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Tahiti (French Polynesia) – French Polynesia, most of whose population lives on the island of Tahiti, is an overseas country of France. France is the official language of the islands, though the unrelated language of Tahitian is also widely spoken, especially by the aging population or in rural areas. French Polynesia is primarily Christian, with both the Roman Catholic church and various Protestant denominations having many followers. The LDS church accounts for slightly less than 10% of the overall population.
Music and dance play large roles in traditional Tahitian culture, and are especially featured at the yearly Heiva Festival that showcases traditional practices. Tahiti is also home to the unique nose flute and many kinds of drums. One of the most popular sports in Tahiti is Va’a, or outrigger canoe racing. Rugby and soccer are also somewhat popular. Seafood and chicken dishes abound in French Polynesia, and food is often slow-cooked in order to preserve flavor and nutrients. Breadfruit, taro, and sweet potato are also common elements of meals. Sauces are also used in many dishes, such as ia ota – a dish made using fish and vegetables, topped with coconut milk and a lemon sauce. Tropical fruits and other desserts, such as poe pudding, are also favorites. Traditionally, meals are eaten without utensils.
*The Pitcairn Islands, a British Overseas Territory that is the world’s least-populated jurisdiction (48 citizens, all of whom are Seventh-Day Adventists), is also part of the Tahiti Papeete Mission, but there is no Church presence there at this time.*
Today, there are around 22,650 members on the islands of French Polynesia with 83 congregations (wards and branches) and a temple on Tahiti.
In May 1843, thirteen years after the Church was organized in the United States, four men were sent by Joseph Smith to be missionaries in the islands of the Pacific. Addison Pratt, Noah Rogers, and Benjamin F. Grouard endured great hardship for six months on the whaling ship Timoleon, bound for the Society Islands, now part of French Polynesia (Knowlton F. Hanks died at sea). Pratt started alone in the small island of Tubuai, where he baptized 60 people in the first year. He is considered to be the first missionary to a foreign language area in modern Church history and he baptized many people and established a branch (a small congregation) on the island.
Rogers and Grouard went on to Tahiti, arriving at a time when religious freedom had been declared for all. Though they met with many hardships and much opposition from other religions, they were able, with Elder Pratt, who later joined them, to baptize over 1,000 before Elder Pratt’s return to Salt Lake in 1848. This promising start for the Church was halted when French government restrictions led to the closure of the mission in May 1852. This expulsion of the missionaries left the Church in the Pacific islands struggling on its own for many decades.
Missionaries returning in 1892 started branches again among those who had remained stalwart, and constructed Church buildings that helped speed the work. Completion of the New Zealand Temple in 1958 was a blessing for the Tahitian Saints, who proved to be faithful attendees. However, tragedy also struck: on May 23, 1963, 15 members of the Maupiti Branch lost their lives when the boat in which they were returning from a Church building dedication crashed on the Maupiti reef. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visited the bereaved members to offer solace and comfort. Church members have continued strong, however; in 1964 the Church constructed an elementary school in Tahiti and in 1972 the Tahiti stake (diocese) was organized. The Papeete Tahiti Temple was dedicated 27 October 1983. Tahiti’s second stake was created in 1982, and its third stake in 1990.
The food in French Polynesia has two main influences: France and Polynesia. Because French Polynesia is a TOM (Territory Outre Mer, or “territory beyond the sea”), many of the food products in the grocery stores are similar to the products in France and Europe which include the french bakeries and pastries. The Polynesian culture is surrounded by tropical fruits like mangos and bananas, which grow on the islands, as well as a lot of fish. Tahitians live closer to the land than most North Americans: you may be asked to catch fish or kill an animal for dinner. Popular Tahitian dishes include “poisson crue” (which means “raw fish” in French) as well as “Po’e,” a type of banana pudding. Culturally, Tahitians are very hospitable and willing to feed you; in turn, it is impolite not to eat what you are given.
Missionaries typically use bicycles, cars or just walk to get around on the different islands. They rarely use the public transportation. On smaller islands missionaries do not have cars and walk and use bicycles everywhere. However, Tahiti does have a good bus system and many of the locals will use the public transportation to get around. Missionaries may travel by ferry or airplane during transfers (or for leadership assignments) to move in-between islands.
The Tahitian people are very kind and open and it tends to be a pretty safe country. The police and fire departments are good and reliable. Overall it is a pretty safe place, with the most risk of petty crime (pickpocketing). Fa’aa is known for having resentment towards French people and could be dangerous.
Visitors to Tahiti are welcomed with Leis, handmade flower necklaces (called “Heis” in Tahitian), and crowns of flowers. Departures also include many flowers, Heis, and dances as a sign of gratitude and farewell. Tahitian culture is surrounded with legends and all the dances, music, and sports are related back to these legends. The culture is quite family-oriented. Family is very important and many families will live close to one another or share a home with each other, although not all couples are married because of the expense of a marriage ceremony. Family names are often passed down and given to represent specific moments or characteristics of a persons life; as an example, “Maeva” means welcome.
Iaorana (Yo-ron-uh) = Hello (tahitian)
Eaha to oe huru (Ee-uh toe- oh-eh hu-rue) = How are you?
Maitai (My-tie) = Good
Mauruuru (Ma-rue-rue) = thank you
Ma’a (Ma-ah) = food or dinner
C’est ca hoa ia (Say saw hoe-ee-a) = that’s it
Bring light clothing (as in, not heavy). It is too hot and humid to wear long-sleeved shirts and suit coats. Sandal-like footwear (typically closed-toe) is acceptable for both Elders and Sisters.
Umbrella = you may choose to buy one in Tahiti, you will need it as it rains a lot between November and April.
It is impolite to not try something at a meal (even if you have tried it before).
Take off your shoes at the door.
The Tahitian language is very important to the Tahitian people. Even though many will speak both French and Tahitian, it is important to try to speak their island language. It will impress and build special bonds with the people. (You may even learn it better than some of the younger generation).
The postal system tends to take a long time. Give quite a bit of time to send packages and letters for birthdays and Christmas.
L’Eglise de Jesus-Christ des Saints des
B.P. 93, Mission Mormone
Papeete Tahiti 98713
Alumni database: http://mission.net/tahiti/papeete/
What items were hard to get or not available?
“Almost all American products were hard to find and vegetables are kind of expensive.”
“Kool-aid, Jell-O, and chocolate chips.”
What did you eat the most of?
“Rice, fish and bread.”
“I ate a lot of raw fish, chow mein and rice.”
“Coconut milk and juice were very popular.”
What is the craziest thing you ate?
“Fafaru (very raw stinky fish) you have to try it at least once.”
“Coconut and sea cucumber.”
What was most surprising about the culture?
“In many of the islands they will bury their ancestors in the front yard.”
“It surprised me that people would invite you in to eat even if they didn’t want to talk to you.”
“It was surprising how people would give you so much even when they came from humble circumstances.”
What advice would you give to someone going to the Papeete Mission?
“Be obedient and learn to love the people as much as they love you.”
“Don’t be embarrassed to accept things that are given to you, by saying no you will offend them a lot more than you think.”
“Work hard, be obedient, and bring sunscreen.”
What do you wish you had known before you served?
“I wish I knew how to find investigators, it isn’t as easy as it seems.”
“I didn’t understand how hard it was for my companions that were from Tahiti to serve in their own home mission.”