Tahiti: 200 Years of Christian Culture


Two hundred years ago, in 1815, the recently converted Christian king of Tahiti, Pomare II, was attending worship on the Sabbath day. Suddenly, his enemies under the leadership of the Prophet of Oro furiously attacked the assembly, having been promised an easy victory by their Prophet. The missionaries, however had warned the king of such a possibility and the christian natives brought their weapons with them to church. As the battle ensued the Christian natives among the king's party took the front lines of battle to protect those among their party that had not converted to the new faith. As the conflict continued the Christians would fall to their knees and cry to God for mercy and protection against their foes. When Upufara, one of the attacking chiefs was killed, the pagan natives fell into disarray and the king's party obtained complete victory.

Rather than following the traditional practices of their islands to slaughter their enemies, mistreat the women and children and burn the corpses, Pomare gave strict orders that the captives should be treated with loving-kindness and mercifully forgiven. Their property was not plundered and their dead were buried respectfully. This kindness shown by the Christians to their enemies had such an effect on the heathen population that they unanimously declared they would turn from their gods who had sought their ruin and embrace the true religion "distinguished by its mildness, goodness, and forbearance."

King Pomare II sent throughout the nations to inform his chiefs and subjects that a day of solemnity would be set aside to praise the Lord God for their recent deliverance at the Battle of Fe'i Pi. The day was to be filled with prayer, worship, and thanksgiving with services held at sunrise, noon, and afternoon.

Dec[ember] 15th was observed by the miss[ionaries] and the different parties of natives as a day of prayer and thankgiving [sic] for their late deliverance, and the unexpected and favourable turn that affairs had taken at Tahiti.[ref]The History of the Tahitian Mission 1799–1830, The Hakluyt Society, p. 195[/ref]

The following years saw a great cultural reformation in the islands of Tahiti. The king removed the idols from the land, buried the bones of his ancestors, and promoted the instruction in reading and writing to his citizens. He also set in place a code of laws including those to prohibit nudity, immodest dancing, tattoos, and infanticide. Moral instruction was given through sermons and catechism.

The transformation of the islanders' morality was commented on by an observer in 1823:

Idolatry no longer exists among them, and they generally profess the Christian religion. The women no longer come aboard the vessel, and even when we meet them on land they are extremely reserved. ... The bloody wars that these people used to carry out and human sacrifices have no longer taken place since 1816.[ref]Etienne Taillemite (1999), Fayard, p. 498[/ref]

Such a legacy has continued in this island nation. Christianity is the majority religion in Tahiti and more than 50% of the population belong to the Maói Protestant Church. Let us pray that they continue to have a pure profession of faith and trust in God.