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Located in the South Pacific midway between South America and Australia, the French Polynesia archipelago is a French overseas territory. Tahiti’s population speaks French and Tahitian. Most of the French speaking Polynesians are Protestants.


On 11 May 1843, Joseph Smith called Addison Pratt to serve a mission to the Pacific Islands. Pratt was joined by Noah Rogers, Benjamin F. Grouard, and Knowlton F. Hanks. Hanks died during the voyage and the three remaining missionaries first arrived at Tubuai in the Society Islands on 30 April 1844. Pratt remained on the island of Tubuai and Rogers and Grouard continued to Tahiti, arriving on 14 May. Pratt had been to Hawaii as a young man and knew some Hawaiian words that were cognate with the Tahitian language. This helped him make an initial favorable impression with the natives. The first convert on Tubuai was Ambrose Alexander, a non-native shipbuilder, who was baptized on 15 June 1844 and became the first person to join the Church in the Pacific Islands. Ten more joined five weeks later (five Europeans and five natives) and the Tubuai Branch was organized on 28 July.

Grouard and Rogers, in the course of trying to learn Tahitian, taught the gospel to the few Europeans and Americans on the island. The first converts on the island of Tahiti were Mr. and Mrs. Seth George Lincoln, friends made during the missionaries’ voyage. The two missionaries separated in October 1844 and began visiting other islands. Rogers experienced little success and returned to the United States in late 1845. Grouard visited the Tuamotu Islands and experienced some success, though at great personal sacrifice and effort. He was later joined by Pratt, and their converts numbered in the hundreds. Pratt returned to the United States in 1848, but came back to Tahiti with his family in 1850. This promising start for the Church was halted when French government restrictions led to the mission being closed in May 1852.

The work was resumed in 1892 by missionaries Joseph W. Damron and William A. Seegmiller, who found that most of the early members had fallen away. They started branches again among those who had remained stalwart, and built meetinghouses that helped speed the work. The largest branch was on Tuamotu and was headquarters for the missionaries. A language-learning program was begun in 1898, and the Tahitian Book of Mormon was finished on 7 July 1899 but was not published until 1904. After the turn of the century, there was a gradual trend toward centralization of the Church in Papeete, the main port of call for sailing vessels. In October 1906, the missionaries completed a new mission home and meeting hall. Having new headquarters did much to elevate the Church in the eyes of missionaries, members, and nonmembers alike.

Elder David O. McKay of the Quorum of the Twelve and his traveling companion, Hugh J. Cannon, visited Papeete on 11 April 1921. Elder Rufus K. Hardy of the First Council of the Seventy visited Tahiti in May-June 1939 and encouraged the calling of local Saints to be branch leaders to free the missionaries to do more work among the people and to expand their effors to the outlying islands. Tahiti was never attacked during World War II, but all foreign missionaries were recalled. Ernest C. Rossiter and his wife, Venus arrived in 1941 and presided over the Church during the war. Local members were called to act in the supervisory positions previously held by foreign elders. Foreign missionaries returned to Tahiti in June 1946. A large meetinghouse and mission home was built in Papeete and dedicated by Elder Matthew Cowley of the Quorum of the Twelve on 22 January 1950. The meetinghouse later served as the first stake center in Tahiti. That same year, the Church bought an 82-foot two-masted schooner in San Pedro, California. It arrived in Papeete on 8 April 1950. The ship was rechristened the Paraita (or the “Pratt”) after the Tahitian name of Addison Pratt. The Paraita was used to transport missionaries, members, and the mission president from island to island. It was eventually sold in July 1961.

Missionary work among the French-speaking people of the islands began in 1955 and a French-speaking branch was organized on 13 October 1957. Completion of the New Zealand Temple in 1958 was a blessing for the Tahitian Saints, who proved to be faithful attenders. On 23 May 1963, in the worst-recorded sea disaster for Latter-day Saint members in the South Pacific, 15 members of the Maupiti Branch, about 160 miles northwest of Tahiti, lost their lives when the boat in which they were returning from a meetinghouse dedication sank on the Maupiti reef. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, visited the bereaved branch members to offer solace and comfort.

In 1964, the Church constructed an elementary school in Tahiti, and on 14 May 1972 the Tahiti Stake was organized, the first in Tahiti. The new stake consisted of all the former branches on Tahiti and Moorea. On 1-2 March 1976, Presidents Spencer W. Kimball and N. Eldon Tanner, along with nine other General Authorities, met in Papeete for an area conference. The Papeete Tahiti Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, on 27 October 1983. The Pirae Tahiti Stake, Tahiti’s second stake, was created in 1982, and the Paea Tahiti Stake, its third, in 1990. In 1991, Saints in Takaroa in the Tuamotu islands observed the 100th anniversary of a meetinghouse built by early members, the oldest in the South Pacific. The imposing building took 20 years to complete.

In 1994, members celebrated the 150th anniversary of the missionaries arriving in their islands. Closer relations with other religions resulted as Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve was formally introduced to the territory’s president and full cabinet. President Gaston Flosse and other top government leaders attended several events. President Gordon B. Hinckley was welcomed to French Polynesia by President Flosse on 15 October 1997.

On 11 January 2000, President Gaston Flosse, of the Territory of French Polynesia, Vice President Edward Fritche and 15 government ministers attended a dinner at the mission home in Papeete, hosted by Mission President Ralph T. Andersen and local stake and district presidents. When a new administration building of the French Polynesia presidency was inaugurated in 2000, a 400-voice Latter-day Saint regional choir, composed of members from the five stakes in Papeete, sung at the ceremonies that were part of a weeklong 16th anniversary celebration of the autonomy of the French Polynesia Territory.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorists attacks on America, Latter-day Saints in French Polynesia joined 3,000 others, including Tahiti President Gaston Flosse, in a memorial service in Papeete for the victims. As part of the service, all American missionaries were asked to go to the podium and sing the American national anthem. Afterwards, President Flosse and other government officials went to the podium and shook hands with the missionaries, symbolically showing their love and solidarity to the American people.

A lease was granted to the Church in June 2002 for property near the University of French Polynesia campus on which to build an institute building. On 27 July 2003, a 400-voice choir of Church members of five stakes sang before a gathering of 30,000 people who gathered to welcome French President Jacques Chirac to Tahiti.

Members held a three-day celebration 8-10 October 2005 in Papeete to commemorate the 160-year anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries. An evening program included a 500-voice choir performing musical numbers in Tahitian and French to a congregation of about 3,000, with proceedings broadcast to a larger television audience. Also part of the program, a large replica of the whaling ship Timoleon seemed to sail across the stage carrying the first three missionaries to arrive.

MARQUESAS ISLANDS[]

The Marquesas Islands are approximately 1,000 miles northeast of Tahiti and are among the largest island groups of French Polynesia. The islands were first visited by Elders Edgar L. Cropper and Eli Horton in 1899. They arrived on 30 May and found the inhabitants already committed to either the Roman Catholic or Protestant religions. Subsequent missionaries also had no success and the last missionaries left in July 1904. Tahitian Mission president Kendal Young attempted to establish missionary work in the Marquesas Islands in 1961, but again the missionaries were not successful.

Other missionaries were sent in the 1980s and again had no success. Rudolphe Etienne and Marie Hana Teura Tua served on the island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands in 1989 and were able to teach and baptize four large families on 12 October 1991, including Robert O’Conner who became the first branch president on the islands. His wife, Ziella Vivish O’Conner, is a native Tahitian and he is a Marquesian. She had joined the Church in her youth and was the only known member when the Tuas arrived. The first meetinghouse in the Marquesas Islands was dedicated on 11 May 1998.

Sources[]

Sources: Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea, 1986; Yves R. Perrin, L’Histoire de l’Eglise Mormone en Polynesie Francaise de 1844 a 1982, 1982; Tahitian Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Kathleen C. Perrin, “Link to the Past, Hope for Future,” Church News, 9 February 1991; Kathleen C. Perrin, “150th Year of Church in Tahiti,” Church News, 7 May 1994; John L. Hart, “LDS Note 150 Years in French Polynesia,” Church News, 14 May 1994; John L. Hart, “Sesquicentennial: ‘Spiritual Feast,'” Church News, 21 May 1994; John L. Hart, “Tireless Couple Influenced Many Lives, Church News, 18 February 1995; Gerry Avant, “Prophet Goes to Islands of the Pacific,”Church News, 25 October 1997; “French Polynesian President Meets with Church Leaders,” Church News, 26 February 2000; “Choir Sings at Inauguration,” Church News, 2 December 2000; “A Common Prayer for Peace,” Church News, 27 October 2001.

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