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dimanche 29 septembre 2013

Tahiti and Christ

On 5 March 1797 the Gospel came

215 years ago, eighteen British missionaries landed in Tahiti in Matavai Bay. The evangelization of Polynesia had just begun…

In march, 1797, a British crown flag vessel anchored in Matavai Bay, just a stone’s throw from the beach at Venus Point, on the east coast of Tahiti.

The meeting between the “savages” and the English in Tahiti
Ordered by the explorer James Wilson, the same ship, the Duff will later stop in the archipelago of Gambier, giving its name also to the highest peak on the island of Rikitea. But then, these are French Catholic missionaries who landed…

The day which transformed the Polynesians
Eighteen out of the thirty missionaries of the London Missionary Society who were aboard The Duff, were assigned to land onto Tahiti, to establish a mission for evangelizing the “savages” who inhabited this already mythical island.

The plaque with the name of the first 18 missionaries
The evangelical mission was headed by Pastor John Jefferson. Out of the eighteen members of the group, only four were considered literate and educated. Other missionaries, although they can all read and write, were relegated to low-level, manual jobs.

On the beach, the welcoming committee was headed by the young King Pomare II and his wife, the beautiful Tetua-nui Taro-vahine (known as Tetua Tetua), both standing on the shoulders of strong young men…

The Beach of Pointe Venus today
But success of this mission of evangelization, now undeniable, was slow to emerge.

Henry Nott, the man who converted King
Among the eighteen men who landed from The Duff, there was one who changed the destiny of Polynesia and the Polynesians: Henry Nott, a bricklayer by trade.

Henry Nott, the person who brought the gospel
His first achievement was undoubtedly he had obtained the conversion of King Pomare II. It’s indeed this conversion, slowly but surely, that’s spreading. Thus it caused drastic deep shifts of Polynesian societies.

But Henry Nott is known above all, helped in his task by another missionary, John Davies and Tuahine, a Polynesian (originally from Raiatea), for having translated the Bible into Tahitian language.

Pomare II, the first converted  
It took many years before the work of our first missionaries bear fruit. But the result is now indisputable. Almost all the Polynesian population is either catholic or protestant, or a member of one or other of these Churches derived from this common core (Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness, Adventists, etc…)

King Pomare II after his conversion
For King Pomare II, who took the plunge in denying the beliefs of his ancestors, things were however not easy. He had to fight against all to impose his choice. He succeeded mainly due to a major element in the new doctrine, which was totally new to the Polynesians: forgiveness.

The subjects of the young king, seduced by the new faith, but also probably for staying in the good graces of their sovereign, were more and more likely to convert. The representatives of traditional religions, didn’t agree with this phenomenon, of course.

The private property of Pomare: picture of Cyprian Bridge in June 1846
Conflicts multiplied and gained in violence. At such a bloody game and of religious war, the Christians of Pomare prevailed. And it is at this point that Pomare destroyed all the hopes of his opponents. Because, contrary to the custom of the time in such circumstances, it prohibits pillage, capture of defeated and even the massacre that would have happened… He went so far to organize a worship of thanksgiving…

The die was cast.

On March 5th, today in Polynesia
In 2012, in French Polynesia, this anniversary of the arrival of the Gospel is a statutory holiday, like Christmas or May 1.

If it’s, originally, an event for members of Protestants Churches, it’s now the subject of numerous ecumenical ceremonies and many events, meetings, services and cults of all kinds.

A commemorative ceremony in Tahiti
However, the most important ritual, of course, meets annually on-site of the arrival, that is to say, on the beach at Venus Point in Mahina. More than a thousand faithful gathered to commemorate the event with the Ma’ohi Protestant Church.  

The Polynesia completely evangelized
A little more than two centuries after the landing of the first missionaries of The Duff, the Polynesia (became French in the meantime) is a rare example of a complete evangelization. In fact, out of all one hundred and seventy-eight Polynesian islands, people who reject the Christian faith or are indifferent can be considered negligible amounts.

By contrast, a phenomenon is revealing: some movements regarded as sects elsewhere, and prohibited for this reason, are here recognized as full-fledged Churches. Thus, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormon Church, etc.

The Paofai Temple in Papeete
It is also interesting to note that in French Polynesia, while poverty affects every day more and more people, temples and churches are always full and they are, by far, the buildings the best maintained across the whole country…
An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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