discovered the Polynesian Islands in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Not long after Europeans found Polynesia, sailors, settlers, and missionaries arrived. Western man had a powerful impact on the peoples of Polynesia. He introduced not only the Christian religion, education and literacy, modern agriculture and industry, and western government, but also disease, debauchery, more advanced weapons, and confusing cultural patterns. The Polynesians had to make thousands of changes before they could adjust to the requirements of the new world that were thrust upon them.
While this period of adjustment was most vigorously underway, missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the Pacific. Although this book is not a general history of the interactions of western civilization with Polynesian cultures, I've attempted to include as many facts about the interactions of western, Polynesian, and Mormon cultures as possible. Until 1950 (and to some extent, since then), much of the history of the Latter-day Saints in Polynesia is cultural history as well as religious history. Readers will note far more references to cultural matters than they would expect in a history of the Church in Canada, Britain, or Germany.
When I was first planning this book, I considered a format that briefly narrated the story of the Church in the Pacific and then turned to a series of topical chapters on such subjects as building missionaries, missionary methods, temple building, inspiring tales, ocean adventures, education, and so on. Although such an approach has merit, I concluded that most readers would prefer an integrated approach. Also, I suspect that many readers will want to read a thorough history of only one island group, such as Hawaii or Tonga. Therefore, I have written essentially separate histories of each of the main areas. The final chapter recounts the latest developments in Fiji, Guam-Micronesia, and other non-Polynesian areas.
I developed an interest in Polynesia while serving in Hawaii as a missionary for the LDS Church. After joining the history faculty at Brigham Young University, I was invited by Leonard J. Arrington, then LDS Church Historian, and the Assistant Church Historians, James B. Allen and Davis Bitton, to prepare a single volume titled A History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia and the Pacific for a multi-volume series that was to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Church in 1980. The series was later canceled, but Deseret Book expressed interest in and support for my efforts. As I continued to research and write, the original volume proved to be too long for a manageable single volume; hence this book and later another on the Church in Asia.
I'm deeply grateful to Dr. Arrington and his associates for their encouragement and help. The staff members at the LDS Church Archives have become my close friends. They have not only helped me use materials I've requested, but they have also frequently brought to my attention items of great value that were unknown to me. Friends who have been especially helpful at the Church Archives are Ronald G. Watt, James Kimball, Fred Rowe, Glen M. Leonard, Linda Haslam, Gladys Noyce, and Bill Slaughter. Maurene U. Beecher provided direction and help through her editing. Gordon Irving has been of great assistance as director of the Church's James H. Moyle Oral History Program.
Dr. Arrington partially supported my field research with a Church Historian's Grant in 1974. Through his assistance I was able to visit the various island groups in quest of source materials. Leo Vernon provided BYU Research support, as did Martin B. Hickman, dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at BYU. Ted J. Warner, former chairman of the BYU History Department, also provided considerable support for this project.
Several people have read parts of the manuscript. Special thanks goes to Marge Newton and Yves R. Perrin.
I've interviewed many people, some as oral histories. The names of these people are found in the footnotes. I'm thankful to all who have provided information in this way.
A number of Church leaders and their wives provided me and my wife with housing, transportation, and other help while we traveled in the South Pacific. We thank George Puckett, Ralph Rodgers, Baden Pere, Larry Oler, Charles Woodworth, Joseph Childers, Raymond Baudin, Ebbie Davis, and their wives. Bruce Lake, Stanley Peterson, Alton Wade, and Ward Magleby of the LDS Church Educational System have provided much useful information.
President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elders Loren C. Dunn, John H. Groberg, and Rex D. Pinegar have given considerable help and information.
The manuscript for this book has been through a number of drafts. Each draft has been revised on either a typewriter or a word processor. The young women (and, occasionally, young men) of the Faculty Support Center of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences have carefully and patiently typed the manuscript through all stages. Managers Diane Morita and Marilyn Webb deserve special thanks.
My father, Ralph A. Britsch, professor emeritus of humanities at BYU, has corrected the grammar and has made stylistic suggestions for the entire manuscript. I greatly appreciate his help, his expertise, his patience, and his love. I'm grateful for the careful editing of the manuscript by Jack Lyon of Deseret Book. Cartography is by Kelly Nielsen, Warren Muench, and Cindy Paine of the BYU Geography Department. My wife, JoAnn, has listened to every word of the initial drafts and has provided countless useful suggestions and refinements. Her good humor and encouragement through the years since I started this project in 1972 have been a tremendous support.
Many people have been involved in one way or another. I thank all of the research assistants who have helped along the way. Each has made his or her contribution to the completion of this study. Ultimately, the book has been my joy, my burden, and my grand hope to make a contribution to LDS Church history. It's been my labor of love. I'm sorry it's finished. The responsibility for its contents is totally mine.
In the spring of 1843, only thirteen years after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., called four men as missionaries to the islands of the Pacific. Those representatives started what has now extended to 140 years of LDS Church history in the Pacific, primarily in Polynesia. The history of the Latter-day Saints in this vast region is as varied as the islands and the people who live there. Since the 1840s, time has brought great changes in culture, government, technology, religion, education, communications, and transportation. Such changes have affected the history of the Mormons in this area. Missionaries and local members have found it necessary to adjust to the circumstances of the times.
Today the LDS Church in many parts of the Pacific islands is similar in level of activity, physical facilities, and competence of Church leaders to the well-organized stakes in Utah. The current advanced state of the Church in the Pacific is the result of years of cooperative effort on the part of missionaries, local Saints, and general officers of the Church who have supervised the area.
To a considerable degree the history of the Church in the Pacific is missionary and institutional history. Records of the lives and works of local Saints are not readily available to the researcher (although more could be done with local Church history by scholars who live in the various parts of the Pacific).
The Mormon missionary system differs in many ways from the missionary systems of other Christian denominations. LDS missionaries have always been self-supporting or supported by family or friends, unschooled in the ministry as the world knows it, untrained in languages. Mormon missions are short-term experiences, usually lasting two years but seldom more than three or four. Most LDS missionaries in the Pacific have lived with the people, eaten their food, slept on their floors, and bathed in their streams and pools. They have almost always avoided political involvements, except when friction between governments and the Church has drawn the missionaries into relations with political leaders. Except for the actions of Walter Murray Gibson, there have been no instances of usurpation, misuse of ecclesiastical or political power, or land grabbing in the annals of LDS Pacific history.
It is true that white missionaries have dominated the history of the Pacific missions, but thousands of local men and women have also served the Church as missionaries and local leaders. These people have contributed most, and have been the ballast for the Church. These usually unnamed Saints have built the Church, remained in their callings when circumstances became difficult, and made the Church succeed in their societies.
It is not clear from the records of the Church exactly when the leaders in Salt Lake City began thinking of the Polynesian people as descendants of Lehi, the Book of Mormon prophet. As will be seen later, Elder George Q. Cannon and his companions in Hawaii in 1851 were the first to tell the Polynesians of their birthright as children of Abraham and Lehi. Since that time almost all of the presidents of the Church have affirmed the position that the Polynesian people are of Israel. Because the Church believes that the descendants of Lehi are children of special promise, the leaders of the Church have expended vast amounts of manpower on missionary efforts among these people. As is now evident from the high percentage of Latter-day Saints in Tonga and Samoa and the respectable numbers of Mormons in other Polynesian areas, the years of missionary work have borne fruit.
The work of establishing the Church in the Pacific has been abetted by some significant advantages and hindered by some serious obstacles. Among the advantages are the Christian foundation laid by missionaries of other denominations who converted the people from non-Christian religions, translated the Bible, educated many of the people, established religious freedom, and introduced some of the amenities of modern life. Many of the obstacles to missionary success remain to this day: tropical storms, isolation, harsh geographical conditions, poor transportation and communications, and general poverty. But advantages and obstacles, successes and failures, wealth and poverty notwithstanding, the history of the Church in the islands goes on, founded on more than fourteen decades of interesting and inspirational experiences.
The sections of this volume are arranged in chronological order of the founding of the missions in each nation or area.
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Establishing the First Pacific Mission of the Church
French Polynesia, 1844-1852
On May 11, 1843, Joseph Smith called Addison Pratt on a mission to the Pacific Islands, the first mission of the Church to that area. Elder Pratt was a reasonable choice, for when he was a young man he had sailed the Pacific Ocean and had at one time spent several months in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).
The call to serve had come from the Prophet, and Brigham Young had ordained Addison a seventy and given him power over the elements. When Brother Young set him apart, he told Elder Pratt to avoid haste and passion, to see goodness in all. These were good words for one who would spend most of the next nine years serving the Lord among people who were greatly different from any with whom Latter-day Saint missionaries had worked.
Of the four elders in Brother Pratt's missionary group, he was the best informed concerning the Pacific, but he was not the most experienced in Church matters. Noah Rogers was therefore chosen to head the new mission. The other two missionaries assigned were Benjamin F. Grouard and Knowlton F. Hanks. Elder Hanks did not live to serve in Polynesia; Elder Grouard would remain long enough to do the work of several good men.
When they departed from Nauvoo on May 23, 1843, the Church was only thirteen years old. Until that time no elders had been sent to foreign-language areas. It is not clear from the missionary records whether these elders were called to Hawaii or simply to any appropriate place in the Pacific. When they reached New Bedford, Massachusetts, Brother Pratt tried to find a ship going to Hawaii. Failing this, he booked passage on the Timoleon, a whaling ship bound for the Society Islands. It sailed on October 10, 1843.
Addison Pratt and Ben Grouard were accustomed to sea travel, but for Elders Rogers and Hanks, rough weather spelled misery and seasickness. However, more than the sea plagued Elder Hanks. Before he left Nauvoo he had suffered for some time from consumption, known today as tuberculosis. Day by day his condition worsened, and, finally, on November 3, he died. When his body slid into the water, the silent crew paid tribute to the first Mormon missionary to die and to be buried at sea.
More than six months passed before the Timoleon hove to in sight of the missionaries' first stopping place, Tubuai, in the southeast Pacific. It had sailed the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope, on through the Indian Ocean, by the islands of Southeast Asia, and into the South Pacific. Elder Pratt and his two companions were eager to know what kind of people inhabited Tubuai Island. In the early morning hours of April 30, 1844, a canoe carrying two natives came aside the whaler. Elder Pratt shouted "Aloha." The natives shouted "Aroha" in return.
Tubuai lies 350 miles due south of Tahiti. It is a fertile island that produces a fine variety of fruits and vegetables. When the Timoleon dropped anchor, the first priority of all on board was to stock up on food and fresh water. President Rogers went ashore with the first boats, and a day later Pratt and Grouard followed. The Church had arrived on Polynesian soil. The three missionaries were well received by the people of Tubuai, who urged them to stay and teach the gospel. Pratt, whom they came to call "Paraita," was their evident favorite because he could communicate with them a little by using the Hawaiian language.
Elder Pratt's decision to stay, however, was not easy. His first intention had been to teach the gospel in Hawaii and then in well-known Tahiti. He was not sure he would be usefully serving by remaining on an almost unknown island, a mere three-by-six-mile oval with a small population. He sought the Lord in prayer, and when the answer came he not only felt that he should stay but he was convinced that if he left he would be running away from duty.
The Timoleon and Elder Pratt's companions remained at Tubuai for several more days and then sailed north to Tahiti, leaving him behind. Addison set to work with a will. He surveyed the little island and found that its natural resources provided well for its few inhabitants. An abundance of plants grew almost without care, and pigs, chickens, wild ducks, and hens abounded. Goats provided milk, and the sea gave up an amazing variety of fish and shellfish.
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Addison Pratt (left) and Benjamin F. Grouard were the founders of Latter-day Saint missionary work in the Pacific islands. (Courtesy S. George Ellsworth.)
The people of Tubuai appeared to be without guile. Before long, however, Elder Pratt learned that these docile people could be whipped into a fury if their territory was infringed upon. When Captain James Cook discovered the island in 1777, the people had greeted him warmly. But twelve years later, when the mutineers of the Bounty attempted to create a colony there, a war ensued between the natives and the sailors. The mutineers were forced to leave and later settled Pitcairn Island.
Although Protestant missionaries on the ship Duff had seen the island in February 1797, it was not until 1817 that William Ellis of the London Missionary Society landed there with serious intent to teach Christianity. He had little success. But beginning about 1822. native Tahitian missionaries began preaching Christian doctrine to the people of Tubuai. These Tahitians brought literacy and Christian civilization. At the time of the arrival of Addison Pratt and his companions, many of the older people of Tubuai could clearly remember heathen practices such as cannibalism that had been abolished some years before. But by 1844 the people of Tubuai all considered themselves Christians. London Missionary Society (LMS) missionaries had recorded the spoken language in writing and by 1840, only four years before the LDS missionaries arrived, had printed a complete translation of the Bible.
Elder Pratt and his companions eventually clashed with the LMS missionaries because the Mormons were succeeding in what the Protestants considered their own territory. (The various Protestant groups had by this time parceled out the South Pacific among their different mission groups so that they could avoid competition and confrontations.) These confrontations notwithstanding, the LDS missionaries gained many benefits from the work of other church missions.
Elder Pratt, as we have said, had the advantage of some Hawaiian words that were cognate with the Tahitian language. But even he had a long way to go before he was blessed with fluency. He made slow progress with the language until King Tomatoa of Tubuai presented him with an English-Tahitian grammar. From that date, July 11, 1844, his linguistic ability improved rapidly.
There lived at Mataura a small group of Europeans who had settled on the island and had taken, in most cases, native wives. These old "salts" were a pretty rough bunch, but they treated the Mormon missionary with respect. Gospel discussions with these people began as a friendly diversion to break the monotony of island life, but they steadily led into deeper and more serious teaching sessions on matters that were considered important for eternal salvation. Six weeks after Addison arrived on Tubuai, he recorded in his diary that the white people were much excited about the things he was teaching them.
On June 15, 1844, Ambrose Alexander, a white shipbuilder, applied for baptism and became the first person to join the Church in the Pacific islands. Five weeks later, on July 21, Elder Pratt recorded:
Sabbath. After the morning service I gave an invitation to all those who felt it their duty to be baptized, to present themselves at a place appointed on the beach, and I would wait on them. The multitude assembled on the beach, there came forward and I baptized Charles Hill, John Layton, Wm. F. Bowen, Wm. Carrington, James Clark (foreigners), Nabota and his wife, Telii, Pauma, and Hamoe, the wife of Haamatua (natives), and confirmed them in the afternoon.
The following Sunday Elder Pratt organized the Tubuai Branch of the Church, with eleven members. He ordained Charles Hill an elder and the other brethren priests, teachers, and deacons. Addison wrote:
I cannot express the heartfelt gratitude that came over me when I saw the tears of penitence trickle down their sea-worn faces, nor the warm emotions that vibrated my heart while, on their knees, I heard them thank their Father in Heaven that I had been casually thrown upon this island and had become the humble instrument in his hand in bringing them to see their lost condition.
But Elder Pratt could see that his principal responsibility was to the local people. So he moved to Mahu and worked on the language. By the end of July 1844 the work was well established on Tubuai, and in September Pratt began preaching in Tahitian. During his first year there he baptized a third of the island's population, sixty people, including all but one of the Caucasians on the island.
The Opening of the LDS Mission in Tahiti
When Elders Noah Rogers and Benjamin F. Grouard left Elder Pratt on Tubuai, they sailed directly to Tahiti, arriving there on May 14, 1844. The island's beauty, climate, and friendly people had made it a favorite stopping place for whalers and other traders. Tahiti had first been discovered by Captain Samuel Wallis in 1767. He claimed the island as a British possession, but only a year later the French navigator de Bougainville made a similar claim for his country. Neither nation, however, convincingly established its claim to the island. In fact, it remained under control of the native Pomare dynasty until 1847. The most significant outside political influence came through the LMS missionaries.
When the LDS elders landed at Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, they found the political and social situation unsettled. Conflicts that had begun between the British and the French in 1835 had only recently come to a head. The French, who were looking forward to the day when a canal would be completed in Panama, desired a good port in the southeastern Pacific; Tahiti met all of their requirements. To move in directly and take the territory by force would have been too brazen; therefore, three French Roman Catholic missionaries were sent into Tahiti in 1835 and 1836 to establish a foothold. All three men were expelled from the island at the insistence of the LMS missionary, the politically active George Pritchard, who also acted as British consul. Pritchard detested the French, and Roman Catholicism. By 1836 the LMS had dominated Tahiti for almost four decades, and the British suggested that the Catholics should recognize the convention under which missionaries were to keep out of territory already occupied by a rival group. The arrangement was not acceptable to the French, who argued that they had a right both as Frenchmen and as Catholics to establish their church wherever they pleased.
The conflict became serious when French Captain Abel Dupetit-Thouars demanded two successive indemnities in compensation for the mistreatment of the missionaries ousted in 1836. The local government could not raise the money. In default of payment the French made Tahiti a protectorate. In France the government accepted Dupetit-Thouars's arrangement in April 1843. The British government accepted the fait accompli.
When Elder Rogers and Elder Grouard arrived and learned about the local situation, they were convinced the Lord had prepared the way for them, "for had the native government been in full force when we arrived, most likely the missionaries (who hitherto have been mighty men in this kingdom) would have so influenced the natives against us, as to prevent us from landing." The French protectorate had declared complete religious freedom. But although the religious climate had improved, the domestic situation was still unsettled.
The elders considered their own safety a mixed blessing. It was true that they were secure in Tahiti, but the local people would not or could not listen to them. On the other hand, the way was not clear for them to sail to other islands. They began teaching the few Europeans and Americans on the island. The first baptisms on Tahiti were those of Mr. and Mrs. Seth George Lincoln, friends made during the long voyage of the Timoleon. One week later, on August 18, the missionaries baptized two American men. This success caused a stir among both foreigners and Tahitians. The LMS missionaries immediately began harassing the elders by repeating many of the false stories about Joseph Smith and the Mormons that were commonly circulated at the time. In September the anti-Mormon attacks were carried even to Tubuai. The Reverend Mr. William Howe sailed to that island "to set affairs in order," and while there he repeated many hateful things about Joseph Smith and the Church. Pratt had a direct confrontation with him, and, according to his own report, he came off the better in the encounter.
Elders Rogers and Grouard busied themselves by preaching to the crews of whaling ships. The Lincolns, with whom they lived, made their home available for meetings and teaching sessions. But though a few Englishmen and Americans were baptized during October and November, both elders felt confined. Rogers, who presided over the mission, strongly believed they should take the gospel to as many islands as possible. Having heard from sailors that the island of Huahine, ninety miles to the northwest, might provide a fruitful field, Elder Rogers sailed there on October 17. On his arrival, he was disappointed to find that nearly all of the Caucasians ran grog shops and gambling houses. In addition, the Reverend Charles Barff, who was much loved and respected by the people, was not willing to yield any ground to a Mormon missionary. Elder Rogers's stay on Huahine, which lasted until late January 1845, proved a complete disappointment to him.
In Elder Rogers's absence, Ben Grouard began to yearn for the strength and companionship of Elder Pratt, and in December he sailed to Tubuai. The two servants of God were thrilled to be together again after seven months' separation. Their friendship was particularly important because they had not received a single letter from home by the early part of 1845. This situation seemed more serious because of reports they had received (which they counted as mere rumors) that Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been assassinated. It was not until July 1, 1845, that they received authentic information that confirmed the truth of these reports. Such tragic news, in addition to time and distance, made them feel estranged from their loved ones and the body of the Church. Nevertheless, they strengthened each other and continued the work.
Elder Pratt in particular had learned much about leading a body of Saints in so strange a place. On September 29, 1844, he wrote, "A little experience tells me that to baptize and build up a branch is a small matter compared to keeping it in order after it is built up, especially when it is constructed of such material as sailors and heathens. But the Lord helps me."
Lacking a solid foundation in intellectual and spiritual matters, the people sometimes found themselves tempted to break the covenants made at baptism. Seeing this, Elder Pratt decided in September to divide his time between the two parts of his Tubuai Branch. From that time on he spent one week in Mahu and the next in Mataura.
Elder Pratt not only learned how much attention and effort were required to administer a branch successfully, but he also had a taste of political involvement. He reported that the queen and a number of her high-ranking associates were numbered among his flock. Curiously, Pratt's close association with these people placed him in a very awkward position, for he wrote, "If you will allow me to speak jestingly, I am prime minister of the island. My counsel is sought for in most law cases, though it is my endeavour to keep clear of them as much as possible." In this way Elder Pratt discovered how easily his Protestant predecessors had become involved in politics simply because they desired to establish justice and harmony.
Expansion of the Mission to the Tuamotus
By February 7, 1845, Elder Rogers and Elder Grouard were both back in Tahiti. But because they could see no signs of an imminent settlement between the French and the natives, they determined to sail to other areas in the vicinity, preferably to islands under local control.
Following this plan, Elder Rogers sailed northwest toward the Leeward Islands of the Society Group on April 22. The next day Elder Grouard sailed east toward the Tuamotus.
Noah Rogers's ship, the Artroveda, touched briefly on Moorea, only a short voyage from Papeete, and then went on to Huahine. There it was necessary to make repairs. It was not until May 29 that Rogers reached Mangaia of the Cook Islands. For a short time he thought he had found a suitable place to teach. But to his disappointment he learned that the four thousand people of the island were already under the influence of the LMS. He had a similar experience on Rurutu and, discouraged, returned to Tahiti on June 13. Depressed with the failure of his mission and fearful for the welfare of his family of nine children at Nauvoo, he took the ship The Three Brothers to the States. He arrived home December 29, 1845, and was united with his family only to die in the spring exodus from Nauvoo.
Elder Grouard's experience on the low-lying coral atolls of the Tuamotus was almost the exact opposite of Rogers's. These islands offered a bleak existence. Little vegetation beyond the coconut thrived in the shallow soil of the archipelago. The diet there consisted principally of coconut and fish. The livelihood was meager and transportation was dangerous. Worst of all, the people had a reputation for ferocity and cannibalism. Most were hardly a generation removed from such practices.
When Elder Grouard landed on Anaa on May 1, 1845, he had a frightening experience:
As we drew near the land I noticed that the beach was already lined with natives awaiting our arrival, and as we came nearer, I could distinctly hear them shout and jabber like a flock of ten thousand wild geese. . . . Leaping ashore, I found myself the next minute surrounded by some two or three hundred natives of both sexes and all ages: naked, half-naked, and dressed; hooting, hallooing, laughing, and jabbering like a legion of evil spirits. In my eyes they looked wild and savage-like; and I listened to their frightful noises, and not being able to understand what they said, I knew not but what I had become a victim for sacrifice in very deed.
When the confusion subsided a bit, one of the chiefs, speaking in Tahitian (which some of the people could use if necessary), began a serious interview of the newcomer. He wanted to know Grouard's background and intentions. Elder Grouard told him he was an American who desired to stay among them and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This pleased the chief greatly. "Missionary," the chief said, "your talk is good, and the governor and chiefs are well pleased with it. You are the first missionary from the land of the white people that ever came to our poor land to live among us." Before that time only Tahitian missionaries had been willing to make the sacrifice to live on Anaa.
Over the months ahead the Tuamotuans proved eager to hear Grouard's message, and he had much success. The second day he was on Anaa, Grouard met with the chiefs of the five villages of the island. He learned that there were only about one hundred nominal Christians among the two to three thousand inhabitants.
Only twenty-five days after he arrived, Elder Grouard baptized 6 converts. By mid-June, 24 had entered the Church. Soon after this, Grouard made a fifteen-day tour of the other villages on the island. He preached thirty-one times publicly, held many gospel discussions and conversations, and baptized 29 more people. From then on the Church grew rapidly. Another tour, which lasted into early August, brought 195 baptisms in the outer villages and another 65 at the home base. He now had 355 local converts. On September 21, Grouard organized five branches with seventeen officers and 620 members in good standing. All this had been accomplished within four months of the first baptisms.
This success and the bright prospects for many more converts led Elder Grouard to seek assistance from Brother Pratt. He worried, however, about the time that would be involved in sending for him. If Grouard sent a letter it might take eight months for Pratt to come to Anaa. After prayerful consideration he decided to go after his distant companion himself in a pahi Paumotu, a large native-built double canoe. Although this craft appeared fragile and dangerous, such ancient catamarans had conveyed the Pacific peoples from island to island for hundreds of years. Neither quadrant nor compass was available, but the natives could read the waves, the winds, the clouds, and the stars.
On October 14, Elder Grouard sailed for Tahiti with a crew of eighteen, sufficient food for the voyage, and a fair wind. Several days out, about evening, the little crew sighted the tiny island of Mehitia, where they wanted to put in for the night. In an effort to make better time they began running toward the island at full sail. A stiff gust of wind came up and carried the foremast away. Minutes later the mainmast blew down. The next few minutes nearly completed the disaster. The double canoe crashed into the reef and was broken up. Fortunately the people of the island saw the problem and rowed out to give assistance. No lives were lost, but the canoe was irreparably damaged. Although Elder Grouard's crew were experts in building pahi Paumotu, time was passing. During the next two weeks, while a new vessel was being constructed, Grouard used the delay to advantage, preaching the gospel to the natives of the island and baptizing two of them, but at the same time praying that a ship would appear to take him to Tahiti. His prayer was answered, and by rowing five miles out to sea he was able to hitch a ride to his destination. About twenty-four hours later the ship docked at Papeete. Elder Grouard had nothing but the clothes on his back, but the Saints at Papeete kindly ministered to his needs. Almost immediately he sent a message to Pratt on a vessel, the Artarevedre, which was making a round trip to Tubuai.
Captain Lajot's schooner, the Artarevedre, reached Tubuai on December 4, 1845. When Lajot delivered Pratt his mail, there were four letters: the first two were the only letters he had received from his wife in two and a half years; the others were notes from Grouard. From his wife he learned that she and the four girls were well but not too happy. She also described the death of the Prophet and circumstances in Nauvoo. From Grouard. Elder Pratt learned of his great success on Anaa and how desperately he needed help. Grouard wrote, "If you don't accept, I will come to Tubuai for you in this native vessel, for I am determined to have your assistance on Anaa come life or death; and if I should be drowned in consequence of starting in such a frail bark, my death will be upon your hands as you would not come with Captain Lajot."
Elder Pratt dearly loved his friends on Tubuai, but he had accomplished all he felt he could there. He placed the Tubuai Branch in the hands of Elder Charles Hill, whom Pratt had considered his missionary companion since Hill's early conversion to the Church; and he promised the people he would return or send elders. He later did both. After enjoying several sumptuous yet tearful feasts and receiving gifts of the island's produce, Pratt, along with his friends Nabota and his wife Telii (who considered themselves his hoas or permanent companions), seventeen hogs, sixty hens, and one goat (all of which were Pratt's), boarded the Artarevedre for its return voyage to Tahiti. He sold his livestock in Papeete.
Once united on Tahiti, the elders worked a district called Tiarei for a month and then sailed for Anaa, arriving there on February 3, 1846. They set to work teaching school, preaching the gospel, and administering to the sick. In order to keep all the branches happy, Grouard and Pratt divided the island and then rotated their visits from place to place. Converts continued to enter the waters of baptism.
Elder Grouard, who seemed to prefer pioneering new areas to tending established branches, decided that he could serve better by visiting other islands in the chain. From June 5 until September 18 Elder Grouard traveled constantly and preached on at least nine other islands. From Faaite, Fakarava, Toau, Kaukura, Makatea, Tikahau, Rairoi [Rangiroa or Rahiroa], Arutua, and Apataki, he gleaned 116 souls.
On September 24, 1846, members of the Church from ten branches (the Tahiti branch was not represented) assembled at Putuhara, Anaa, for the first Mormon conference in the Pacific. The total membership in the islands at this time was 866. Without doubt Pratt's decision to return to the body of the Saints in America was the most important matter discussed.
The next two months were little different for Pratt and Grouard from those that had preceded the conference. They continued their teaching, preaching, blessing, and baptizing. Then on November 14 the captain of the Robroy took Pratt to Tahiti. Addison Pratt knew that an important period of his life was coming to a close. He wrote while on his way to Tahiti:
I shall never forget the parting with Brother Grouard. He and I have been yoked together in this mission for three and a half years. We have withstood the frowns of poverty, the opposition of men and devils, the abusive negligence of our friends in America (as we have received but three letters from there since we left), the frowns of hunger, traveling over the sharp coral rocks and slippery mountains with our toes out of our shoes, and our knees and elbows out of our clothes, living a part of our time on cocoanuts and raw fish, and sleeping on the ground for the sake of obeying the Savior's commands and preaching the Gospel to the natives of these South Sea Islands.
By this time, in spite of such hardships, he and Elder Grouard had baptized more than a thousand souls into the kingdom.
When Elder Pratt landed at Papeete he found the harbor busy with ships of trade and war. The hostilities between the French and the Tahitians were unabated. But a few weeks later, at the end of December, the war finally ended. On January 1, 1847, a large number of natives assembled to hear the French governor address them. He told them, among other things, that "they could embrace any kind of religion they thought proper, and in so doing he would protect them from persecution."
From New Year's Day until March, Elder Pratt spent most of his time in a district called Tiarei, about fifteen miles east of Papeete. One of his converts from Tubuai, Haametua, had come from there and had laid the groundwork for the establishment of the Church in Tiarei. Although Pratt felt that he was only marking his time until a ship sailed for California, he developed a branch of twenty-seven members at Huau. This early branch later proved to be important to the establishment of the Church on Tahiti.
On March 28, 1847, Addison Pratt sailed for Honolulu with Captain Lajot on the schooner Providence. They arrived at the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) on April 28. Elder Pratt observed that the city was much more modern and European than it had been two and a half decades before. After a short visit there he continued on to San Francisco on the same ship. Arriving there on June 11, 1847, he made contact with a group of Church members who had come to California with Samuel Brannan aboard the ship Brooklyn a year before.
He was eager to know the location of the Church, his wife, and his daughters. No one had any answers. They did know that the Saints had been driven from Nauvoo and reported that Sam Brannan had gone by horseback to find the body of the Church and bring its members to his chosen Zion on the Pacific coast. The best Pratt could do was wait for better word.
When Brannan came back in the fall, he brought the surprising news that Brigham Young had chosen to remain in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Brannan also brought to Elder Pratt a letter from his wife. It was written at Winter Quarters, where she and the girls had suffered for two years with sickness, too little food, and many other hardships. Her letter told of her plans to move west as soon as she was able.
In May 1848, Addison, with a remnant of the Mormon Battalion, moved eastward into the Sierra Nevada mountains. They arrived in Salt Lake City on September 28. To Pratt's joy he found that his wife had arrived eight days before him. They had been apart for five and a half years!
In October conference, Elder Pratt reported his and Elder Grouard's work and their plans, hopes, and desires for the Polynesian Saints. More missionaries were needed, and the sooner the better. The conference voted unanimously to send Elder Pratt and others to do the work.
Through the winter of 1848-49, Pratt conducted classes in Tahitian three nights a week; perhaps this was the first missionary training center of the Church.
Although a group of Tahiti-bound missionaries was ready to leave by midsummer of 1849, various delays held up their departure. Then, it was Pratt and James S. Brown who left first for the islands. Sailing from San Francisco, they landed at Papeete on May 24, 1850.
The same spring twenty-one more missionaries, seven of whom would preach, were called at April conference to serve in French Polynesia, as it later came to be called. Included were Louisa Barnes Pratt and daughters Ellen, Francis, Lois, and Ann Louise; Jonathan Crosby, his wife, Caroline (who was a sister of Mrs. Pratt), and their son Alma; Joseph Busby; Thomas Tompkins, his wife, and their two children (he was asked to take special care of the Pratts); a Brother McMerty and his wife and child; Sidney Alvarus Hanks (brother of Knowlton F. Hanks, who had died at sea during the earlier voyage); Simeon A. Dunn; Julian Moses; and Hiram E.W. Clark, age fourteen, who was under Sister Pratt's care. This company, prepared to teach the arts of civilization as well as the gospel, departed from Salt Lake City on May 7, 1850. They sailed from San Francisco on September 15, and, following a two-month voyage, they arrived at Tubuai on October 21, 1850.
Elder Grouard's Work Between 1847 and 1850
Shortly before Addison Pratt left the islands, Elder Grouard decided to marry. He had written to his wife at Nauvoo many times but had not heard a word from her or about her. He became convinced that she had left him and the Church and returned to her former life in the Eastern states. Elder Grouard, now twenty-seven years old, rationalized that it was not good for man to be alone. Being wedded to his field of labor, as Pratt put it, he decided to take a wife and remain in the islands. Pratt performed the ceremony, uniting Grouard to Tearo, a native girl, in April 1846. Tearo was a member of the Church, "the prettiest and best girl on the island." A year or two later this marriage ended tragically when she, being seriously ill, died at sea, leaving Grouard with an infant daughter, Sophronia. Needing a mother to care for his child, Grouard married again; this time he chose Nahina, the daughter of a chief on Anaa. She gave birth to three sons. He was never again to hear anything concerning his American wife.
While Pratt was away, Grouard remained busy. He selected John Hawkins, who was converted in the islands, to work with him. Hawkins was an avid teacher, and he expanded the work much farther into the Tuamotus. Grouard spent most of his time during Pratt's absence in Tahiti and Tubuai building and selling boats. When the company of missionaries arrived on Tubuai they found him hard at work on his third ship, a relatively large schooner with eighty tons burthen with a spacious cabin.
The Second Period and Closing of the Mission
Sister Pratt and all the members of the group were happy to see Elder Grouard after so many years, but they were dismayed to learn that since their arrival five months earlier, neither Addison Pratt nor James S. Brown had been allowed to come from Tahiti to Tubuai. The French governor had detained them in Tahiti, pending their fulfilling several requirements, one of which was a signed statement of the reasons for the Mormon mission in the French protectorate, something that would explain the doctrine, faith, and practices of the Latter-day Saints. A number of months passed before Pratt and Brown satisfied the governor, but in November 1850 they were finally given permits to stay in the French area. Their permits stated that they, like all other foreigners in the islands, could not live off the local people. Traveling without "purse or scrip" was no longer allowed. This restriction caused many difficulties during the remaining months of the mission.
Elder Pratt, now free to pursue the work, took the first ship to Tubuai, arriving on January 28, 1851. President Pratt (he had been so appointed by Brigham Young) assigned Elder Brown to labor on Tahiti. On Tubuai, with the rest of the missionaries, Pratt helped construct the mission ship. The months from January to May were happy, family-filled days for Addison and his loved ones.
Louisa Barnes Pratt and Caroline Barnes Crosby contributed much to the mission. Their husbands were away on other islands most of the time. Occasionally they endured moments of fear for their own safety-for example, when natives unloaded a number of cases of liquor on the island and drank it up during the next day or so. They were busy conducting school for their own and the local children, holding women's meetings, and teaching American homemaking skills, such as quilting.
In April, the mission ship, the Ravaai (the Fisherman), was ready to serve the mission by transporting missionaries from island to island and also to engage in interisland commerce to help provide financial support for the mission.
Missionary life was evidently too hard for two of the new missionaries and their families. In March 1851, only four months after their arrival at Tubuai, Joseph Busby sailed for home with his family. In May, Elder McMerty followed with his wife and child. President Pratt was disturbed by the "foolishness" of their coming so far only to "turn round and go back" just because of a little hardship. He asserted that these islands needed healthy, ambitious men, "young men who are neither sugar nor salt, as they are sometimes exposed to the wet."
At the same time Thomas Tompkins was sent home with his family to search for a gathering place in California for the island Saints and to find financial assistance for the mission. Apparently nothing came of either purpose.
From the time of the Ravaai's maiden voyage to Tahiti in May 1851, the mission encountered greater and greater opposition from both the French government (and the Roman Catholic Church, which was supported by it) and representatives of the London Missionary Society.
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Louisa Barnes Pratt, wife of Addison Pratt, served as a missionary on the island of Tubuai. One of the first lady missionaries of the Church, she and her sister Caroline B. Crosby operated the first LDS school in the Pacific. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
The involvement of the French government in mission affairs had been of no real consequence until 1848. In that year, however, the government had begun restricting travel from island to island. Not only the LDS but also the LMS missionaries believed this was part of a plot to curtail their work. The restrictions effectively hindered the missionary efforts.
By the time Elders Pratt and Brown had arrived back in the islands in 1850, the French were firmly in control. For a time the law of religious toleration worked for the benefit of all non-Catholic missionaries. But the government, under Governor Bonard, had become uneasy about the presence of so many Americans within its domain. Furthermore, Roman Catholic missionaries, although not officially sponsored by the protectorate, seem to have received special favors and support. In historian Aarne A. Koskinan's words, "the French navy had unscrupulously interfered in the internal affairs" of the islands. Indeed, the Roman Catholics, too, evidently served the government in some instances. The government's uneasiness about foreigners and its preferential treatment of Catholicism combined to create a near-impossible situation for the Mormons.
In addition, the government announced a law in March 1852 that placed all religious affairs at Papeete under state control and created a new office of district minister to direct and correlate the religious activities in Polynesia. At the same time, missionaries were ordered to keep to one district. They were also supposed to preach only when they had been asked to do so by written invitation of their congregations. Neither Mormons nor Protestants adhered to these laws when they could avoid them.
A French historian, Charles-Andre Julien, has described the period from 1797 to 1870 in the Pacific as la guerre des missions, the war of the missions. Roman Catholic tradition demanded that "the maintenance of its traditional leading position was to be striven for by every possible means." Unfortunately, in this war the Mormons did not have the strength numerically nor financially to fight a winning battle. As will be seen, before the conflict was over Grouard had been summoned to Papeete to answer trumped-up criminal charges, James S. Brown had been deported, and some local Saints had lost their lives on Anaa because they insisted upon practicing their religion.
At about the time Elder Pratt came back from Utah, bringing Elder Brown with him, Elder Grouard and one of the local converts, Brother Whitaker, were charged with using seditious language at a conference held on Tubuai. Grouard noted, "Consequently a man-of-war was dispatched to bring us prisoners to Tahiti. . . . We had no public trial, but simply underwent an examination before the governor; and though some twenty affidavits had been elicited against us, they were so flimsy and contradictory, that simple affirmation of truth and innocence compelled an honourable acquittal."
James S. Brown, a young, energetic veteran of the Mormon Battalion march to California, attracted too much attention to himself. While laboring on Anaa, he displayed an American flag, sketched a map of the Battalion route, made another map showing the location of the gold fields in California (he had been at Sutter's Mill when the first gold was discovered), and sympathized openly with the Polynesians when they complained of the French yoke. All this was carefully noted by four Catholic priests who had recently established themselves on the island. Brown was incredulous when a French man-of-war brought gendarmes to arrest him, place him in chains, and transport him to Papeete. On November 10, 1851, he was tried before the governor and some associates. Four days later Elder Brown was told that he must leave the protectorate on the next boat. Elder Grouard made sure the next boat was the Ravaai, the mission ship. They set out on the seventeenth and traveled south to Raivavae, which was outside the protectorate at that time. Elder Pratt, who had been teaching there with little success, was replaced by Brown. Grouard and Pratt sailed on to Anaa and other islands in the Tuamotus and finally back to Tubuai, where they arrived on January 9, 1852.
Elder Brown remained on Raivavae and some other islands in the vicinity for almost a year. When he left Tahiti for home on November 26, 1852, he was deeply disturbed about the general condition of the Church in the islands. He observed, as did his companions who had left the same port in May, that among the population there was a general decline in morals. The prohibition on liquor had been repealed, more licentious dances were growing in popularity, and venereal diseases were at near-epidemic proportions.
But the event that almost broke Elder Brown's heart was the so-called Mormon revolt on Anaa. When he arrived on Tahiti he was carefully watched by the police. He did not at first understand why, but through notes passed to him by young men from Anaa, he learned that a number of Church leaders from that island were now on Tahiti, held prisoners for having been involved in the murder of a policeman and a Roman Catholic priest.
This event occurred after President Pratt, Elder Grouard, and their families had left the islands in May 1852, leaving only Brown and Hanks to carry on missionary activities. About this time four Catholic priests had begun to proselyte intensely among the people of Anaa. They gathered a congregation of around thirty members, most of whom were reported to be employed by the government. These priests also gained the offices of "district ministers" and forbade Mormon meetings. The Mormons were not supposed to read, sing, or pray. One evening while a prayer meeting was underway, a partially drunken gendarme, accompanied by two priests, entered the Mormon chapel at Putuahara and told the Saints to stop their meeting. One woman remained on her knees. The gendarme drew his sword and swung it over his head to bring it down on her. The tip of the sword caught on a cross beam, and one of the brethren grabbed a fishing spear and ran it through the gendarme, killing him. In the scuffle that followed, one of the priests was killed with the gendarme's sword, evidently by one of the Mormons. The other priest escaped with serious cuts on his face. He managed to get word of these events to government headquarters in Papeete, and shortly a contingent of troops was on the little island. Before the troops left, five priesthood bearers, Tefatina, Reifara, Maru, Mafeuta, and Temutu, had been hanged from a beam tied between two coconut trees. A number of others, including several women, were chained and taken to Tahiti, where Brown later found them working in the mountains, building a road under very harsh conditions. It is no wonder that Elder Brown was deeply grieved to depart from the islands under these bitter circumstances.
When Elder Brown left, only Sidney Alvarus Hanks remained of all the foreign missionaries who had come to the islands. He was in the east Tuamotus and out of touch with the rest of the mission. He evidently stayed in the islands until about 1857. In addition to him, there were a number of local elders and other priesthood bearers who carried on the work of the Church. John Hawkins, who had worked closely with the Utah missionaries before their departure, assumed the leadership of the Church in Tahiti for a time.
When Elder Grouard reported the status of the mission in Salt Lake City, he said there were between fifteen hundred and two thousand members of the Church on at least twenty islands spread over hundreds of miles of water. He said, "As a general thing they are faithful and zealous Saints."
1. See Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1902-1932), 5:349, 386; hereinafter cited as HC; Louisa Barnes Pratt, "Journal of Louisa Barnes Pratt," Kate B. Carter, comp., Heart Throbs of the West (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1967), 8:228.
2. HC, 5:404-6.
3. Jane Tudor, ed., Pacific Islands Yearbook, 11th ed. (Sydney: Pacific Publications, 1972), p. 185.
4. Doyle L. Green, "Mission to Polynesia: The Story of Addison Pratt and the Society Islands Mission," Improvement Era 52 (July 1949): 436; hereinafter cited as IE.
5. Ibid., p. 437; see also Andrew Jenson, Manuscript History of the French Polynesia Mission (MHFP), July 21, 1844, Church Archives, Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; hereinafter cited as CA.
6. Green, "Mission to Polynesia," p. 437.
7. Most of these men, all of whom were shipbuilders, left the islands for California in the days of the Gold Rush of 1849. Some later returned to their adopted island home.
8. See Aarne A. Koshinen, Missionary Influence as a Political Factor in the Pacific Islands (Helsinki, 1953, reprinted ed., University Microfilms International, 1978), pp. 110-12ff.
9. Ibid., pp. 164-66; C. Hartley Grattan, The Southwest Pacific to 1900 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963), pp. 216-20; for a summary of the L.M.S.-Roman Catholic conflict see also Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 vols. (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1943), 5:06.
10. MHFP, August 15, 1844.
11. Ibid., September 16, 1844.
12. Ibid., October 17, 1844 to January 25, 1845.
13. When Pratt was reunited with his wife in Salt Lake City in 1848, he was fully apprised of the "letter" situation. A number of Church leaders had sent letters to the Pacific elders regularly, as did Sister Pratt. It must be counted as bad luck that these messages did not arrive.
But more important, it must be remembered that the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed in June 1844 and that the Saints were persecuted, mobbed, and finally driven out of Nauvoo and eventually west to Utah. During this time Sister Pratt and her daughters suffered privations and would have given much for a mouthful of island fruit, fish, or coconut, or for a few degrees of warmth while they shivered in a sod hut at Winter Quarters. All this was brought to Addison's awareness only after he joined the Saints in Utah.
15. Ibid., February 20, 1845.
16. S. George Ellsworth, "Zion in Paradise: Early Mormons in the South Seas" (Logan, Utah: The Faculty Association, Utah State University, 1959), p. 13.
17. MHFP, May 1, 1845; also Green, "Mission to Polynesia," IE 52 (October 1949): 635.
19. MHFP, December 4, 1845.
20. MHFP, September 24, 1846.
21. Ibid., November 14, 1846.
22. Ibid., January 1, 1847.
23. Ibid., March 28, 1847; Green, "Mission to Polynesia," IE 53 (March 1950): 178-80; Louisa Barnes Pratt, Journal, pp. 245-46. She says the date of arrival was August 1848 rather than September.
24. Ellsworth, pp. 23, 25; also L. B. Pratt, Journal.
25. James S. Brown, Giant of the Lord: The Life of a Pioneer (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, orig. pub. 1902), pp. 183-88.
26. Ellsworth, "Zion in Paradise," p. 28; Mrs. Pratt colorfully describes her island experiences in her journal, mentioned above.
27. Millennial Star (Liverpool) 14: 109; hereinafter cited as MS.
28. Koskinen, Missionary Influence, p. 181.
29. John Davies, The History of the Tahitian Mission, 1799-1830, ed. C. W. Newbury, (Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society, at the University Press, 1961), pp. 338-39.
30. Koskinen, Missionary Influence, pp. 108, 112.
31. MS, 15:406-07.
32. Brown, Giant of the Lord, pp. 237-51.
33. Elder Brown did not obtain an exact understanding of what happened, nor did later writers such as Eugene M. Cannon and F. Edward Butterworth have all the correct details; see Brown, pp. 279-80, and MS, 15:407; MHFP, December 31, 1853 (but written in the 1890s); F. Edward Butterworth, The Adventures of John Hawkins: Restoration Pioneer (Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1963), pp. 203ff.
Forty Years Alone and the Reestablishing of the Mission
French Polynesia, 1852-1899
After the expulsion of the missionaries in 1852, the Tahitian, Tuamotuan, and Tubuaian Saints kept the Church alive in the islands for forty years. Church President Brigham Young suggested to Walter Murray Gibson, a missionary who was sent to the Pacific in 1861, that he might call on the Saints in the Society Islands if it was convenient, but Gibson became involved in the Church in Hawaii and never visited French Polynesia. No other LDS missionaries were sent to French Polynesia until 1892.
The story of the Saints from 1852 to 1892 is sketchy at best. Persecutions continued for many years. Government and Catholic harassment of the Saints on Anaa and other Tuamotu islands was so intense that it became dangerous for one to espouse Mormonism openly. This fact, in combination with an absence of an appointed authority who could resolve differences regarding doctrine and procedure, allowed dissensions to arise that ultimately broke the Church into factions-Mormons, Israelites, the Sheep, Abraham's Church, Darkites, and the Whistlers. Not until 1867, when the government extended general religious toleration throughout the protectorate, were any of the factions allowed to worship openly. By that time the LDS Church in French Polynesia was in a thoroughly disorganized state.
James S. Brown returned as a missionary to Tahiti in 1892, after an absence of forty years. He observed that many unusual or erroneous doctrines had been adopted, such as holding daily meetings (which was not the accepted LDS pattern) and allowing only one man (or woman) to conduct services, lead the hymns, pray, and preach.
Several islands Saints stand out as stalwarts. Elders Tihoni and Maihea are known to have withstood imprisonment and many other ordeals rather than deny what they knew to be true. Each of them tried to keep the Saints in his area active and faithful to the gospel.
John Hawkins, the inter-island sailor and trader who was converted to the Church by Addison Pratt, and who worked as a missionary while the Utah elders were in the islands, also tried to keep the Church going. He later joined with the Reorganized LDS Church, but for many years he served well in the original faith. According to F. Edward Butterworth, an RLDS missionary, Hawkins continued to work as an inter-island trader after the missionaries left. He kept his relationship to the Church a secret from the government, but he appointed five local brethren to work with him in the ministry. Each of the others established a store where Hawkins could supply goods and provide leadership support without being suspected by the police. He remained active as a missionary until at least 1864. Two island Zions, "gathering places," were established. The Saints on Tubuai called Mahu "Tiona," or Zion. The Saints in and around Papeete gathered in a little mountain sanctuary near Faaa, also Tiona, three and a half miles west of the city. Exactly how many members of the Church lived there is not known. But they did conduct schools as well as regular church meetings. In the early 1870s this little community was under the care of local Tahitian elders and an East Indian (or part East Indian) member named David Brown.
It was into this branch that two missionaries from the Reorganized Church came. Charles Wandell, an apostate Mormon who had joined the RLDS Church, and Gloud Rodger arrived at Tahiti on December 13, 1873. They visited the Tiona settlement and, unfortunately (from the LDS perspective) they convinced most of the Saints that they represented the church that had inherited the authority of the Prophet Joseph Smith after his martyrdom in 1844. They claimed that Brigham Young and the Utah Mormons were apostates and that the authority to lead the Church had been given to Joseph Smith III, who was the leader of the Reorganization. Before they went on to Australia to fill their missions, they baptized fifty-one people into their church.
The next RLDS missionary to claim authority over the Saints in the islands was William Nelson, who arrived in 1879. He was followed by Thomas W. Smith, an apostle in the Reorganized Church, who arrived as an assigned missionary in 1884. Before Mormon elders returned in 1892, Nelson and Smith had led a fairly large number of members into their church.
The Mission Is Reestablished 1892
After the closing of the LDS mission in French Polynesia in 1852, the mission in Hawaii (founded in 1850) was the only Pacific one to remain open for the next several decades. In 1888, however, missionaries were sent from Hawaii to Samoa to establish the LDS Church there. By the summer of 1891 the mission in Samoa with headquarters near Apia was well under way. Though the mission was only three years old, President William O. Lee decided it was time to open new fields of labor. In June he sent missionaries to Tonga. Then, with the blessings of the Church's First Presidency, he began making plans to send elders to Tahiti. Soon after Elder William A. Seegmiller of Richfield, Utah, arrived in Samoa on October 4, 1891, President Lee asked him whether he would be willing to help with the reopening of Church work in Tahiti. He accepted the call and, eleven days later, when Tahitian Bibles and a dictionary arrived, he set to work learning the language.
Elder Joseph W. Damron, Jr., who arrived in Samoa on November 28, was selected to go to Tahiti with Elder Seegmiller. When the steamer Richmond left Apia harbor, both men were apprehensive about what lay ahead for them in Tahiti, but they wrote of their conviction that they could succeed in this new assignment.
Their apprehension stayed with them through the entire voyage, in no way lessened by the natural beauty of Tahiti, which they could see as their ship glided to its mooring. How would they be accepted by the people, the government? Could they find any Mormons from the early era?["[In] all that crowd," wrote Elder Seegmiller, "not one did we know; it seemed strange, and we were indeed strangers." It was January 27, 1892. The Tahitian Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was open again after a hiatus of forty years.
The elders found a small room without much furniture, supplied with cobwebs and mosquitoes but priced low enough for self-supporting Mormon elders-six dollars a month. A week or two later they found something more to their liking, a three-dollar-a-month room.
As soon as they were settled, Elders Damron and Seegmiller began carefully studying the local situation. Through visits to Mr. Turnball, manager of a local firm, and Mr. William F. Doty, U.S. consul, they learned a little about the government situation. First, the territory was officially called Establissements Francais de l'Oceanie. The protectorate, as it had been known to earlier LDS missionaries, was now a colony. Between the 1840s and 1880s, the French had laboriously assembled the five archipelagos of the area (the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, the Gambiers, the Australes, and the isolated island of Clipperton) into one governmental entity headed by a governor and council. Although the French had hoped the islands would bring them an economic advantage, by this time these hopes had not materialized. Mr. Doty assured the elders that there were no restrictions concerning preaching the gospel or "carrying out our duty."
Their initial fears concerning the local people were quickly alleviated. Even while the elders were at their first home, they were almost literally adopted by a Tahitian neighbor and his family who brought them fish, fruit, cabbage, breadfruit, and other food every day and helped in many other ways. The elders observed that there was a sizable Chinese population on the island. They later learned that in 1865 a planter had imported a fairly large number of Chinese to work on his cotton plantation. The plantation did not survive, but the Chinese did, and by 1892 they owned hotels and stores and were an important part of the populace. Europeans, mostly French by birth, numbered fewer than a thousand. Most of them were traders, merchants, or government employees.
One day, shortly after they arrived, Elders Damron and Seegmiller learned about a group of Mormons who lived outside of Papeete at Faaa. On February 8, Amaro, the Tahitian neighbor who had adopted them, took them there. They discovered that the supposed Mormons were actually RLDS. A Tahitian RLDS elder, Tupuni, explained that there were over two thousand members of the Reorganized church in the various islands. This meeting was the first of hundreds of encounters between elders of the two churches. During the 1890s the problems between the two churches were of major importance; more on this will be discussed later.
In mid-February the elders made shoulder bags for their belongings and started on an extended walk around the island of Tahiti. Their trek helped them to learn the language faster and to get better acquainted with the culture.
Because they could speak neither Tahitian nor French, their missionary work moved slowly in the early months. Both elders were troubled by this and so informed the First Presidency. In order to improve communications between Salt Lake City and Tahiti (all communications had previously been sent through the mission president in Samoa), the First Presidency appointed Elder Damron temporary president of the newly organized Tahitian Mission and instructed him that he and Seegmiller were to report directly to Salt Lake City each month. Damron learned of his appointment on April 29, 1892.
The First Presidency listened to the elders' pleas for help and called Elder James S. Brown, now sixty-five years old and missing one leg, to go to Tahiti as president of the mission. He was the only living member of the earlier mission group. Brown's son, Elando, and Elder Thomas Jones, Jr., were called to accompany the veteran elder.
By June 1, when the three reinforcement elders arrived, Damron and Seegmiller had not accomplished much that was visible. But they were beginning to use the Tahitian language fairly well, and they did know the lay of the land. What they wanted now was to get some converts and especially to find members of the Church who had remained faithful since the early mission closed.
A friend of Brown's, Mr. Dorence Atwater, who had been U.S. consul for twenty-five years, allowed them all to stay in a very comfortable home in Papeete; a number of RLDS members who knew Brown visited him and renewed old acquaintances.
Not long after his arrival, President Brown was invited to use Mr. Atwater's hall for religious services. Atwater, however, suggested that the elders should obtain the governor's permission before going ahead. Mr. Atwater introduced Brown to the director and secretary of the interior, "who immediately asked me if I was not the same Brown who had difficulty with the government many years ago." Brother Brown said that he was. Three days later the elders were informed that they would not be "permitted to labor as ministers" among the people of the colony. After consulting the American consul, writing letters, and seeking French legal counsel, they learned that they could legally preach if they notified the appropriate authorities, the mayor or local magistrate, in writing before holding each service. Brown said that because of this restriction they were "practically shut out from holding meetings."
Then, on August 22, President Brown received a letter from an old Church member named Tehahe, or Opu, who lived on Tubuai. It proved to be the opening the elders had been hoping for. Tehahe warmly invited the elders to come to Tubuai, as he said that "they had been left in the dark many years without one ray of light." That day they were also visited by an employee of a wealthy part-Tahitian named Mapuhi, who lived in the Tuamotu Islands. Mapuhi claimed to be a member of the Church and wanted to see the missionaries.
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Tamaiti or Tatio or Faretaha i rani (known by all three names), was baptized by Addison Pratt at Tubuai. He remained faithful to the Church until his death in the 1920s. Photo taken in 1921. (Courtesy L. H. Kennard.)
He later proved to be a true Latter-day Saint. He shared with the elders and Saints his three schooners and his home. which the missionaries described as a seven-room mansion, larger than the fine homes of Papeete. Mapuhi had joined the Church as a small boy when Sidney Alvarus Hanks ministered in the Tuamotus. As a young man he had learned the trade of shipbuilding, and by trading pearls and pearl shell with the island people, he had become known as the "pearl king."
As soon as transportation could be arranged, President Brown, in company with Elder Seegmiller, sailed to Tubuai. When they landed at Mataura on September 20, the elders learned that representatives of the RLDS church had preceded them. The people were noticeably cool toward them; in fact, President Brown reported that very few people were hospitable. About a week after their arrival, they moved five miles around the island to Mahu. There "the clouds over the mission began to break." Many of the Polynesians began to talk openly with President Brown and to bring food. The next Sunday Brown and Seegmiller met with a number of people in an open-air meeting. In that gathering Elder Brown "explained how the authority had continued in the church from the Prophet Joseph to the present organization." Following the meeting several people asked for baptism and, two days later, on October 4, Elder Seegmiller baptized twenty-four persons. Brown's journal entries noted numerous baptisms over the next few weeks: October 10, "nine baptized"; October 14 and following, "baptized several"; November 8, "baptized eight"; November 14, "eight members were added to the Church"; November 16, "added five more souls to the Church by baptism." On November 23, Elder Seegmiller baptized the school teacher at Mataura and two of the governor's daughters. Before the end of November, sixty-five Tubuaians claimed membership in the Church.
On November 24, President Brown sailed from Tubuai. He placed Elder Seegmiller in charge of the branches. Serious problems remained to be settled regarding property ownership, and some of these matters were not resolved for many years. Seegmiller and the reestablished Church also had frequent conflicts with the Catholics, Protestants, and the Reorganized church. These problems notwithstanding, when President Brown left the island, he was convinced that the Lord had blessed them for their perseverance, prayers, and hard work.
Elder Brown had scarcely landed in Papeete on December 1 when he learned from his son, Elando, that Elders Damron and Jones, who had left Papeete shortly after J. S. Brown departed for Tubuai, were having success in the Tuamotu Islands. A conference of all the Saints in that area was planned for early January 1893, and Brown's help was needed.
Brown learned that after he and Seegmiller had sailed for Tubuai, Brother Mapuhi had come to Tahiti. The elders were eager to sail with him to Takaroa, his home island, and see the Saints of that part of the colony. They sailed from Papeete on October 26, in Mapuhi's 105-ton schooner, Teavaroa. After stopping briefly at a couple of islands where the RLDS were in the majority, the Teavaroa docked at Takaroa on November 1.
On this island Elders Damron and Jones found a branch of one hundred Church members who had resisted the RLDS missionaries. After the elders met with these Saints, these faithful island people concluded that authorized messengers had indeed finally come from the Church in Salt Lake City. On November 6, they officially accepted Damron and Jones as their missionaries. By early December, thirty-three people had been added to the Church. The Takaroa Branch was organized, holding regular meetings, and even building a stone meetinghouse. Brother Mapuhi was the motivating force behind this effort.
Gradually a more complete picture of the Church in the Tuamotus began to emerge. One day Elders Damron and Jones heard about Saints on Anaa, and another day they learned of Saints in Katiu. In December they discovered that all the Tuamotu Saints were led by an old man, now blind, named Maihea. He said he had received his authority while Pratt and Grouard were in the islands. This venerable leader from Anaa had called a conference of all Tuamotu Saints to be held on the island of Faaite beginning January 6. When Damron and Jones learned about this, they wrote to Tahiti and asked their mission president to make every effort to join them at the scheduled conference. By leaving Papeete on December 15, Elders James S. and Elando Brown arrived at Takaroa on the twenty-sixth. Several days later, they, in company with Damron and Jones and six boatloads of local Saints, sailed for Faaite.
The fleet of Takaroa Latter-day Saints arrived at Faaite on December 31. It was evident from the large number of canoes and boats in the lagoon that others had already arrived. Elaborate preparations had occupied the local members for weeks before the gathering. Available food of all kinds-pigs, coconuts, fruits, fish, canned goods, and so forth-was amassed for the expected throng. But more exciting than the anticipated feasts, the renewal of friendships, and the exchange of information and gossip, was the joy of having men among them who were missionaries of the Mormon Church.
According to Elder Damron, not many minutes after they came ashore, Elder Brown and his companions were visited by a delegation of older men who were led by Maihea. Maihea came almost immediately to the point by asking a series of questions: "Are you the real Iatobo (James) that brought us the Gospel forty years ago? Second, Are you now representing the same Gospel as before?" He also asked the location of different villages on Anaa, the island where Elder Brown had labored while on his former mission. Being convinced, he said with joy: "We receive you as our father and leader, but had you not come back personally we would have refused to receive any foreign missionaries, as so many false teachers have been in our midst and decoyed many from the Gospel of Christ." Maihea then related how he and his people had prayed constantly that God would again send them missionaries with the light of truth and the Holy Spirit to bless them. Their prayers had been answered after forty years of waiting.
During the conference meetings the elders learned that there were now ten branches with 425 members, most of them comparatively recent: only seventeen veterans of the early mission were known to be still alive or faithful to the Church. The missionaries ordained Tehina of Anaa and Karere of Katiu as elders. A number of other Polynesian elders were sustained in their positions as branch presidents.
Following the January conference the Browns, father and son, sailed for Anaa, where they taught the gospel until April. Elders Damron and Jones remained in the vicinity of Takaroa, and Elder Seegmiller remained on Tubuai.
During the absence of the missionaries from Tahiti, a new group of elders arrived on March 21, 1893, from Salt Lake City. The new recruits included Frank Cutler, Thomas L. Woodbury, Eugene M. Cannon, Carl J. Larsen, I. Frank Goff, Fred C. Rossiter, Jesse M. Fox, and Edward Sudbury. The new missionaries rented a home and set to work studying the Tahitian language. In early May, President Brown returned to Tahiti and gave the missionaries their teaching assignments.
Basically the missionary method consisted of from one to four elders traveling alone or together from island to island, meeting with the people, living with them in their huts or homes, eating their food, blessing the sick, organizing branches, baptizing an occasional convert, debating with leaders of other denominations (particularly the RLDS), trying to escape the inconsistent but heavy hand of the government, and in general attempting to uplift the Saints morally and spiritually. Local Polynesian elders generally presided over the branches.
In July 1893, about thirteen months after he had arrived in the islands, James S. Brown turned the leadership of the now firmly established mission over to Joseph W. Damron. On July 8, Brown, accompanied by his son Elando and Elder Edward Sudbury, whose health was poor, sailed from Tahiti.
When Brother Brown arrived home in Salt Lake City, he reported to the First Presidency and made several suggestions, specifically that ten more missionaries be sent to Tahiti by the next spring, that these missionaries be prepared financially to support themselves and avoid living off the members, that the mission have a ship, and that a headquarters building be obtained in Papeete. Concerning the ship, he explained that inter-island travel was so unpredictable and dangerous that a vessel of one hundred tons should be procured to serve the mission's needs. Many decades passed, however, before such a boat was purchased by the mission. Brown's request for a mission headquarters, fortunately, was met much sooner.
After Brown left the islands, the work proceeded without any serious problem until late March 1895, when a relatively new political administrator of the Tuamotu islands, E. A. Martin, decided to create difficulties for the Mormons and, later, for all of the non-French religious groups, specifically the RLDS and the Seventh-Day Adventists. Martin accused the Mormon elders of being "beggars, spongers off the natives, idlers who had nothing to do in our own country." These accusations were leveled at Elders Eugene M. Cannon and Carl J. Larsen on March 30, while they were en route to Takaroa for a semiannual conference. On that same day, Administrator Martin dispatched a command that the regular conference not be held. According to Elder Cannon, Martin declared that he had not sanctioned the conference and that those who had called it would be "taken to judgment" if his order was not followed. Martin also ordered the missionaries in the Tuamotus to cease teaching the gospel. His orders were followed.
During the next six months President Frank Cutler spent countless hours writing legal petitions; meeting with Mr. J. Lamb Doty, U.S. consul (who was a great friend to the Mormons); and arguing the Church's case directly before Governor Martin of the Tuamotus and Governor Papinaud of the French colony. Cutler assured Governor Papinaud that Latter-day Saints "obey, honor, and sustain the law" and support the local government. His main request was for a license to preach. Such a license was never granted, but because of pressure applied through Consul Doty, Governor Papinaud ordered his subordinate, E. A. Martin, to desist from his unfriendly acts and to allow the Mormon elders to continue their work. The missionaries were, of course, very happy to have the obstacles removed from their way, but six months had been lost.
The colonial administration of the Establissements Francais de l'Oceanie was incredibly top heavy. There were during this time over five hundred paid officials to administer a colony of fewer than fifteen thousand people. Indeed, during the 1890s and until World War II, there was a persistent "tendency of the French to use Tahiti as a `dumping ground' for bad officials." Governors were frequently changed. The police were seemingly ever present.
One positive result of the Martin affair was that President Cutler found it necessary to reevaluate the status of the Church in the islands in order to write convincing letters to the government. President Cutler learned that Mormons made up one-fifth of the total population of the Tuamotu Islands. There were at that time 255 Mormon families. He also found that the RLDS and Roman Catholics each had approximately 1,000 followers in the Tuamotus and that the Protestants and Mormons each had about 700. At the end of 1895 there were sixteen LDS branches in the Tuamotus and two branches on Tubuai, but there were only five members on the island of Tahiti where over ten thousand people lived. There were in the whole mission a total of 1,043 Church members, including children. It now seems ironical that the LDS mission was called the Tahiti or Society Islands Mission during this era; it might better have been called the Tuamotu Mission.
Expansion Into New Endeavors and Fields
President Cutler, like his predecessors, was too involved with the problems of initial establishment to be concerned with moving into new areas. The task of expansion fell primarily to Daniel T. Miller, the next president of the mission. Though newly married, he arrived alone in Papeete on September 6, 1896. He was twenty-six years old when he received his call, but he was unusually well prepared to lead the missionary work in Tahiti. Miller was a linguist who could read and speak French (which would be useful in Tahiti), German, Greek, and Latin.
Miller continued the translation program that was already underway. President Cutler had translated or supervised the translation of several items, including the Articles of Faith and the Lectures on Faith, numbers two and three.
President Miller first broached the subject of translating the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants to the First Presidency in June 1897. Because his missionaries were having so many confrontations with the Reorganized Church, especially about matters discussed in B. H. Roberts's book Succession in the Presidency of the Church, Miller suggested that parts of this book should be the first item for translation, and next should follow the Doctrine and Covenants. Brother Miller also mentioned the importance of getting the Book of Mormon into Tahitian because the Catholics were "mistranslating" parts of it to mislead the people. The First Presidency gave its blessing, and before long these and other projects were underway.
On June 18, 1898, Elders Chamberlain and Neff began translating the Doctrine and Covenants. They, along with President Miller and Elder Willey, started work on the Book of Mormon at about the same time. They finished the Tahitian Book of Mormon on July 7, 1899, but it was not published until 1904. For reasons not shown in the historical records, the Doctrine and Covenants translation from this early era was never published.
The development that helped most in proselyting was the establishment of a language-learning program that President Miller put into effect in 1898. Through the coordinated study of grammars, vocabulary, scriptures, and conversation with the natives, Miller had many of his missionary students out among the people, carrying full loads within six months. Their accomplishment astonished many long-time foreign residents of Papeete.
Along with the language program and translation work, the energetic President Miller saw the need for the mission to have a geographical center. Until his time there were no headquarters where new missionaries could be welcomed and where they could go when they were tired or sick or to pick up mail, tracts, supplies, and so forth. Nor was there a meeting house in Papeete. Unlike the Tuamotus and Tubuai, where the Church had fine stone chapels built or under construction in all seventeen branches, the Saints in Papeete had, with some difficulty, been renting halls for services. In the spring of 1897, Miller and his companions began looking for property to purchase. They hoped to build a small meeting hall with a mission office and sleeping room adjoining it.
During April conference at Hikueru in the Tuamotus, President Miller explained to the Saints the need for a building in Papeete. The Saints in the Tuamotus were relatively prosperous. Most of their income was derived from diving for pearl shell and from making copra (dried coconut meat). For the chapel they made donations of $60280 and promises of another $400. With this money in hand, Miller continued to look for a good piece of property.
He did not find an ideal piece of land, but in August he obtained deed to a lot at Fautahera, on the outskirts of Papeete. It was twenty meters by thirty-five meters, donated by a friend of the Saints named Arai. The completed buildings were quite small, consisting of a meeting hall, an office for the mission president, and a study and sleeping room. Nearby, outside, they built a small cook house, which also doubled as a dormitory for missionaries.
Soon after he arrived there, President Miller recognized the need to expand missionary efforts on Tahiti. He saw that it would take far fewer elders to proselyte the ten-thousand-plus people concentrated there than were required to handle the people on the scattered Tuamotu Islands. With this in mind he assigned several elders to begin proselyting the villages of Tahiti. Many of these places had been visited before, but almost always by elders who had only recently arrived in the mission and who could not speak Tahitian. By the summer of 1899, pairs of missionaries were living in three districts of Tahiti, and people gradually began joining the Church.
In his effort to make Tahiti the actual administrative center of the Church, D. T. Miller decided to hold the April 1899 mission-wide conference at Papeete. The cost of coming to the conference was prohibitively high for most members in the Tuamotus, but fairly large groups did come from Takaroa, Hikueru, and two other islands. Local elders and sisters spoke, sang, and prayed. A warm, optimistic feeling pervaded the proceedings. In fact, President Miller reported that he had the same feeling he had enjoyed at general conference in Salt Lake City.
During this meeting President Miller called three Polynesian couples to fill short missions. All of them served honorably and did so at some sacrifice. Toae, who had previously served as a branch president, later became the first Tahitian Latter-day Saint to visit Salt Lake City and return to his home country. Timi and his wife were sent as the first LDS missionaries to Mangareva, in the Gambier group. Rua and his wife also served well. These local missionaries seem to have been the first "couple missionaries" in the Society Islands Mission, though other local elders had served as missionaries before them.
In August 1897, President Miller told the First Presidency about his decision to send elders to Moorea, only twelve miles west of Tahiti, and to the Leeward Group (Iles Sous le Vent) of the Society Islands with their approximately six thousand people. The major islands of the latter group are the twin islands of Raiatea and Tahaa and the islands of Huahine, Bora Bora, and Maupiti, all volcanic islands. Raiatea and Tahaa are particularly well-watered and fertile.
Raiatea, a well-populated island, was the political center of the Leeward Group in pre-missionary times. London Missionary Society preachers had converted most of the natives of this area to Protestant Christianity early in the 1800s. When the French subjugated Tahiti, Moorea, and the Tuamotu and Austral Islands, they had not been able to bring the Leeward Group under their control. In a treaty of 1847, France had agreed with Britain to respect the independence of the Leeward Islands. The treaty, however, had been revoked in 1888, and the area was officially annexed to the French colony in that year. Nevertheless, it was not until a war proved the greater military strength of France that the people of Raiatea submitted to colonial rule in 1897. This development made it possible for the Latter-day Saints to move into the area in the same year. The Roman Catholics, RLDS, and Seventh-day Adventists soon followed. By May 1898 twenty-two inhabitants of these islands had been baptized Latter-day Saints. From this time on, the Leeward Islands were, with the exception of only a few years, tracted regularly by the LDS missionaries.
After founding the work on Moorea and the Leeward Islands, President Miller turned his attention to the 8,000 people in the Cook Islands and the 4,443 residents of the Marquesas Islands. He and his colleagues studied the religious and political situation in the Cook Islands as carefully as possible before moving into that area. Language materials in Rarotongan, the language of the main island of the group, were obtained, and by March 18, 1899, Elders Osborne J. P. Widtsoe and Mervin W. Davis were studying them. On May 19, these two elders sailed for Rarotonga. They arrived at Avarua, the capital, on May 23. The following day they found a quiet spot on the green volcanic hillside near Avarua and dedicated the island of Rarotonga to the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Although the Tahitian language is related to Rarotongan, or Cook Island Maori, as it is now called, the elders still had to study the language for several months before they were able to teach effectively.
By the fall of 1899 the elders were familiar with the local religious situation. They found the people friendly but very devoted to their LMS form of Protestantism. The queen and other political figures used not-so-subtle pressure to keep the people within the quasi-official church. John Williams had first introduced Christianity to these islands in 1823, and from that time until the 1890s, when Roman Catholics and Seventh-day Adventists entered the area, the LMS (now called Cook Island Christian) had operated without any religious rivalry.
Elders Widtsoe and Davis began holding meetings but ran into direct opposition from the queen. Elder Davis later wrote, "After our first meeting the edict of the powerful Queen backed by the Protestant prejudice went forth prohibiting the people from attending other meetings than those held in the Protestant Church." This opposition, in combination with a lack of interest, "put an end to our meetings."
The contrast between the supervision of the Cook Islands by the British and of Tahiti by the French was striking. There were only two or three British officials in the entire group, in comparison with about five hundred officials in the French colony. In October 1900, New Zealand took possession of the Cook Islands-this, according to Elder Davis, with "the full consent of the native people." English rule had not entirely suppressed the old native form of government, but affairs had been rapidly moving in that direction. The elders hoped more religious freedom would be a major result of these changes.
On July 18, 1900, Elders Widtsoe and Davis arrived on the island of Aitutaki. They published two tracts in Rarotongan and dedicated the island and its people to the reception of the gospel. They visited most of the people and found them friendly, but, as had happened on Rarotonga, the Protestant minister used his influence to interfere with the Church's progress. Even though no converts were made on Aitutaki, "conditions were more in our favor" there than on Rarotonga.
On February 27, 1900, Elder Benjamin A. Johnson joined Widtsoe at Rarotonga, and on May 23, 1901, Elder Thomas Loveland arrived there. Johnson and Loveland later replaced the two senior elders when the latter departed for home in December 1900 and September 1901. Although all four missionaries worked earnestly to establish the restored gospel, they did not succeed. There were no baptisms.
The First Presidency of the Church was interested in the progress of the work in both the Cook Islands and the Marquesas Islands. When they recognized that hard work and patience were not accomplishing anything in these places, they directed President Edward S. Hall to close all those parts of the mission where the elders had been for a year or more without making any converts. As a result the LDS missionaries were withdrawn from the Cook Islands in November 1903. A number of years passed before Mormon elders reintroduced the gospel there.
The story of the first attempt to plant the Church in the Marquesas Islands is no happier than that of the Cook Islands. President Miller had great hopes for this area and seriously began to plan the opening of this field in 1898.
When Elders Edgar L. Cropper and Eli Horton landed at Taiohas, Nukuhiva, on May 30, 1899, following a lengthy and frequently interrupted voyage of seven hundred and forty miles from Tahiti, they found that the people were already committed to either the Roman Catholic or Protestant religions. Moreover, the Bible had not been translated into Marquesan, and almost no language study helps were available. The first missionaries to bring Christianity there had been from the LMS, but for political reasons they later pulled out, leaving the area to the French Protestants. But because the Roman Catholic orders were more energetic, by the 1890s an estimated 2,800 Marquesans claimed to be of that faith.
The Mormon missionaries did everything possible to try to learn the language. A Marquesan man helped them to get a Catholic prayer book, another book that contained the Gospels of Matthew and John, and a third publication that contained a short life of Christ. They did not have a grammar or a dictionary, but with these aids and the help of some local people they learned the Marquesan language.
More disappointing to the elders than the language problem was the spiritual indifference that prevailed. Even though Cropper, Horton, and those who followed them held sacrament meetings and even preached the gospel in Tahitian to appeal to the people from Tahiti and the Tuamotus who were living there, they did so with almost no success. Since the First Presidency had asked President Hall to close all areas that had not produced a convert in the last year, the Marquesas conference of the Society Islands Mission was closed by July 1904.
When Miller left the islands in July 1899, the mission was well established. Sunday schools, which had been introduced by Cutler, were organized in many of the branches. Records were being kept-poorly in most branches, but they were providing a semblance of documentation for the leaders in Salt Lake City and for later histories. And by this time the mission did have a headquarters building. A sad note was that Elder Miller's wife, Hattie, whom he had married only one month before sailing for Tahiti, died of appendicitis in August 1898. After his return home he became a language professor at Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. He never remarried.
1. Young to Gibson, March 5, 1851, Brigham Young Letterbooks, CA.
2. Brown, Giant of the Lord, pp. 279-80; MHFP, December 31, 1953 (but written in the 1890s), CA; Butterworth, Adventures of John Hawkins, pp. 203ff. Andrew Jenson served as assistant LDS Church historian for almost five decades. He visited Tahiti in 1895 and gathered historical data. He also interviewed many missionaries and read many missionary journals in an effort to document the development of the LDS Church in French Polynesia. See also MHFP, 1867; Ellsworth, "Zion in Paradise," p. 31.
3. Butterworth Adventures of John Hawkins, and Roots of the Reorganization: French Polynesia (Independence, Missouri: Herald Publishing House, 1977), pp. 92-94. Butterworth hardly footnotes, but he supplies information that is unavailable elsewhere.
4. MHFP, by date.
5. William A. Seegmiller, Journals 1891-1895, dates as given, CA.
6. Ibid.; Joseph W. Damron, Jr., Missionary Labors of Joseph W. Damron, Jr., in his own handwriting, CA.
7. In 1838 the Colombian government gave France the right to construct a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. From then until the French attempt to build a canal failed in 1889, there was considerable discussion of the economic advantages that could be had in the Pacific. See Grattan, The Southwest Pacific to 1900, p. 217.
8. Seegmiller, January 28, 1892; Damron, same date; see also C. Hartley Grattan, The Southwest Pacific Since 1900 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963), pp. 411-12.
9. Damron, Missionary Labors.
10. Ibid., First Presidency to Damron and Seegmiller, March 29, 1892, First Presidency Letterpress Books, CR-1-20, vol. 24, CA.
11. First Presidency to James S. Brown, April 14, 1892, CA.
12. MHFP, June 3, 1892.
13. Damron, Missionary Labors.
14. Brown, Giant of the Lord, pp. 511-16.
15. Damron, Missionary Labors.
16. Letter from Damron, January 15, 1893 (Deseret News hereinafter cited as DN (Salt Lake City) 46:557.
17. Ibid.; Brown, Giant of the Lord, pp. 518-19; MHFP, January 1-7, 1893.
18. Brown, Giant of the Lord, pp. 526-28.
19. MHFP, July-August, 1893.
20. See MHFP, March 30, 1895, to November 9, 1895. Details of the day-to-day encounters with Martin and others are given.
21. F. J. West, Political Advancement in the South Pacific (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 86; see also Stephen H. Roberts, The History of French Colonial Policy, 1870-1925 (Handmen, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1963 [first published in 1929 by P. S. King and Company, Great Britain]), pp. 511-16.
22. MHFP, December 31, 1895.
23. Paper titled "Daniel T. Miller," 2 pp., Ms d 5207, CA.
24. MHFP, May 31, 1895; April 6, July 31, and August 31, 1896, CA.
25. MHFP, June 11, 1897.
26. MHFP, by dates mentioned; also William Henry Chamberlain, Diaries 1897-1900, Ms d 1691, CA.
27. DN, 56:411.
28. MHFP, Miller to First Presidency, December 14, 1897; May 14, 1898.
29. MHFP, September 10, 1898; July, September 1899.
30. MHFP, November 28, 1897; December 14, 1897; May 14, 1898.
31. French Polynesia Mission, Historical Record 1900-1930, CR 3039 Series 11 (7432), September 7, 1901, CA; hereinafter cited as FPMR.
33. Ibid., November 20, 1903.
34. Latourette, Expansion of Christianity, 5:207-8.
35. MHFP, September 27, 1899; FPMR, July 29, 1904, CA.
A Time for Consolidation
French Polynesia, 1899-1919
William H. Chamberlain followed Daniel T. Miller as president of the mission. He and the mission presidents who succeeded him followed the general pattern that had already been established. They assigned several pairs of elders to Tahiti (if there were enough missionaries in the field to justify it), sent several pairs into the Tuamotus to travel from island to island, and appointed a pair or two to the Leeward Islands. Every so often in the halls of government a question regarding the Church would be raised that had to be answered. But for the most part, until World War I, the mission moved at a steady if rather slow pace.
Life and Survival in French Polynesia
Novelists and screenwriters have created a romantic image of life in the South Pacific. It is true that some larger volcanic islands such as Tahiti have provided a fairly easy livelihood and a casual social and moral climate. Nevertheless, life on most Pacific islands was and is tedious and often difficult. The Tuamotu Islands provide an excellent example of the struggle that island life can present. These low-lying coral atolls sustain little vegetation besides coconut palms, pandanus trees, and scrub bushes. Coconuts of various stages of maturity provide the basic staple of every person's diet. They provide liquid for drinking, a milk for thickening and making pudding, coconut meat for food and sacrament emblems, a kind of sisal for making twine, fronds for making baskets, hats, mats, and roof thatch, a substance for making liquor, and a trunk for constructing houses and boats. Before the coming of Europeans and canned foods, nearly all atoll dwellers survived on coconuts and sea products. Even today months can pass without any contact with the outside world.
Transportation was a serious problem for natives and missionaries alike during the period under consideration, and it has not improved very much since then. Hardly a month went by without the missionaries or members having narrowly escaped drowning (and not all did escape), having waited through a long doldrum, or having had some other miserable experience at sea. In addition, they frequently had to wait for months to find a ship that was going where they wanted to go. Most inter-island boats were small, filthy, and uncomfortable. The distances to be traveled were usually vast. For example, the distance is the same from Papeete to Hao as from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles. Covering such distances in open boats is a pleasure only for rugged sportsmen.
Island life offered little variety. There are no seasons, only variations in the weather. The food was monotonous. The people were generally so few in number that almost no new social contacts were available among them. Life in the Tuamotu Islands offered almost no privacy. The intimate aspects of husband-wife relationships were an accepted part of life for children as well as for adults. Moral standards such as those expected by the LDS Church then and now, and by other Christians, were almost totally alien to the local peoples, the long years of missionary effort notwithstanding. Youthful sexual experimentation was common in 1900 and remained common in the 1950s.
How to handle offenses against the Christian moral requirement was a difficult question for various presidents of the island missions. In 1897 President Miller asked the First Presidency how he should deal with such matters. He received much the same counsel as that given to President Thomas S. Court in Samoa eight years later: "A policy will have to be followed best suited to the conditions there existing," and "where the people are in part the victims of their environments, mercy should be allowed to have full claim."
In addition to lax morals, limited diet, and general boredom, in 1903, 1905, and 1906 the people of the islands were terrorized by extremely destructive cyclones. The worst of the three storms began on January 14, 1903, and lasted for almost two days. During the storm 517 people in the Tuamotus lost their lives; among these were 100 Latter-day Saints.
Two LDS missionaries survived the main blast on the island of Hikueru. Their story, as told by Heber J. Sheffield, is one of the most exciting and harrowing of all South Sea adventures; space will allow only a brief synopsis of the events. Over seventeen hundred people had gathered on Hikueru to dive for pearl shell. The winds rose to ninety miles an hour and created waves so large that they rushed over the highest point of the island, which was thirty feet high. The temporary shacks of the visitors as well as the more permanent houses were destroyed. The people who lived through it-and 375 on Hikueru did not-were saved by tying themselves near the tops of coconut palms and holding on all night as the wind, water, and debris swept past. When the tumult ended, the tops of all the palms were gone, as were all houses, government buildings, and almost all food. The only building left standing was the coral-stone LDS chapel. The meeting house on Takaroa also survived. After the cyclone the people suffered greatly for want of food and water. Elders Sheffield and Joseph E. Allen and an RLDS minister, J. W. Gilbert, worked together to build a water distillery that produced 250 gallons a day. It saved many lives. These men and the island governor organized the people to bury the dead, distribute the meager amount of food, and help in many ways. Most of the people had lost all of their possessions. The elders came through the disaster with only the trousers they were wearing.
Anthropologist Bengt Danielsson has pointed out that the cyclones of 1903, 1905, and 1906 caused an almost complete break with the past on the island of Raroia. The same thing happened elsewhere in the Tuamotus. In effect, the tidal waves washed away the old-style houses, implements, and other objects. Old family books containing many genealogies were also washed away; relics of the past were all gone, and more modern substitutes had replaced them. Waves destroyed what natural beauty had existed on the islands: ten years later missionaries were still commenting on the bleakness of the atolls since the great cyclones.
An important part of Tuamotu life was pearl-shell diving. The missionaries frequently recorded their impressions concerning its good and bad effects upon the people. In the romantic and sentimental lore of the Pacific, the Tuamotus are frequently called the "Pearl Islands." Even in the best days of pearl and mother-of-pearl diving this was a misnomer: only a few of the seventy-eight Tuamotu Islands have provided the right environment for mussels to survive and thrive.
Because of this sensitive ecological system, the French government began restricting the yearly diving area before the turn of the century. These restrictions caused the people to gather to a different island each year, usually from August or September through November or December. Shell diving is risky work. In most years of the early part of the century, five to ten divers drowned.
The stakes were high but so were the returns. In 1898 and 1900, elders reported that good divers could earn as much as one hundred dollars a day. Others averaged from sixteen to thirty dollars. But most of the people did not know how to use their profits wisely. Church and government leaders lamented the fact that most money gravitated quickly to the hands of traders. Thousands of dollars in francs were consumed in liquor and gambling, with prostitutes, or on useless trinkets. Traders competed with one another for the bounty. They sold foreign goods to the divers at outlandish prices and brought most of the local people into serious debt. This was an ongoing problem for many of the Tuamotu Saints.
On the brighter side, at least four fine coral rock chapels, some with organs, were constructed on Takaroa, Hikueru, Morokau, and Anaa with funds raised almost entirely from diving. (On one occasion the Takaroa Saints earned five thousand dollars in three days of diving.) Because of their work as divers the Tuamotuans were usually wealthier than the people of Tahiti and the Leeward Islands.
The gathering for the diving season also created an unusual opportunity for the Mormon missionaries as well as other ministers. The large number of Church members so assembled required attention and care, but the large number of non-Mormons likewise offered a good audience for the gospel message. Several converts were baptized during almost every diving season.
A New Mission Headquarters in Papeete
After the turn of the century, there was a gradual trend toward centralization of the Church in Papeete. Most of the members were still in the Tuamotu Islands, but the growth on Tahiti and the Leeward Group helped to make Papeete more important to the Church. By 1904 the mission president saw the need for a much larger facility. Early in 1905 President Edward S. Hall purchased for 9,000 francs a lot on the corner of Brea and Dumont d'Urville streets. By October 1906, the missionaries had completed a new mission home and meeting hall. Having new, respectable headquarters did much to elevate the Church in the eyes of missionaries, members, and nonmembers alike.
Related to the building of a respectable headquarters was the idea of creating a gathering place for the Tahitian Saints. The first mention of this appears in the mission historical record on March 13, 1906, when President Hall and three elders were reported to have left Papeete to inspect some land at Tarauau "with the hope of buying it to colonize the saints on." A gathering and colonizing movement was underway in Samoa at this time, which may have stimulated President Hall to consider a similar move. He also might have seen the advantages of having the Saints gathered in the two earlier Tionas.
After Hall's time the idea of a gathering place evidently received little or no attention until 1913 or 1914, when the First Presidency either asked or permitted President Fullmer to seek a suitable site to colonize. Mission clerk Ira Hyer wrote that "colonization has long been talked of in this mission and it now looks as though we will soon have a gathering place." The mission leaders made a decision during April conference in 1914 to try to buy a tract of land in the district of Haapepe.
In a meeting of the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve on June 18, a purchase price for land was discussed, and it was decided that the amount asked was double its true value. The brethren decided to offer $10,000 if necessary, in order to obtain the land. Unfortunately, the conclusion to this matter does not appear in the mission records, nor is there further mention of gathering. We can only guess that the offer for the land was not accepted by the sellers and that the movement for a colony subsequently lost momentum. It is also possible that the outbreak of World War I soon after affected the plans.
Between 1905 and 1915 the Church in the Pacific moved along at a steady but less than exciting pace. The number of members edged up slowly, the number of branches leveled off at twelve, and the number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders grew slightly-from seventy to seventy-two. The table on the next page illustrates the statistics during the years 1910 to 1919. (Statistics are lacking from 1898 to 1910, when the Church began requiring annual statistical reports.)
There is no clear historical evidence why these years were without greater numerical growth. The mission presidents, Frank Cutler, William A. Seegmiller, Franklin J. Fullmer, and Ira Hyer (acting), were all veterans and were well qualified to lead the mission. Perhaps the mission had reached a leveling-off time, a time for consolidation. In fact, there is evidence that this was happening by 1914.
French Polynesia Mission 1910-1919
YearTotal Members*Convert BaptismsMelchizedek PriesthoodTotal BranchesTotal Missionaries
1910 1,115 11 70 14 10
1912 1,301 61 68 12 8
1915 1,373 0 7 12 13
1916 1,398 18 74 12 15
1917 1,493 58 77 12 15
1918 1,539 26 79 12 16
1919 1,563 16 79 12 11
The Impact of World War I
The years of World War I were different from the preceding decade and a half in a number of ways. First, the war changed many aspects of life inside and outside the Church; and second, the mission president during these years, Ernest C. Rossiter, was a uniquely creative and spiritual man who fostered growth in several unusual ways.
News of the outbreak of war reached Papeete in early August 1914, and because France was involved, the news was momentous, for it meant the colony was also at war. On about August 10, the old French gunboat Zelle was dispatched to subdue an unarmed German freighter in nearby waters. The freighter's crew and passengers were taken prisoner, as were all German citizens in the colony. Tahiti and French Polynesia played a minor but active part in the war. Over a thousand Polynesians, several of whom were LDS, served in the French forces in Europe. Papeete was shelled by two German war vessels on September 22, 1914. The heart of the Papeete business district was burned to the ground, and even the LDS mission headquarters took an indirect hit. Prices in the colony went topsy-turvy, but generally they inflated rapidly. Most foreign goods were difficult to obtain until the war ended in 1918. Police surveillance became heavy, and considerable control was exercised over news media. Non-French citizens were not allowed to teach school, a policy that closed three LDS mission schools that were operating on Tubuai, Takaroa, and Hikueru.
The mission had two uncomfortable encounters with the government during the war years. First, the missionaries sent through the mail the mission newspaper, the Hebeuraa Api or The New Revelation , which contained news of German successes during the early months of the war. The police did not want such news distributed within the colony and seized the entire edition of the paper. For a time it appeared that the paper, which had been published since 1907, would be banned until after the war, but through fasting, prayer, and persuasive arguments President Rossiter was able to convince the governor to allow the paper to be issued. The other incident occurred in 1918, when Brother Toae in a speech in his branch compared the organization of the priesthood with the German army. When word of this indiscretion reached antagonistic ears, it was reported to the governor. He checked the circumstances involved and, fortunately, dropped the issue.
A surprising result of the war was that the number of missionaries increased rather than declined. The main reasons for this increase were that the United States was not involved in the war until 1917 and that missionaries were not allowed in the British Isles or on the Continent after the beginning of the war. The elders who otherwise would have been sent to Europe went to French Polynesia instead.
President Ernest C. Rossiter and his wife, Venus, had arrived in the mission on March 7, 1915. They were both remarkable people.
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President Ernest C. Rossiter (seated center); his wife, Venus; and a group of French Polynesia missionaries. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
Brother Rossiter had filled a mission in France, and his knowledge of the language gave him a distinct advantage over other mission presidents since the time of Daniel T. Miller, who also spoke French. Rossiter was able to smooth over several rough spots with the government simply because he understood what was being said and because he could explain the Church's position clearly. He did have to learn the Tahitian language, but he mastered it quickly.
Venus Rossiter was a talented pianist and organist. She was also a brave and hardworking young woman. She frequently traveled with her husband into the Tuamotus, something no previous mission president's wife had done. Her descriptions of life and circumstances in the islands, sent in letters to her mother that were published in the Deseret News, were fair, objective, and sympathetic. During her years in the mission she composed a number of songs, taught organ lessons, and helped prepare a new edition to the Gospel Hymn Book.
The best example of President Rossiter's effectiveness as a leader occurred during 1916. It illustrates well both the difficult circumstances of life in the islands and the willingness of the people to respond to an inspired leader.
Mission conference was held at Takaroa in early April that year. While President Rossiter and his wife and the missionaries were there, they became aware of considerable tension that existed among the people. Church members and nonmembers were involved in a complicated land dispute. Neither the local governor nor the governor of the colony had been able to settle the matter. On a Sunday shortly before Rossiter planned to sail to another island, Toae a Mahia, who served as branch president, asked President Rossiter to remain and adjust matters among the people. Rossiter knew little about the traditions and laws regarding such matters and did not want to become involved. But while he was discussing the problem with them, he felt impressed to tell the people that if they would truly repent there might be a way to solve the land problem. After saying this he was troubled because he did not understand what he had told the people. In the afternoon he again told them to repent, but he also explained that he would fast and pray until Monday afternoon and then he would explain all that would be required of them. The next day he outlined a plan: the members were to obey the Word of Wisdom, unmarried couples were to be married (ten couples soon obeyed this injunction in a festive ceremony at which most of the island's people were present), the members were to obey the law of tithing, and they were to do their best to get out of debt. Rossiter reported that none of the
members were free from debt; in fact, some owed as much as fifty thousand francs ($10,000).
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Temporary village constructed during pearl-shell diving season at Hikueru Island, Tuamotu Archipelago. Around 1919. (Courtesy L. H. Kennard.)
The missionaries were delighted when almost all of the Saints began keeping this counsel. Their greatest problem was getting out of debt-that would take time. Even Rossiter did not immediately know what to do about their financial difficulties. It was not until the beginning of the pearl diving season in August that Rossiter and the missionaries with him devised a plan. They proposed that all the members from Takaroa who were pearl-shell divers be completely under the direction of the missionaries, who would allocate food, clothing, and money during the divers' annual trip to Hikueru. The balance would be used for paying off debts. The Takaroa Saints all accepted the proposal. But Rossiter now went to Papeete and chartered a ship to transport the people, and, so that the LDS divers would not have to pay inflated prices for food, old Brother Mapuhi, who was still an active trader, purchased four thousand dollars worth of supplies to provide for the divers and their families. In past years various merchants had transported the divers free if they promised to sell all of their shell to them. Then, once the Polynesians were obligated to them, the merchants would pay below-the-market prices for the shell.
The missionaries and members constructed a warehouse in which
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This impressive chapel was built by the Saints in Takaroa, Tuamotus. The principal financial force behind it was Brother Mapuhi. Photo taken October 1921. (Courtesy L. H. Kennard.)
to store the shell, and they divided it into sections for each diver. The elders allocated fifteen shells daily to each diver for food and personal expenses and stored the rest. The missionaries also emphasized the need for cleanliness in the villages. After the island governor visited the Latter-day Saints, he complimented the Church and told Rossiter that as long as he continued to do such work he could be assured of the governor's support.
When President Rossiter sold the shell, it brought nearly one hundred thousand francs ($20,000). This money was used to pay old debts. It also helped the people resolve the land problem. The following year the Saints followed the same procedure. They earned less money (65,000 francs) but continued to pay their debts. After they had followed the same plan in 1918, the mission secretary wrote about the success of the cooperative venture in the mission historical record. "For the past three seasons," he wrote, "President Rossiter has taken charge of the affairs of a good many of our saints to assist them in paying their many and longstanding debts and to free them from bondage. No one could begin to imagine the enormous task that it was. . . . But . . . he was able with the help of the Lord to assist them in paying off $75,000 of their old debts-all this over and above their living expenses, taxes, a full tithing, transportation to and from the diving islands, and all other incidental expenses. All of which we know could never have been accomplished except for the divine assistance of our Heavenly Father."
But President Rossiter is best remembered by the people of the islands for his spiritual insight and gift of healing. To this day many stories circulate through the mission concerning miracles, even the raising of the dead, which were performed under his administration.
President Rossiter led out in the strengthening of the Church organization. He translated or encouraged others to translate a number of useful Church publications, and he strengthened the auxiliaries. (The Relief Society had been started by 1894, the Sunday School in 1896, and the Mutual Improvement Association by 1914, but no mention is made in the records concerning the Primary.)
The Rossiters received their release on June 17, 1919. Venus Rossiter sailed a month later; her husband remained in the mission until November 22, so that he could complete some translations and tour the mission one last time. Although he then thought his work was done in Tahiti, he served another mission there during World War II.
1. See Bengt Danielsson, Raroia (Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1953), passim.
2. MHFP, Joseph F. Smith to Daniel T. Miller, June 11, 1897, CA.
3. First Presidency to Thomas S. Court, July 7, 1905, Samoan Mission Historical Report (6132), CA.
4. See Danielsson, Raroia, p. 131ff.
5. FPMR, January 27, 1903, CA; see also H. J. Sheffield, Missionary Experience of Heber James Sheffield in Tidal Wave and Cyclone in the Society Islands. 1903, CA.
6. Danielsson, Raroia, p. 136.
7. MHFP, July 11, 1897; March 12, 1898; April 10, 1900; and May 1, 1900, CA.
8. FPMR, October 5, 1906.
10. DN, May 23, 1914.
11. MHFP, June 18, 1914.
12. Mission Financial and Statistical Reports, Tahitian Mission, by year, CA; hereinafter cited as MFSR. In the 1910 and 1912 reports the mission president stated that the figures were guesses at best. This may account for the relatively large total membership jump between those years.
13. DN, May 23, 1914.
14. FPMR, by dates.
15. See DN, February 5, 1916, and May 19, 1917.
16. FPMR, June 13 and December 21, 1916; September 10 and November 21, 1917; and December 17, 1918, CA.
17. Vahineiti Piimoua Fuller Oral History, interview by R. Lanier Britsch, 1974, typescript, James Moyle Oral History Program, CA.
18. FPMR, by date.
From World War I to 1950: Maintaining the Status Quo
French Polynesia, 1920-1950
"I don't know whether I have told you about Tahiti or not," wrote Leonidas H. Kennard, Jr., in 1920 to his wife and children, "but this is not a savage island, for here vessels call from all over the world and regularly from San Francisco and New Zealand. There are a lot of good-sized business firms here and nearly anything can be had, but things are quite high-priced. . . . There are quite a lot of ships here; nearly all have gas engines in them. There are a lot of automobiles and trucks and an ice plant. We have had ice cream a few times using condensed milk. There is a telephone and electric lights." President Kennard, who had arrived in Tahiti on February 3, 1920, had served his first mission to French Polynesia more than two decades earlier. His letters home reveal mixed reactions to the islands and the people there. On the one hand he detested the loose moral practices, which involved some of the Church members as well as others. On the other hand he loved the local Saints and admired their courage, warmth, uncomplaining acceptance of life, and interest in religion in a land where faith, he said, usually had little place.
On August 16, 1920, President Kennard wrote home from the shell-diving island of Hikueru. He observed many changes in Hikueru since his first mission, as well as in Tahiti:
When I was in these islands first, the people did their climbing trees with a short pair of hobbles made of bark or coconut leaves; now they use climbing spurs. They used to eat fish and coconuts mainly; now they live on imported food largely. They used to make their canoes out of logs; now they buy lumber to make them. In diving they used to have nothing to protect their eyes from the salt water; now they use watertight glasses. The only lights were lamps; now there are electric lights and 2 picture shows even in the Tuamotus. There used to be no way to travel but sail boats; now nearly all boats and ships have gas engines and travel whether the wind blows or not. . . . In Papeete there is a wireless station so if I had to and was at Headquarters I could telegraph home or could receive a telegram from here, so you see this part of the world is progressing.
Life was becoming easier in the French colony at that time, but most citizens of the area were not well-off economically by European or American standards. Costs for food and most goods were high, and the romantic image of the perfect, "natural" life existed more in the minds of writers than in the lives of the people. The islands, which had lost population until 1910, were undergoing a natural increase by 1920. By 1926 the total population of the colony was 35,862; in 1931 it was 39,226. About 7,000 people lived in Papeete in 1930-a little less than half the population of Tahiti.
Even though life was more convenient for those who could afford it, and even though the population was on the rise, most Polynesians of the area continued to make their livings by subsistence farming in the Society Islands and by making copra and diving for pearl shell in the Tuamotus. The level of education continued to be lower than the French or the various mission societies would have liked.
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The Hikueru chapel in the Tuamotus. Dedicated in 1927. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
The Tahitian Mission of the LDS Church did not make a great deal of progress between 1920 and the end of World War II. Although the missionaries to the area were as faithful in their efforts as their predecessors had been, few converts were made during this period, nor was there much change in expansion, organizational development, physical facilities, education, and welfare. There were some bright spots: chapels and recreation halls were constructed, a number of translated works were published, and three general authorities of the Church visited the mission. But the period can best be described as a maintaining of the status quo.
The reasons for so little growth were many and varied. Among the most serious of the deterrents were difficulties with the French government, the small population base, the depression of the 1930s, and World War II.
The accompanying table gives a statistical picture of the Church in French Polynesia from 1920 to 1950. The gross increase in members was thirteen, but the most accurate growth figure is from 1926 to 1939, during which time the Church grew by 503 members. The fact that there were many deaths and births during this long period is not reflected in these statistics, but the membership must have changed considerably. Notice the large drop in total membership between 1924 and 1926. At that time the mission staff conducted a careful census and discovered that the records had often taken no account of deaths; when they were now properly recorded, there was a large drop in total recorded members. Even in 1921, President Kennard wrote that he believed there were only 1,200 members, although the records listed 1,625.
In considering the period from 1920 to 1950 in French Polynesia, it is difficult to separate the proselyting activities of the missionaries from their efforts to strengthen the existing members. After 1950, the Church introduced lesson plans as aids for teaching the gospel to nonmembers, but during this time the programs used to attract non-members, into the Church were simultaneously employed to strengthen the local Saints. Several examples illustrate this point:
In 1920, Elder LeRoy Mallory, a talented musician, started a band on the island of Takaroa. Within a year and a half he had trained the musicians so well that they became the most popular musical group in the islands. They stayed together for several years, frequently travelling from island to island in the Tuamotus and occasionally going to Tahiti to perform. When Mallory returned to Tahiti as mission president during the 1930s, he started the band again. Once again the band served the Church and the colony by providing music for many special occasions.
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Brass bands were popular among Church members in French Polynesia, Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand from the early years of the Twentieth Century. This band was from the island of Takaroa, Tuamotus. Mission President LeRoy Mallory is seated in the middle (without a bow tie). He loved music and encouraged the formation of bands and orchestras. Photo taken around 1935. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
French Polynesia Mission 1920-1950
YearTotal Members*Convert BaptismsMelchizedek PriesthoodTotal BranchesTotal Missionaries
1920 1,591 15 88 14 14
1921 1,625 29 14 18
1922 1,665 33 93 16 16
1923 1,689 29 100 16 5
1924 1,721 17 98 16 11
1925 1,493 14 102 16 6
1926 1,065 10 93 16 11
1927 1,079 26 96 16 13
1928 1,109 58 95 16 14
1929 1,149 48 98 15 15
1930 1,181 26 98 16 12
1931 1,222 47 98 11
1932 1,297 28 104 9 average
1933 1,311 30 107 7 average
1934 1,346 21 111 7 average
1935 1,387 30 114 16 11
1936 1,385 33 114 17 16
1937 1,492 27 120 20 22
1938 1,493 33 123 21 18
1939 1,568 49 132 22 25
1940 1,511 20 130 22 0**
1941-45 No statistics available 2
1946 28 76 15 6
1947 No statistics available
1948 1,160 31 85 12
1949 No report submitted
1950 1,604 67 104 20 11
*Includes unbaptized children of members
Another example of the dual purposes of the mission-Church enterprise was the tradition of making semiannual conferences missionary efforts as well as regular meetings of the Church. For instance, the haapiiraa, variously translated as gospel class, lesson, doctrine, or teaching, was used as a teaching activity. It sometimes took the form of a memorized dialogue between teacher and student and sometimes that of a question and answer session on a particular subject. The haapiiraas usually focused on a specific subject, such as "The Plan of Salvation," "The Life of Christ," "Zion Established on the Tops of the Mountains," "Baptism for the Dead," or "Conversion."
Church leaders frequently used haapiiraas as a Mutual Improvement Association, or Feia Api activity. (Feia Api means "new group" or youth group.) Missionaries sometimes trained a group of young people in a particular subject, and when they had mastered the material, the whole group, missionaries and all, would travel to an area where the Church was not established and perform the haapiiraas for an assembled crowd of nonmembers. This was one of the most frequently used methods of teaching the gospel.
Another missionary undertaking that was both a mission and Church effort was the mission newspaper (sometimes called a magazine), Te Heheuraa or the New Revelation. Beginning in 1907 and continuing with only occasional interruptions, this paper served the needs of Church members and nonmembers alike. Every issue contained information about the Church in Tahiti, Utah, and the world in general, as well as news of world events. Gospel lessons and inspirational articles were also included. The missionaries sold subscriptions to this periodical by traveling from house to house throughout the islands. Although the number of subscribers fluctuated, by 1929 over thirteen hundred people received the paper.
Every mission president during this period believed publishing was an important part of the mission's responsibility. The mission bought a printing press early in the century. Missionaries, with the help of local members, set the type and did the printing, cutting, collating, and binding on a number of book-length works as well as many tracts, leaflets, and flyers. All mission roll and record books as well as several editions of the hymn book were published on the mission press. Even the lesson manuals for the priesthood, as well as those for the Sunday School, Relief Society, and other auxiliaries, were either locally created or translated from English materials and published at mission headquarters.
Among the important, larger early projects was E Buka Haapiiraa no te Autaluea-raa, translated from Orson F. Whitney's Gospel Themes. Two years later, in 1925, President Ole B. Peterson's translation of George Q. Cannon's History of Joseph Smith was published in a three-hundred-copy edition. Later publishing efforts included a three-hundred-copy edition of Nephi Anderson's novel Added Upon (1939) and a five-hundred-copy translation of Kelsch's Ready Reference to the Bible and Scriptures (1940).
Another major project that took much of the time of Elder Doyle L. Green and President Kenneth R. Stevens from 1938 to 1940 was a second translation of the Doctrine and Covenants. This version, like the first, which was made around the turn of the century, was never published.
Bands, conferences, haapiiraas, plays, publications, radio broadcasts, and other methods were used to strengthen the Saints and proselytize among non-Mormons. But over the years growth in the Church was minimal.
In addition to problems with the French government, the limited population, the depression, and World War II, there were other difficulties that made progress slow. The branches were sprawled over a vast amount of ocean. Because transportation was so irregular, some of the smaller branches went for one, two, or even three years without having a visit from a missionary. Because so much time passed between supervisory visits to these islands, branches frequently fell into disorder. In 1927, President Alma G. Burton wrote that keeping the outlying branches in order was "an almost endless task [that] leaves us but little time for work with investigators." His comment was typical of many made by mission presidents over the years.
The missionaries evidently seldom did house-to-house tracting with the intention of getting into a prolonged series of gospel discussions that would lead to the conversion and baptism of an investigator. Instead they sold mission newspapers, planned and attended conferences, directed plays, built chapels, and talked with the Saints. Somehow, during this period, the Leeward Group, where a fairly good start had been made earlier in the century, was almost left out. Elders occasionally "tracted round" these islands and sold newspaper subscriptions, but they rarely attempted to do any long-range work.
The missionaries devoted much of their time to the supervision of the districts and branches. The local members ordinarily acted as branch presidents, counselors, auxiliary leaders, teachers, and so on, but all of these people were supervised by the missionaries.
Another problem the mission faced was the fluctuating and generally small number of missionaries. The average force, from 1920 to 1950, including the mission president and his wife, was ten foreign missionaries. This group was usually assigned as follows: an office staff, consisting of the president, his wife, the mission secretary, and one or two elders who operated the printing office and edited the newspaper; and from three to five pairs of elders to care for all other areas of the mission.
Chapel Building to 1948
The Tahitian Mission had many legal problems in acquiring land. Because the French government considered the Church to be an American organization, it was difficult for the mission presidents to buy or lease land. Government policy required the Church to obtain
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LDS missionaries throughout the South Pacific traveled hundreds of miles in open boats such as the Manahiki, shown here. President L. H. Kennard, Jr., wrote, "I made a trip of more than 200 miles on this boat." Elders on board are (left to right) Grant Lee Benson, LeRoy Mallory, and Jesse Heslop. Around 1920. (Courtesy L. H. Kennard.)
permits to buy any land. In 1925, President Ole B. Peterson created the "Foreign Lands Corporation," designed to legally own all Church properties. During the next year President Burton had all titles and deeds to Church-owned properties put in the name of the corporation. This organization continued to hold all Church properties until the 1950s, when other arrangements had to be made.
Between 1920 and 1948, the Church built at least twelve chapels, five recreation halls-called Fare Putuputuraa, or gathering places-and a number of small homes for the elders. Most of the buildings in the Tuamotus were constructed of coral stone, but there were some niao or coconut-leaf structures. Surprisingly, the construction of chapels did not slow down during the depression years of the 1930s.
The Visits of David O. Mckay (1921) and Rufus K. Hardy (1939)
The first visit of a general authority of the Church to the islands was on April 11, 1921, when Elder David O. McKay of the Council of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Hugh J. Cannon arrived in Papeete. Elder McKay was on an early leg of an around-the-world tour of LDS missions.
Because President Kennard had no advance knowledge of when Elder McKay would arrive, he was away on Tubuai for a conference. Elders McKay and Cannon did not stay but decided to go on to New Zealand on their steamer, the Marama. "These brethren," wrote the mission secretary, "came with the intention of visiting the Tuamotus in speedy steamers." Such ships were not available. Short of chartering a vessel, which they were unable to do, it would have taken two or three months to visit the Tuamotus.
While Elder McKay was in Tahiti he became convinced that the mission needed a vessel to transport the mission president, missionaries, and members from island to island. After arriving in New Zealand, he was joined by President Kennard, who spent two weeks there to discuss the condition of the mission in detail. In addition to their conversations about the mission, they also decided the mission should buy an eighty-ton schooner. Although bids were received from two companies in New Zealand and one in Papeete, a ship was not purchased for the mission at that time. Estimates for a desirable ship came to about $40,000. This large capital outlay was more than the Church leaders in Salt Lake City were willing to spend at that time.
Elder Rufus K. Hardy, member of the First Council of the Seventy and veteran of many years of missionary work in New Zealand, arrived in Papeete on May 2, 1939, eighteen years after Elder McKay's stopover. Elder Hardy was the second general authority of the Church to visit French Polynesia. While he was in the islands he "had an outstanding influence," according to President Stevens. He chartered a schooner and toured the islands of Niau, Fakarava, Takaroa, Nihiru, Hikueru and Hao in the Tuamotus, Tubuai in the Austral Group, and Tahiti.
The white-goateed general authority had strong opinions about the operation of the mission. Before he departed on June 22, 1939, he gave President Kenneth R. Stevens and the missionaries a number of suggestions. He recommended that the local Saints be placed in as many leadership positions as was possible. This, he reasoned, would leave the missionaries free to do more proselyting. Elder Hardy also encouraged the elders to stop living in the homes of members, to get out among the people and to islands where the Church was not permanently established. He did not like the haapiiraa method of presenting the teachings of the Church and encouraged more direct gospel teaching from missionary to investigator.
Church Relations With the Government
On August 31, 1928, the following entry was made in the French Polynesia Mission Historical Record: "Mr. Lulu Spitz, a Papeete business man and also a campaign leader of one of the parties seeking to be elected as Tahiti's Representative to France, called at the Mission House, with the report that the Elders had influenced the natives in their voting, at some of the Tuamotu islands." In response President Burton explained to Mr. Spitz that the Church had always stayed out of politics and that all of the LDS missionaries were strongly advised to keep their political opinions to themselves. In short, he said the report of the Church meddling in the election was false.
Mr. Spitz explained that there was an official government report that had been sent to the Minister of Colonies and that asserted that the Mormon Church was a detriment to the French government of the islands. Although this report concerned Brother Burton, it did not trouble him deeply because it was not unusual. The mission had frequently encountered opposition from the government before and, as will be seen, continued to have difficulties thereafter.
For example, in 1931 the Church was denied a building permit for construction of a small bamboo house for the elders at Mataua. Only after the Tahitian who leased the land to the Church applied for the permit in his own name was the permission to build granted. In December 1931 a problem arose over return fare deposits for steamship transportation. Whereas the government had been willing to accept the Union Steamship Company's bond for the LDS missionaries before this time, it required return tickets or a bank deposit for all aliens who entered the colony. Now, when funds were so scarce during the depression, the government demanded that the money for the return ticket be held on deposit in Papeete. Another example was the suppression of the mission newspaper for several months during 1933 because it was published in a foreign language-Tahitian-instead of French.
Church-government relations were probably at their worst during 1932 and 1933. On October 24, 1932, President George W. Burbidge and the Church attorney, Mr. Leonce Brault (who served the Church without remuneration until 1948), visited the secretary to the governor about entry visas for two elders. The mission force was down to five, and help was badly needed. The secretary told President Burbidge that the request for visas was refused, and when Burbidge questioned the secretary he was told that the government had proof that President Burbidge and his wife had been holding secret political meetings with Dr. Cassiau and a Mr. Ahnne. Further, Burbidge had supposedly sent word to Takaroa, by way of Tuamata a Mapuhi and Toae a Marie, for all the natives to vote for a certain candidate who was in the opposition party. The anti-government candidate, incidentally, had received most of the votes. In addition, the Church was accused of taking too much contribution money out of the islands.
All of the accusations were false, but it was difficult to convince the governor. Burbidge explained that he had visited Dr. Cassiau for a complete physical examination but that he did not know Mr. Ahnne. Concerning the Takaroa problem, he explained that Taumata a Mapuhi and Toae a Marie had come to Papeete to be set apart for Church positions. Regarding the money matter, President Burbidge calculated that the Church brought fourteen times as much money into the islands as it took out. But these explanations were not sufficient to satisfy the governor. He asked for a detailed explanation as to why the mission and missionaries were in the country in the first place. President Burbidge submitted the names of all the missionaries and explanations as to the number of members who needed leadership, what the Church hoped to accomplish, and so forth. Still the governor delayed giving permission. Meanwhile, the two new missionaries arrived on November 5. They were given local passports only after several days' delay. But even then they were not authorized to preach and take an active role in the mission.
The problem of visas and of how many missionaries could enter French Polynesia was finally resolved-more by a change of governors than by a satisfactory decision. In February 1933, the governor told Burbidge he could send his missionaries wherever he desired, and he would even allow new missionaries into the country; but he also explained that the French government did not favor the expansion of foreign missions. President Burbidge had the satisfaction of remaining in the mission until the next July, when a new governor arrived in Papeete. On July 6, Burbidge had an interview with him and found him to be a most hospitable and broad-minded person. To Burbidge's joy the governor said, "There never has been a governor who has had the power to stop missionaries from coming into the Islands as long as they conducted themselves properly, had sufficient income to live on and obeyed the rules and regulations of the Islands." It was to the Church's advantage that the new governor had visited Salt Lake City, met President Heber J. Grant, and heard the Tabernacle organ while en route to Tahiti.
From 1933 to 1939, the number of missionaries increased rapidly, for two reasons. First, the governor of French Polynesia was friendly and willing to allow the increase. Second; as has been mentioned earlier, the First Presidency reduced the length of time missionaries were asked to devote to this service.
Mission leaders frequently wondered why the French officials evidently did not like the Church. Two observations may be made. First, the government did not dislike the Church so much as it believed that the Church was an American organization that dispersed pro-American propaganda. The French did not like the American influence in the islands; this remains true today.
Second, though the governors of the islands during the 1930s and 1940s were usually broad-minded men (the earlier example being an obvious exception) who were willing to work with the Church leaders on important matters, most difficulties were caused by bureaucrats who were motivated by self-interest or political objectives, or who were influenced by other religious groups. Because the governors were strongly swayed by the bureaucrats, the Church frequently found itself in trouble.
The Impact and Influence of World War II
When war broke out in Europe on September 1, 1939, French Polynesia was immediately involved. All mail was subject to inspection, and printed materials such as the Church newspaper were censored. Boat schedules were no longer posted, for fear of sabotage. Before many months food prices climbed, and, later, food became scarce. In March 1940, imports from the United States ceased, and many canned goods and other merchandise became unavailable. By the summer of 1940, steamers were calling infrequently, and returning elders, along with others who wanted to go to New Zealand or America, found themselves wondering whether they would ever be able to leave the islands.
On July 1, 1940, word arrived of France's capitulation to the German forces. Rumors concerning French Polynesia's fate traveled swiftly, and no one felt secure. George Cobb, the American consul, advised President Stevens to call all of the Mormon missionaries from the Tuamotus into Tahiti. As the elders returned to Papeete, they brought reports of difficult conditions in the outlying islands. By July 27, all of the Mormon missionaries were safely on Tahiti.
By that time, President and Sister Stevens, their children, and six elders had been released. They sailed for home on August 6. Newly appointed President Eugene M. Cannon and his wife had arrived on August 3.
President Cannon modified the MIA program and made it fit the pattern of the Church in America, introduced couple dancing (which was considered evil by most churches in the islands), sent the twelve remaining elders to work around Tahiti and in the Leeward Islands, and did everything he could to build up the Church.
The people of Tahiti and French Polynesia were in a state of political turmoil during the latter part of the summer of 1940. The main concern of most Tahitians was that British supply ships coming to Papeete were discontinued until the people there decided whether they would support the Allies or the German forces. In an effort to arrive at a consensus concerning this matter, a plebiscite was held in early September, wherein the people were to vote either for DeGaulle and the Free French or for Petain and the Vichy Government, which had collaborated with Germany. The Free French received 5,564 votes and the Vichy government 18. The governor of French Polynesia and thirty-four other Vichy supporters resigned and handed the reins of government to provisional leaders E. Ahnne, G. Lagarde, E. Martin, and G. Bambridge. This new governing body assured all church leaders that they would not interfere with religious affairs.
Two months later, on October 14, President Cannon received a telegram from President Heber J. Grant directing him to send the missionaries home as soon as possible. Identical telegrams were sent to New Zealand, Australia, Tonga, and Samoa. Brother Cannon's reaction was typical of those of the presidents throughout the Pacific. He wrote, "Oh, how we hate to close up this mission, although we have felt it coming for a year. There has been little headway for some 40 years. The Lord's will be done."
The missionaries were already gathered near headquarters and under normal circumstances should have been able to depart from the islands within a few days or weeks. But because ships came to Papeete so infrequently, President Cannon decided to try to make connections with a Matson ship at Pago Pago, Samoa. These plans were scuttled when one of the elders underwent surgery for appendicitis. His recovery took longer than expected, and by the time he was able to leave, the Samoa connection had been missed. President Grant strongly encouraged President Cannon to use regularly scheduled transportation, but since no ships were expected at Papeete for at least six months, President Cannon chartered a large diesel-powered sailing ship, the Benicia, under Captain Charley Brown, to transport the fourteen missionaries to Hawaii. As the schooner left Papeete on November 19, 1940, a thousand Saints and nonmembers bade a tearful good-bye to their beloved friends and leaders.
Seven months passed before Ernest C. Rossiter and his wife, Venus, arrived in Tahiti for their second mission there. They found Ani a Mariteragi, president of the Papeete Branch, and his wife living in the mission home and taking charge of the affairs of the mission. They had handled finances and other matters well, but the members seemed to be confused and disorganized, feeling that they were "sheep without a shepherd." President Rossiter said that once his arrival was announced over the radio, the members rallied around and soon brought order to the Church.
Rossiter's second mission was made difficult by war conditions, rationing, martial law, friction between the Free French and the Vichy faction, and the fact that his wife was seriously ill with asthma during most of their stay. The First Presidency encouraged her to return home early in 1943; in fact, they suggested that President Rossiter come home too. But she remained in Tahiti until November 1943, and President Rossiter stayed until late in 1944.
In the absence of elders from Zion, President Rossiter called a number of local missionaries to act in the supervisory positions the foreign elders had held. He also called several pairs of sister missionaries to teach the gospel. Those listed were Tuehe a Timo, Teipo a Maire, Julliet a Haapairai, Keha a Malumui, Garoro a Turoa, Haea a Mapuhi, and Tefanaki a Tukarua.
Semiannual conferences were held as usual, but the war made attendance difficult for many of the Saints because of financial limitations and because permits to travel from island to island were required by the government.
During the war the Church made some headway with the government. President Rossiter, who spoke French well and was able to converse freely with the French officials, developed a more personal working relationship with the governor than had existed before. He was even invited to attend a reception at the governor's mansion, an honor that had not been given to any previous mission president.
In August 1942 the first of two shipments of food, twenty-two cases, arrived in Papeete from the Church welfare program. In March 1943, thirty-four more cases of food arrived. Both the government and the Church members appreciated this help during the difficult war years.
In the fall of 1944 President Rossiter became quite ill, and in December he was flown to Hawaii and hospitalized. Although he recovered his health, he did not return to French Polynesia as mission president. His replacement, Edgar Bentley Mitchell, Jr., arrived in Papeete on February 17, 1945.
The Beginning of the Postwar Buildup of the French Polynesia Mission
Until June 3, 1946, when the first four foreign elders arrived in Papeete after the war, all missionary work remained in the hands of the local members. But even after the new missionaries arrived, it took them a number of months to be of any real value because they could not speak French or Tahitian. The government was not eager to have the mission force built up again, but after President Mitchell explained the precedents that had been established prior to the war and claimed the right to bring in replacements to take the places of the missionaries who had left in 1940 to fight for their country and for France, the governor finally granted written permission for twelve missionaries to enter the country to replace the elders who had sailed on November 19, 1940. By August 14, 1947, the mission was up to full strength.
President Mitchell's most important undertaking was the construction of a new mission complex. A number of pieces of property had to be purchased in order for the large structures to be built. President Mitchell began negotiations for, and bought for $16,698, the largest piece of land, that held by Mr. Jean Malarde, August 1946. He wrote, "This marks the beginning of a new era in the Tahitian Mission. It also marks the beginning of a new era in Governmental relations with the Church. A year ago a purchase of this magnitude would never have been permitted. The present administration has given their recognition of the Tahitian Mission by mentioning in the permit for purchase of this property that the Foreign Lands Corporation was given permit to purchase said property for the Tahitian Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Actually this purchase did not mark the end of difficulties with the government, nor did it end all problems in acquiring land. But Mitchell correctly discerned that this was the beginning of a new era for the Tahitian Mission. From that time on, difficulties notwithstanding, progress was rapid in terms of physical, spiritual, and numerical growth.
By October 31, 1947, Leland Carver, a former missionary to Tahiti, who had been appointed by the Church to come to Tahiti and assist with the building project, began directing the crushing of rock for use in building. On December 28, 1947, Frank Fullmer, who supervised the building project, arrived on a ship that was loaded with four hundred tons of building material and equipment, including a dump truck, a station wagon, two cement mixers, block machines, a roof-tile machine, a variety of tools, cement, and so on. The groundbreaking was held January 1, 1948. Harold W. Burton was architect for the new building.
On August 14, Elder Matthew Cowley, president of the Pacific Missions of the Church and member of the Council of the Twelve, laid the cornerstone. While Elder Cowley was in Papeete he encouraged all members and missionaries to work closely together, not only to build the new headquarters, but also to show the nonmembers an example of love and cooperation.
While Elder Cowley was there he also directed several changes in the mission. He organized the first mission presidency; that is, he called two missionaries, Elders Wilcox and Magnusson, to serve as counselors to President Mitchell. Elder Cowley also suggested that the young members of the Church should learn to perform the more appropriate dances of their people, the dances that tell a story. He encouraged the members of the Church to gather the legends of their people and to hold them sacred.
In another area, Elder Cowley admonished against the tradition of having missionary elders decide who could partake of the sacrament and who could not. The people were to be taught correct principles and then be left to decide for themselves whether or not they were worthy to partake of the Lord's Supper.
While Elder Cowley was in the Tahitian Mission on this first of several visits, he toured the Leeward Islands and Tubuai. His trip to the Tahitian Mission ended on August 23, 1948. After Brother Cowley had departed, President Mitchell concluded that he had done much to "liberalize the thought of both the natives and the missionaries of this mission."
The building project consumed much of the missionaries' time, but Mitchell was eager to open new areas. Even though missionaries had lived on Tahiti for a number of decades, the Papeete Branch was the only visible result of their labors. With the intention of improving
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The Fariipiti Chapel, Papeete, was the first major construction project in the Islands after World War II. It served as the first stake center but was razed in 1978 to make way for a larger, more modern replacement. (Photo by R. Lanier Britsch.)
on this situation, during 1948 President Mitchell assigned elders to work in several areas of Tahiti permanently. By the end of the year, beginnings had been made at Papara, Paea, and Punaauia, and a branch had been organized at Pueu. In October 1947, two missionaries were sent to Huahine in the Leeward Group, and by February 25, 1948, they had completed a small bamboo meetinghouse. In September 1949, following Mitchell's release, the elders on Tubuai reported that they were reopening the Huahine branch there; the branch had been closed for twenty years. In October 1949, elders were sent to organize a branch at Makatea.
When Bentley Mitchell left the islands on June 30, 1949, he felt deeply satisfied with the work that had been accomplished under his direction. He was replaced by Franklin J. Fullmer, who held the callings of mission president and building supervisor until January 3, 1950, when LeRoy R. Mallory and his wife Muriel arrived to begin their second calling as mission leaders.
The dedication of the new chapel and mission home was an extremely important occasion for the Tahitian Saints. They were so excited that they began coming into Tahiti from the outlying islands in September 1949, four months ahead of the announced date. Elder Cowley arrived for the dedication on January 18, 1950, and found the Saints buzzing with anticipation. When the morning of January 22 arrived, the members and friends of the Church began to assemble early in the morning. By two O'clock every available seat both inside and outside the chapel was taken, and the streets were crowded with people. It was estimated that over three thousand people were in attendance. As the governor of the islands arrived, La Marseillaise was sung. He turned the key in the front door and officially signified the beginning of use for the chapel. Later in the program Elder Matthew Cowley dedicated the new buildings to the Lord and invoked His blessings on all that would take place there over the coming years.
With the dedication of the new facilities, the Tahitian Mission was prepared to move ahead and achieve unprecedented growth and development during the coming decades.
1. Kennard to wife and family, June 11, 1920, copy in possession of author.
3. Grattan, Since 1900, p. 514.
4. MFSR, Tahitian Mission, by year, CA.
6. MHFP, August 31, 1929; November 30, 1930; FPHR, April 28, 1931; July 20, 1935; April 4-6, 1943; April 1945; December 1946; February 17, 1949, CA.
7. MHFP, May 31, 1929.
8. FPMR, December 20, 1923; MHFP, May 31, 1925.
9. MFSR, Tahitian Mission, 1940; FPHR, April 30, 1940.
10. FPMR, December 24, 1936; October 14, 1938.
11. MHFP, May 31, 1927.
12. FPMR, May 18, 1935.
13. MFSR, Tahitian Mission, 1925 and 1926.
14. FPMR, April 11, 1921; August 9, 1921.
15. Ibid., June 22, 1939.
16. Rufus K. Hardy, "Conclusion of Tahitian Mission Trip," DN August 19, 1939.
18. Ibid.; see also Doyle L. Green, "Tahiti . . .," IE 42 (October 1939): 592-93, 632-33.
19. FPHR, November 15, 1931.
22. Ibid., by date.
23. Ibid., July 5, 1940; MHFP, August 31, 1940.
24. MHFP, September 4, 1940.
26. Ibid., June 6, 1941.
27. Ibid., April 27, September 29, 1942.
28. Ibid., December 20, 1946.
29. Ibid., August 27, 1946.
30. Ibid., by date.
Years of Growth and Change
French Polynesia, 1950-1984
Since World War II, the Church in French Polynesia has grown so rapidly and changed so significantly that missionaries from earlier eras would hardly recognize any carryovers from prewar days. The past thirty years have been very different from the plodding decades from 1900 to 1940. New methods of doing missionary work, changes in teaching, leadership, and administrative procedures, and improved lesson materials for use in priesthood and auxiliary classes have improved the quality of teaching in the Church. The French Polynesian members are stronger in the faith and more diligent in keeping the Lord's commandments than at any other time in history.
There are two overarching reasons for the rapid growth of the Church in French Polynesia during the past thirty years. First, the missionaries, who have greatly increased in numbers, have used new and more effective proselyting methods. Second, there has been a shift in population from the Tuamotus to the Society Islands, that is, Tahiti, Moorea, and the Leeward Group. The mission presidents since World War II have generally placed more emphasis on proselyting among the people of these islands than elsewhere in the mission. The chart on the next page illustrates the extent of the population shift toward the western islands since 1946.
Although a number of mission presidents before the war recognized the advantages of tracting and teaching where the bulk of the people were, it was not until 1948, during the time of President Bentley Mitchell, that serious proselyting with the intention of establishing permanent branches took place on Tahiti. But even though a beginning was made in the outer areas of Tahiti at that time, it was not until 1953 that missionaries began to make inroads among the people beyond Papeete.
The table on the next page presents the basic statistics for the French Polynesia mission from 1951 to 1971.
The gross increase over the two decades was 3,050 members. The number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders increased almost 200 percent, and the number of branches by 50 percent. In 1967, Latter-day Saints made up 45 percent of the total population of French Polynesia.
French Polynesia Census Figures
Island or Group 1946 census 1967 census
Tahiti 24,820 61,519
Moorea 2,838 4,370
Leeward 12,645 15,337
Subtotal 40,303 81,226
Tuamotu & Gambier 6,696 6,664
Austral 3,921 5,053
Makatea 1,826 55*
Marquesas 2,988 5,174
Total 55,734 98,378
*Phosphate works closed 1966
French Polynesia Mission Statistics 1951-1971
YearTotal MembersConvert BaptismsMelchizedek PriesthoodTotal BranchesNumber of Missionariesforeignlocal
1950 1,604 67 104 20 11 -
1951 1,700 74 116 27 7 20
1952 1,753 27 126 27 13 -
1953 1,824 32 130 27 11 -
1954 2,028 153 136 28 8 -
1955 2,149 63 140 30 10 -
1956 2,163 32 145 17? 12 -
1957 2,313 64 147 21? 12 -
1958 2,451 87 150 23 15 1
1959 2,920 146 163 27 14 1
1960 2,953 89 187 27 17 4
1961 3,352 296 201 28 20 6
1962 3,583 - 216 33 18 -
1963 3,870 48 239 35 17 3
1964 4,063 65 252 27 17 3
1965 4,234 91 276 27 26 10
1966 4,376 71 287 28 21 4
1967 4,479 65 305 29 40 10
1968 4,555 118 293 31 47 10
1969 4,864 92 323 31 48 -
1970 4,834 111 335 31 54 6
1971 4,750 158 314 30 - -
The Mallorys the Band and the "Paraita"
President LeRoy Mallory and his wife, Muriel, arrived in Tahiti in early January 1950. During two previous missions President Mallory had organized brass bands on the island of Takaroa. After the excitement of the Papeete chapel dedication on January 22, 1950, had subsided, Mallory began making arrangements to organize his third mission band. By the end of the year, thirty-seven musicians were making music in an organization that became an effective missionary tool. President Mallory also organized a small string orchestra.
During Mallory's presidency the mission realized a long-hoped-for dream. In 1950 the Church bought the Fandango, an eighty-two-foot two-masted schooner in San Pedro, and had it sailed to Tahiti for the use of the mission. The Fandango arrived at Papeete on April 8, 1950, after a three-week voyage from California. Captain E. K. Kenny, a non-Mormon, was the only professional sailor aboard. The crew was made up of new and returned missionaries to French Polynesia, among them being former President E. Bentley Mitchell.
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The Paraita, the Pratt, was the French Polynesia Mission ship from 1950 until 1961. It improved communications but cost more than the Church could justify. (Courtesy Yves Perrin.)
After four months of negotiations with the government, the Fandango was placed under French registration on July 29, 1950. It was officially owned by the Tahitian Navigation Society, which was created by the Church to operate the ship. With the raising of the French flag, the ship was rechristened the Paraita, the Pratt, after the Tahitian name of Addison Pratt, one of the first LDS missionaries to French Polynesia. The first voyage for serious purposes began on August 9, when President Mallory and others sailed to Tubuai for a conference. After that time the beautiful craft was used regularly for taking the mission president and other officers to conferences and for transporting missionaries and members from island to island. Occasionally, the government requested that the ship sail to one island or another to take officials, police, or medical personnel there.
An example of the boat's usefulness occurred in September 1951. President Mallory spearheaded an all-mission youth conference to be held at Takaroa. The young people of many branches made extensive preparations for the three-day meeting. In this instance the Paraita conveyed the Mallorys, an elder, and fifty youths, including the band, a basketball team, the string orchestra, and several MIA officers.
The youth conference was the first of its kind to be held in French Polynesia. The conference was similar to such meetings elsewhere in the world. Workshop sessions, dance lessons, basketball and other sports, and a testimony meeting (in which every youth spoke) made up the program. Since that time several similar youth programs have been held in the mission and stake.
The Paraita tremendously improved communications in the mission. Missionary transfers were no longer a major hurdle, nor was it difficult for the mission president to attend conferences in the districts. But the ship was expensive to operate. Although specific financial records are not available, the cost of sailing the ship was so high that President John Orton made arrangements in 1954 to have the boat used part-time as a freight vessel. This caused more problems than it solved, and in 1956 the boat was reconverted to a strictly passenger craft. The Paraita served the mission well until July 1961, when it was sold. It continued in service for several more years as an inter-island transport ship but was then found unsafe and was put out of commission.
In 1959, as a consequence of many years of faithful membership in the Church, thirty Tahitian Saints made great sacrifices to set aside the money for a trip to Hawaii to receive temple blessings. The French government granted permission for the group to sail to Hawaii only after hearing persuasive arguments from the non-Mormon harbormaster. The Saints wrote to President David O. McKay and the First Presidency and obtained their permission to sail to Hawaii in the church-owned Paraita. Finally the ship was put in drydock for painting, inspection, and engine repairs.
On July 23, 1959, only two or three days before the group was set to sail, Ernest C. Rossiter, twice a mission president to Tahiti, arrived in Papeete by air. Elder Rossiter announced that President McKay had sent word to cancel the trip.
The surprised Saints could not understand the reasons for President McKay's decision. The captain of the Paraita, Raituia T. Tapu, who was to become the first president of the Papeete Tahiti Stake, later recalled that Rossiter quoted President McKay as saying, "They won't make it, and if we allow them to come we'll be in trouble with the French government. So you go stop them." Brother Rossiter asked the members how they felt about President McKay's warning. Brother Tapu then said, "Well, he's the prophet. If he says so, we say amen." Following a unanimous vote to cancel the trip, the meeting ended.
When Brother Tapu went to the boat the next day, the engine mechanic told him that an important gear was badly worn and would last only one hundred to one hundred and fifty hours. Then the ship would be entirely dependent on the wind. The following day, which would have been the day for sailing to Hawaii, the ship was taken out of dry dock and anchored in the harbor. Two days later Brother Tapu received a telephone call from the harbormaster, who said the the boat was sinking.
It was soon discovered that the exhaust pipe from the kitchen was rotten. The repairmen had painted over some rotten wood and a rusty pipe, which had broken, and the water had rushed in. The fire department soon arrived and pumped the water out.
Brother Tapu's comment captures the meaning of the whole experience. He said, "So what would you say if we were two or three hundred miles away on a lifeboat? That's why I always had a testimony for President McKay. A true prophet of the Lord."
The Introduction of Improved Teaching Plans
During the time of Presidents Mallory and Othello P. Pearce (the latter served on an interim basis from June 1952 to March 1953), progress was made on some fronts-for example, the Pearl of Great Price was translated by two foreign elders, Richard B. Pearce and Jay Larson, and a Polynesian elder, Taumata a Tukeravehe-but few converts were joining the Church.
On March 4, 1953, John K. Orton became president of the Tahitian mission. Shortly after he arrived, he visited the Saints, members, and missionaries in the Tuamotus and on Tubuai. He was moved to take an unusual course of action, which he described in this way:
At this time all the missionaries were called into headquarters, and a new plan was discussed and decided upon. The new plan, simply stated, was to remove the missionaries from the outlying islands and to concentrate their work in Papeete, where there is the largest portion of the population.
We had had no baptisms up until August. From August till the first of the year we had 32 converts. We have returned the outlying islands to the native Priesthood holders to administer and the biggest portion of the missionaries' time in proselyting.
Although more was required to make the outlying branches self-sufficient than simply handing the administrative responsibilities over to the local priesthood holders, Orton's basic plan was largely responsible for the rapid growth of the Church in the islands over the next ten years.
For the first time in the history of the mission, the missionaries were given a set of lessons for investigators that proceeded from point to point in an orderly explanation of the restored gospel. Because of health problems, President Orton served for only one year. But he had created such momentum that in 1954, by following his plan, the missionaries gleaned 153 converts from the Tahitian field, the largest number to that time.
The shift of Church members and the growth of branches in Tahiti-Moorea and Leeward districts was dramatic. In early 1947 there was only one branch on Tahiti and there were none in the Leeward Islands. By 1967 there were ten branches in Tahiti and Moorea, and eight in the Leeward Group. On the other hand, the number of branches in the Tuamotus dropped from eighteen to twelve during the same era.
During 1954, serious missionary work (that is, work that was intended to bring about lasting branches of the Church rather than simply good public relations) was started on Raiatea and Tahaa, and in 1955, in Huahine of the Leeward Group. In January 1955, President Larson Caldwell and Elder Joseph Childers organized a Sunday School at Utoroa, Raiatea, one week before the first two converts were baptized and confirmed members of the Church. Thirty-six investigators attended that first meeting.
The year 1955 was unusually fruitful. It began with a two-day visit from the Prophet, President David O. McKay, and his wife, Emma Ray. Then, during the year, the first French language church meetings were held, a new chapel was dedicated for the new Cumora Branch at Tahaa, a new and popular youth chorus called the Pupu Himene was organized, and new lesson manuals were developed and translated.
The Visit of President David O. Mckay
January 18, 1955, was "one of the most important days in the life of this mission and in the lives of all here," wrote President Ellis V. Christensen of President McKay's visit. President McKay was on an extended tour of the South Pacific, a tour that would culminate with the selection of the temple site in New Zealand.
When President McKay was in Papeete, he held several meetings with the Church members, met with the press, and also visited the governor of the islands. He created a new and stronger urge among both the members and the missionaries to do missionary work. "Everyone's faith was strengthened by his visit."
President McKay asked the mission president to assign some missionaries to learn the French language and to begin proselyting among the French-speaking people of the islands. Elders Thomas Stone and Everett Williams, who arrived in the mission on March 17, were assigned to learn the French language and begin teaching. By May 8, they were out tracting among the people. In June, a French-language Sunday School was organized in connection with the Papeete Branch. Thirty-six members and investigators, most of them youths, attended. At almost the same time an MIA class was started for the same people. Since that time mission presidents have placed ever-increasing emphasis on the use of the French language. A French-speaking branch was organized on October 13, 1957, with one hundred and twenty members, and in recent years Church meetings have been held bilingually.
Since 1955 the Church in French Polynesia has made a number of large strides toward following more fully the pattern prescribed by Church headquarters. The large strides include the organization of the first elders quorum; the instigation of the labor or building missionary program, and the construction of three chapels under that program, as well as the building of a number of other Church structures; the first and later temple excursions to New Zealand; the founding of an elementary school in Papeete; and the organization of the first stake in French Polynesia in May 1972.
Smaller steps include the organization of the LDS Scouts of Tahiti; the sending of a crippled Chinese boy to the Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment; the sending of students to Liahona High School in Tonga; the use of free radio time for the presentation of gospel teachings and music in both Tahitian and French over Radio Tahiti; and the continued publication of a newspaper called the Ve'a ("Messenger"), which reached both members and nonmembers. The Church also made use of dramatic productions and "Soirees," singing and musical productions, to entertain audiences and to raise money to meet branch expenses; and a number of Tahitian Saints were called to fill local and foreign missions.
When the membership of the Papeete Branch grew to around four hundred and the combined number of elders on Tahiti and Tubuai rose to 125, President Christensen decided that an elders quorum organization would be justified. On September 9, 1956, Taumata Mapuhi was sustained as the first elders quorum president in French Polynesia. He chose Tinomana Hauata and Joseph Benacek to serve as his counselors. The new quorum included all the elders on Tahiti and Tubuai, four hundred miles away. One of the first projects of the quorum was to develop plans for a temple excursion for worthy elders and their families.
The Building Missionary Program in French Polynesia
For six years after the large and beautiful Papeete chapel was dedicated, it remained the only modern meeting house in the mission. There were a number of old-style, coral-rock chapels in the Tuamotus and on Tubuai, but on Tahiti and the Leeward Islands the Saints continued to meet in frame or niau (thatched) buildings.
During March 1956, Elder Wendell B. Mendenhall, chairman of the Church Building Committee, visited Tahiti, After seeing the niau chapels at Paea and Pueu, he was shocked by the conditions under which the Saints carried on the activities of the Church.
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The Paea chapel on Tahiti was built by labor missionaries. It is typical of buildings constructed under that program between 1957 and 1965. (Photo by R. Lanier Britsch.)
Not long after this, the First Presidency and the expenditures committee of the Church approved the building of five chapels in the French Polynesia Mission. The first project was to be a new chapel at Paea, a few miles around the island from Papeete.
The story of the Paea Branch is typical of the development of the new branches of the Church since World War II. The Church first gained a foothold there through the efforts of one family. In early 1949, President E. Bentley Mitchell helped Brother Maoriora Anihia to organize a small home Primary composed of his own and some neighbor children. Later the group began meeting in a borrowed home. In 1950 the Saints there built a niau chapel, which was dedicated on April 29. The next day the first convert to the Church from Paea was baptized. Two local missionaries, Tu and Teaki Menemene, were assigned to the area, and they accomplished much during the seven months they worked there. Gradually, year by year, the branch increased in size until by the mid-1950s there was an obvious need for a better facility.
After Brother Mendenhall's visit in March 1956, President Christensen began looking for an appropriate piece of land for a chapel large enough to seat one hundred people, with an adjoining cultural hall and from four to six classrooms. On March 6, 1957, negotiations for land were concluded. This was the first purchase of land in the name of the newly formed "Council of Administration of the Tahitian Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." This Council of Administration, more commonly called the Board of Directors, was essential to the mission at that time, French law requiring each religious organization to have an official Board of Directors that was recognized by the governor. The move to form the Council of Administration was also motivated by the French government's refusal to recognize the old Foreign Lands Corporation as anything but a foreign business company. The recognition by the French government of the Council of Administration is the closest the Church has come to legal recognition by the government in Tahiti.
As in Tonga and Samoa, local young men were called to labor as building missionaries. When the fifteen workers were assembled at Paea, people came from near and far to visit with and see the builders who were "working without pay." Although most of the labor missionaries were unskilled when they began work on the Paea chapel, before long they had learned how to lay brick, do carpentry, drive trucks, install plumbing, and put in electrical wiring. Their families at home supported them, and the local branch provided their food. (The full story of the building missionary program is recounted in the Tonga and Samoa chapters.)
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A few chapels similar to this one were used in Tahiti until the 1970s. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
Work began in early April 1957, and the completed building was dedicated on April 5, 1958. After the Paea chapel was finished, the building missionaries moved to Uturoa and then to Avera, Raiatea, in the Leeward Group.
After the abolishment of the building missionary program, a number of new modern chapels were constructed throughout the islands. Even before the Paea chapel was erected, the Church had installed a number of concrete slabs for basketball and other sports. These recreation areas were also used for dancing and other entertainments. In 1954 a covered basketball pavilion was built near the Papeete chapel. Called the Fare Basket, it became an important gathering place for youth and also served as a missionary tool.
Mission President Karl M. Richards, who served from 1966 to 1969, purchased a considerable number of building lots. Government officials informed him that after certain plans to open the Leeward Islands up to tourists were completed, the value of land would inflate rapidly. President Richards heeded this warning and bought needed and suitable property wherever he could find it. Just as the government officials predicted, the value of land in this area skyrocketed after Richards bought the lots for the Church.
By the early 1970s, the Church owned nineteen permanent and fourteen temporary chapels, twelve recreation halls, eleven basketball courts, and seventeen missionary quarters. Since that time the number of buildings has continued to expand almost yearly.
The First Temple Excursion to New Zealand
Temple work is of great importance to believing Latter-day Saints. Many members of the Church in French Polynesia desired to travel to Hawaii or New Zealand long before they were able to save enough money to make either expensive trip. Saints from New Zealand, Tonga, and Samoa began visiting the Hawaii Temple shortly after it was opened in 1919. But because of the high travel costs of and the tight government restrictions on travel, only a few Tahitians were able to receive temple blessings before December 1963.
When the first elders quorum was established in 1956, the presidency immediately began planning ways to get members to the temple. The abortive Paraita trip to Hawaii has already been reviewed. After that time President Mapuhi and his counselors devoted much time and energy encouraging members to prepare themselves financially and spiritually to travel to the new temple in New Zealand, four hundred miles closer than Hawaii. By 1963 sixty-nine people had made preparations to enter the House of the Lord.
The temple-goers left Tahiti in two groups. The first consisted of President and Mrs. Thomas R. Stone, Taumata and Vahinerii Mapuhi, and several others who left Papeete on December 16. When they arrived in Auckland they were greeted by Ruth Mitchell, wife of the late E. Bentley Mitchell, who had done most of the translating of the temple ceremony into the Tahitian language. She had traveled from the United States to be with the French Polynesian Saints on this special occasion. The second group arrived on December 24 and went immediately to Temple View, the location of the temple. On Christmas Day, 1963, the Tahitian Saints received their own endowments. Between that day and January 3, they spent almost every waking moment in the temple.
It is not possible to measure the results of such an experience in the lives of a group of people. But the "temple members," as they were called in the islands, believed that they were better and stronger members of the Church because of this experience. One man, eighty-four-year-old Tahauri Hutihuti, had saved for thirty years to obtain enough money to make the trip. When he returned, he said he hoped to go again. The mission record included this appropriate observation on the excursion: "The members who returned from New Zealand today are literally radiant and beaming and filled with the spirit of the gospel. We know that they will be a real strength to our mission."
Subsequent excursions went to New Zealand in 1965, 1967, and 1968, and two went in 1969. From that time until the Papeete Tahiti Temple was constructed, the excursions were regular annual affairs.
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The first group of Tahitian Saints to go to the temple in New Zealand, 1963. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
The Maupiti Island Tragedy
The sea is powerful and insensitive to the people who must live near it and use it as a source of food and a means of transportation. Time and again it has claimed the lives of the people of Polynesia. The worst sea tragedy for Latter-day Saints in the Pacific-worse than the shipwreck of the Julia Ann in the 1850s, which took four lives-was the shipwreck of the Manuia on May 23, 1963. A sad irony is that "Manuia" means good luck or good fortune.
Latter-day Saint missionary work in the Windward Islands was, as we've noted earlier, successful only after World War II. But as branches grew, so did the need for new chapels. On May 22, 1963, a new building was dedicated for Haapu Branch on the island of Huahine. Members and friends of the Church gathered there from many islands. The occasion was made special not only by the presence of government officials, but also by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve, who spoke and pronounced the dedicatory prayer. After the formal services "everyone was happy and we held a big, big, big party," recalled Claire Manea years later.
It was late evening before the fifty members and friends from the little island of Maupiti pulled themselves away from the celebration and climbed aboard the old but seaworthy Manuia and started their voyage into the night. The rolling sea was normal until the little ship passed between the islands of Raiatea and Tahaa. From there on, bubbles like suds passed, and every experienced seagoer knew that rough seas were ahead. By the time they reached Maupiti the ocean was very rough. Dawn had not yet come, although it was not far away.
Seamen's guides warn sailors, especially those who have never docked at Maupiti before, to use a pilot. The channel through the coral reef into the calm waters of the lagoon is known as the most dangerous pass in all of French Polynesia. On that morning the waves were so high the passage could hardly be seen. The old men on board said, "Captain, don't go in, don't go in!" But before he could rethink his course, the Manuia rose high on a great swell, the rudder and propeller hung for a moment out of water, and the captain lost control of the ship. It hit the reef with a terrible crash and then rolled over in the massive waves. Three times it rolled over. In those first horrifying moments the superstructure of the craft was torn off and set adrift. This finally proved fortuitous, for twenty people were able to cling to it and preserve their lives.
Because of the pounding waves and turbulent churning and turning of the black waters, the rescue was slow. Men needed not only bravery but also great skill to maneuver their canoes and little boats. Few boatmen dared to brave the passage. Most surfed their boats across the reef.
When the losses were assessed, fifteen lives had been lost-all died who did not know how to swim. Ten women, five of whom were mothers, three small babies, a four- or five-year-old girl, and one man perished in the sea. The loss was tragic for everyone on the island. The crying, moaning, and, for some, hysteria were terrible. All but two of the Relief Society sisters of the little Maupiti Branch drowned.
When President Kendall Young received word of the tragedy, he immediately informed Elder Hinckley. They had flown back to Tahiti after the dedication ceremonies. Elder Hinckley was scheduled to fly back to Salt Lake City that night. He canceled his flight home and asked President Young to arrange transportation to Maupiti. The best they could find was an old P.T. boat of World War II vintage. They bought wood for coffins, gathered mattresses and blankets to sleep on deck, asked eight or ten priesthood and Relief Society people to come along to help, and sailed toward Maupiti, 160 miles away. The old boat arrived at Maupiti the next afternoon, a day after the accident.
Only nine of the fifteen bodies had been recovered. Because of the humid heat and their poor condition, they had already been laid to rest in the tropical soil. The village of Vaitea, with its seven hundred stricken residents, deeply appreciated the comfort and concern shown by Elder Hinckley's visit. He wept as he saw and held the little children who were left motherless. After visiting the new graves and consoling the survivors, the brethren held a funeral service in the little chapel.
The wood they had brought for caskets was given to a man who had used his supply for that purpose. The missionaries bought cloth for new clothes-many belongings had been lost with the ship-and the Church sent needed supplies with the next boat.
Some of the survivors were helped onto the old P.T. boat and taken back to Tahiti for better medical attention. Among those was Claire Teriitehau. She had been interested in the Church for many months, interested enough to go to the dedication at Huahine, but had not been baptized. Her life had been saved by her fiance, a man named Andre Manea. While she was on board the ship, Sister Young, the mission president's wife, asked Claire if she would like a blessing under the hands of Elder Hinckley. Claire asked for a blessing. Elder Hinckley "said many things, but one thing I especially remember that Apostle Hinckley told me was that I would join the Church and that I would be needed by the Lord. I didn't understand what he meant when he said it, but now I do because I have many callings in the Church. . . . I was baptized because I had that experience. The things that happened are a great testimony to me." Such were the words of one who survived the tragedy. Claire was baptized on July 1, 1963.
Elder Hinckley was deeply affected by these events. In words of great meaning he wrote, "This has been a terrible day, I'm glad I came. . . . I shall never forget Maupiti."
"Ecole Primaire Elementaire-S.D.J."-the LDS Elementary School
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LDS Elementary School in Papeete, 1964. The new Tahiti Temple now shares this site. (Courtesy Yves Perrin.)
The first LDS schools in French Polynesia were established in 1914, but because of World War I they were closed. From that time until the 1960s, several mission presidents discussed with the governors of the islands the possibility of establishing LDS schools. In each instance the suggestion was rebuffed because of French laws demanding that all schools had to be operated and taught by French-speaking citizens.
In 1961, President Kendall W. Young, who had served his first mission to France, rekindled the idea of a school. After two years of serious negotiations with the government and after convincing Church authorities in Salt Lake City that the idea was desirable and feasible, President Young moved ahead with plans for construction of an elementary school. After President McKay agreed to that proposal, he turned the project over to the Church's Pacific Board of Education for implementation.
The groundbreaking in Papeete took place on May 25, 1963, only two days after the Maupiti tragedy, with Elder Gordon B. Hinckley representing the First Presidency. A search was made in France for the right person to direct the new school. The man selected was Louis Bertone, who was a convert of three years, a recognized administrator, and a veteran of many years' service in the French military. Brother Bertone, with his family, moved to Papeete in October 1962.
Bertone had to watch many details and make many decisions. After he submitted careful plans to the government about the size of the proposed building, the hiring of teachers, teacher housing, courses to be taught, transportation, and hundreds of other details, his request for authorization to open the school was granted on February 6, 1963. Sixteen months after the groundbreaking in May 1963, the physical plant was completed by twenty-five building missionaries. The dedication took place on September 18, 1964.
The school opened its doors to four hundred students on Monday, September 20, 1964. All classes were taught in French. Because French law required that half of the teachers be from France, the first staff was composed of six teachers from various parts of France and six from Tahiti. After its beginning the school was enlarged from twelve to seventeen classrooms, and teacher housing was constructed. In 1978 there were 530 students in the school.
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A group of Saints laying the floor of the new LDS Elementary School, Papeete, 1963. (Courtesy LDS Church Archives.)
In 1969, Brother Bertone resigned to retire in Utah. His successor was Raymond R. Baudin, a professional engineer and teacher. Baudin had served on the faculty since the school opened. During his tenure as principal he improved the curriculum, implemented in-service training for the faculty, and continued to strengthen the quality of religious education.
After the primary school opened, several other important developments came in the area of Church education. During the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, many LDS and non-LDS students were sent, through Church arrangements, to the Church College of New Zealand, to Liahona High School in Tonga, and to the Brigham Young University - Hawaii Campus. More recently the Church Educational System has instituted the home-study seminary program in French Polynesia. In 1978, 213 students participated in this program.
When the primary school in Tahiti was founded, it served a number of worthy purposes. However, time brought changes in the situation in French Polynesia, and the school outlived its usefulness. The Church did not operate a high school into which its elementary school graduates could enter. This became a problem when the government high schools required either graduation from government elementary schools or the successful passing of an examination to prove that the prospective student's education was equal. Not all of the LDS children passed the examination, and some of their parents began taking them out of the LDS school and registering them in public schools. Two other factors worked against the continued success of the LDS school. The government had opened many new schools since the early 1960s, making the LDS school less important. Another factor was that many children lived considerable distances around the island from the school and transportation was a problem. Enrollment dropped severely during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Administrators, that is, Principal Yves Perrin, Area CES Administrator Bruce M. Lake, and the Council of the Twelve finally decided it would be best to close the school. The elementary school in Tahiti was closed in June 1982. It was fortunate that the school property served well as a site for the new Papeete Tahiti Temple.
The Creation of Tahiti Stake
Although French Polynesia was the first Pacific area to receive the restored gospel, it was the last among the old missions (Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga) to be organized as a stake. Historic development and geography account for the delay. Until the 1950s the Church was strongest in the outer islands. Now it seems unlikely the Church may ever have enough members in the Tuamotus to support a stake. Considering that the Church has been firmly established in Tahiti itself only since the mid-1950s, progress toward the first stake was actually quite rapid.
Three mission presidents, Thomas Stone, Karl M. Richards, and Ralph Richards, gave the major energy and impulse toward stakehood. They organized the Tahiti-Moorea district along the lines of a stake. They went further in finding a man to be stake president than is usual in such a situation. Raituia T. Tapu, mentioned earlier as captain of the Paraita, was induced to return to Tahiti from Laie, Hawaii, where he had served as a high councilor. He had had more Church administration experience than any other Tahitian at that time.
In the spring of 1972 the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve approved the creation of Tahiti Stake. Elders Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve and Franklin D. Richards, assistant to the Twelve, organized the stake on May 14, 1972. It was, incidentally, the first stake created in a French-speaking country. The new stake consisted of all the former branches on Tahiti and Moorea.
Expansion Into Other Fields
In 1961, President Kendall Young visited Noumea, New Caledonia, and organized a small branch of Tahitian Latter-day Saints. (A more complete recounting of this story is found in chapter 28.) More recently, President Karl M. Richards and Raymond R. Baudin, the latter the first native French mission president, established, then reestablished missionary work in the Marquesas Islands, northeast of the Tuamotu group. The population base is small and the Roman Catholic Church is strong in the Marquesas, but it is anticipated that the LDS Church will be able to establish permanent branches there in the near future.
The First Area Conference in Tahiti
On March 1 and 2, 1976, President Spencer W. Kimball and President N. Eldon Tanner, along with nine other general authorities, met in Papeete, the final stopping place on their strenuous circuit of nations in the South Pacific. Twenty-three hundred Saints and friends of the Church gathered for the two days of meetings. President Kimball expressed his strong love for the Polynesian members and encouraged them to share the love of the gospel with their neighbors and friends. He also spoke to the Tahitian Saints, as he or one of the general authorities had done at almost all other Pacific conferences, about creating local Zions. "The gathering of the Saints," he said, "is for you and me." And, interpreting the concept, stressed, "To the Tahitians these beautiful islands are Zion."
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The first Tahiti Stake presidency, 1972. From left to right: Raymond Baudin, Raituia T. Tapu, and Fernand Caumet. (Courtesy Yves Perrin.)
In Tahiti, where relations between the Church and the French government have been strained from time to time, President Kimball's meeting (along with President Baudin of the mission and President Victor D. Cave of the stake) with Charles Schmitt, governor of French Polynesia, was important to the continuation of good feelings. Governor Schmitt showed his respect for the Church by attending the last session of the conference.
The area conference had the effect the Church leaders desired. Missionary work improved, largely because more local elders began accepting calls, and numbers grew. But growth is one thing and development is another. By mid-1981, the Tahiti Papeete Stake was prepared for a division. An apostle was assigned to go to Tahiti to divide the stake, but he was reassigned elsewhere at the last minute, and the division was delayed for a year. But on June 20, 1982, Elder James E. Faust called thirty-one-year-old Lysis G. Terooatea, a former bishop and high councilor, as the first president of the Pirae Tahiti Stake. On the same day, Jean-Michel Vehiatua Carlson, also age thirty-one, a former bishop, high councilor, and counselor in the stake presidency, was called to lead the Papeete Stake. At about the same time Victor D. Cave was called as regional representative over the Tahiti Region. When one adds together some changes in the temporal affairs department, the closing of the elementary school, the creation of the second stake, and the calling of Tahiti's own first regional representative, June 1982 was a historic period that marked the maturity of the Church in that area.
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Papeete Stake Center. (Courtesy Yves Perrin.)
In tiny Tubuai and the atolls of the Tuamotu Archipelago (population 7,660 in 1971), however, the small numbers of Saints will have to do with branches for now, as they have done for well over a hundred years.
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Pirae Stake Center, Tahiti. (Courtesy Yves Perrin.)
The Papeete Tahiti Temple
"While he [Joseph Smith] was yet alive and while the saints were yet in Nauvoo he was inspired to call the first missionaries to these beautiful Society Islands of the Pacific. From their dedicated labors in those early years there came a great harvest." So prayed President Gordon B. Hinckley in the dedicatory prayer of the Papeete Tahiti Temple. He continued, "Since that time there have been seasons of prosperity and seasons when problems were many and the harvest was lean. But through all of these years thy work has grown as with faith thy servants have labored among the Tahitian people and found those who have come into the fold of the Church. There is now strength and maturity among many thousands of the Saints in French Polynesia, for which we express gratitude unto thee. As a capstone to all of this effort we now have this beautiful and sacred house to present unto thee."
Although the Saints of French Polynesia are now moving ahead with greater vigor than ever before, the dedication of their small 8,500-square-foot temple was the culmination, the capstone, of many years of labor and dedication to the restored gospel. Hundreds of Tahitian Saints had sacrificed to travel to the temples at New Zealand, Hawaii, or other locations to receive their temple ordinances. The financial cost was almost always extremely high when compared with other parts of the world. Numerous stories tell of Tahitian members who lived on very humble food for long periods of time or who made other sacrifices in order to save enough money to travel to the temple.
Also, the Tahitian Latter-day Saints had shown their zeal for genealogy work when they participated in and encouraged the collection of oral genealogies and histories during the early 1970s. Yves Perrin was hired by the Genealogical Department of the Church to collect Tahitian family histories and genealogies on tape and to transcribe that information for research purposes. The Buka Tupuna-Oral Genealogy Program-continued until 1975, under the direction of Stewart Shaver.
If mere numbers were the sole determiners of where and when temples should be built, Tahiti, with its 6,400 members, would have to rank fairly low on any list. But because the Lord and his servants measure their purposes by a different standard-the standard of covenants and needs-the Saints in Tahiti now have a temple in their midst. Perhaps more than any other temple, the Papeete Tahiti Temple exemplifies the concept of taking temples to the people rather than having the people travel to the temple.
The First Presidency of the Church announced during general conference in April 1980 that a temple would be built in Tahiti. At that time, they also announced that temples would be constructed in Samoa, Tonga, and Sydney, Australia. Along with the temples in Hawaii and New Zealand, which had been built many years before, the new temples would bring to five the number of temples in Polynesia.
About 3,000 people attended the groundbreaking in Tahiti when President Spencer W. Kimball turned the first soil on February 13, 1981. As already noted, the former site of the LDS Elementary School in Papeete was selected for the new temple. Fortunately, the school was constructed in such a way that the temple could be placed in an area that remained open.
Although ground had been broken and the land had been dedicated, construction did not begin for more than a year. Once underway, however, the white edifice rose from the ground in beautiful majesty. The combination of white masonry walls and glazed blue-tile roof is striking. As on all new temples, a statue of the Angel Moroni graces the top of the spire. By October 1983, construction was complete and ready for visitors and final dedication.
Elder Jack H. Goaslind, Jr., of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who was area executive administrator of Church operations in French Polynesia, and regional representative Victor D. Cave, hosted a number of dignitaries on a special V.I.P. visitors day on October 10, three days before the new building was opened to the public. Temple President Joseph E. Childers and his staff did everything possible to make Alain Ohrel, high commissioner of the republic and highest-ranking official of the French government in French Polynesia, as well as other distinguished guests, feel comfortable in the new structure. These special guests added dignity to the occasion. When the regular open house began on October 13, more than 1,800 guests filed through the first day. By the time the ten-day open house ended, over 16,500 (approximately 16 percent of Tahiti's populace) people had toured the temple. The building did much to allay fears and strange ideas regarding Latter-day Saints and the concept of temple work.
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Groundbreaking for the Papeete, Tahiti Temple in February 1981. In the foreground are Elder Jack H. Goaslind, Jr., then Area Executive Administrator, and President Spencer W. Kimball. (Courtesy Yves Perrin.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley and a company of general authorities including Elders L. Tom Perry and David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve, Rex C. Reeve, Sr., of the First Quorum of the Seventy, and Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown joined Elder Goaslind on October 27 for the first of six dedicatory sessions. The sessions were attended by 2,500 worthy Latter-day Saints.
In his dedicatory address President Hinckley spoke at length regarding the tragedy that had occurred at Maupiti twenty years before. Referring to the women among the fifteen who died, he said,
"I hope with all my heart the husbands [of those sisters who died] are worthy to come to this house and have their beautiful wives sealed to them." Between the dedication sessions he met Claire T. Manea again. Both shed tears. She and her husband, Andre Manea, have dedicated their lives to the Church. At the time of the temple dedication Andre was first counselor to President C. Jay Larson of the Tahiti Papeete Mission. In a very real way they represent the firm dedication of thousands of Saints in French Polynesia-both living and dead-who have dedicated all they have to build up the kingdom of God in the islands of the sea.”
The history of the Church in French Polynesia has been largely a series of struggles to overcome impediments caused by nature, economics, governments, society, churches, and international events. The first one hundred years, from 1844 until 1945, were unimpressive from a numerical standpoint, but they were, nevertheless, full of examples of personal sacrifice, fortitude, and character on the part of local Saints and missionaries alike. The years since World War II have seen rapid growth and significant changes. New methods of proselyting and contemporary administrative and teaching techniques, coupled with excellent new physical facilities, have replaced the outmoded ways of earlier times. The Saints of French Polynesia are now stronger in faith and more diligent in keeping the Lord's commandments than at any other time in history.
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Papeete Tahiti Temple. (Copyright The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Used by permission.)
1. Judy Tudor, Pacific Islands Year Book, 11th Ed., p. 161.
2. MFSR, French Polynesia Mission, by year, CA.
3. MHFP, March, June, September, and December 1950; MFSR, French Plynesia Mission, 1950, CA.
4. MHFP, French Polynesia Mission, June 30, 1950.
5. Ibid., passim.
6. Raituia T. Tapu Oral History, interview by R. Lanier Britsch, 1974, typescript, pp. 8-9, James Moyle Oral History Program, CA; FPHR, July 23, 1959, p. 472, in Mission Office, Papeete, Tahiti.
7. MFSR, French Polynesia Mission, 1953.
8. MHFP, March 31, 1955.
10. Ibid., June 30 and September 30, 1955.
11. Ibid., September 9, 1956; Church News, August 24, 1957; hereinafter cited as CN.
12. MHFP, March 4, 1956.
13. Ibid., March 31, 1957.
14. Brief History of Paea Branch, typescript in possession of author; MHFP, by date; David W. Cummings, Mighty Missionary of the Pacific (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961), pp. 241-47.
15. Karl M. Richards, "A History of the French Polynesian Mission," typescript in possession of the author.
16. MHFP, December 16, 1963-January 5, 1964.
17. Claire T. Manea, interview by R. Lanier Britsch, Papeete, Tahiti, January 4, 1974; Gordon B. Hinckley, Journal, by date, in possession of President Hinckley, Salt Lake City, Utah.
18. Harvey L. Taylor, "The Story of the LDS Church Schools," 2 vols., typed manuscript, prepared for the Church Commissioner of Education, 1971, pp. 188-211, CA: Church Educational System, Overview 1978, p. 38.
19. Bruce M. Lake, interview, November 2, 1982, Salt Lake City, Utah.
20. "Conference in Tahiti," Ensign 6 (May 1976): 144.
21. Del Van Orden, "New Day Dawns for Temples in Pacific," CN, February 28, 1981; "Building of Temples Shifts to High Gear," CN, March 13, 1982; "Tahiti Temple Leader Called," CN, September 4, 1982; "Tahiti Temple Elicits Raves and Whispers," CN, October 23, 1983; John L. Hart, "Polynesia's Fifth Temple Dedicated," CN, November 6, 1983.