Polynesian Discovery Letters (Intro - Part 21)

Although the following series of letters is not really a proper book, several people have asked me to repost them. These letters where written very informally and without any editing of any kind, so you no doubt will find mistakes. The explanation of the reason for writing them is found in the following introduction:


One of the most intriguing passages of the Bible to me is something that Paul said to the people of Athens.  In speaking to the Athenians about the ways that God had been involved with the existence of the ancient peoples in history, Paul told them that God had “Determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

Most of the migrations and the movements of the ancient people are lost to us in obscurity.  What we do know of these movements, we usually put down as occurring because, for instance, the people were experiencing a famine in their own country so they set out to search for a new place to live.  Or perhaps because of warfare or some other man-made situation.

No doubt many of the movements of the ancient peoples were a response to these events, but Paul told the people in Athens on that day that there was also another reason.  “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 NIV).

Most of you know that Vivian and I have recently been called to work in a part of the world that neither of us had ever thought that we might someday go, nor, quite frankly, really had any great desire to go.  After working in pastoral and church leadership for fifteen years in Latin America, God has now called us to Polynesia to develop the same kind of training centers there.

We have loved living in the mountains of South and Central America and working with the peoples of those lands.  Honestly, I am inclined to visit and live in hilly and mountainous places.  I am not really a person of the sea or the beach.  When Jesse and Matthew were very young and several years before Nathanael and Levi were even a thought in our lives, our young family lived for a year on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, working in a Bible camp there.  It was nice, but I thought that was enough of the ocean and sand for me.  I was glad to return back to the land of woods, lakes and streams.  But now, much to our surprise, God has called us back to the lands of the ocean.  This is not the relatively small Caribbean Sea, but the mightiest of the oceans: the Pacific.

Speaking about the movements of the ancient peoples, as I look back on my own life, I also find myself marveling about how God has moved me from place to place.  This movement has sometimes been to places that I did not particularly wish to go, but through the experience, I have fallen in love with people that I never before had even any thought.  As a very young man, God moved me to India.  I think that the main reason that He did this was, like the ancients of whom Paul spoke, was that I would “seek Him and reach out for Him and eventually find Him,” for that is what happened.  It was in that land that I re-dedicated my life to serve the God of the Bible.  What also happened, however, is that I got to know and love a people of a land where I before had no desire to visit.

Since that time, Vivian and I and our boys have lived and worked in several areas of the world, some for shorter times and some for longer.  It is largely because of this that I not only feel a special affinity with the people of India, but also of Ireland, Mexico, Venezuela, and Guatemala, and also with the people of several other countries with whom I have worked as I traveled to their lands.

So now Vivian and I are to work in Polynesia.  I admittedly know almost nothing about who the Polynesians are as a people. I feel somewhat like Captain James Cook must have felt when he first set out for the “Great South Sea” as they called it in those days.  I see myself also traveling into what is for me a great unknown.  Unlike Cook, I am not a captain but only a deck hand.  But I am under the command of a captain.  He is the Captain of the Lord of Hosts.

I have been recently been reading about the Polynesians.  It has been for me an unfolding discovery as I have read about these people and their ways.  Interestingly for me, as I have began to discover some of the things about these people that I before had not known, their own voyages have led me to think of some of my own travels, as you could perhaps tell when I began talking about India.  So far, I have not studied too deeply into the history and people of Polynesia, but I have delved deeply enough that I am beginning to wonder if this voyage will not also be one of self-discovery.  It seems to have begun that way.  But one can never tell what he will encounter on a journey.

The thought has come to me that, through the magic of the internet, perhaps you would like to accompany me on this journey.  For some reason that may or may not be of your own choosing, your e-mail address has found its way into my address book.  That is why you have received this letter.  If you think that you would like to accompany me as I read of these lands and the people, I will just keep sending them.  If you are just content to stay home and do not want to hear more, just write a return e-mail letter that says “No Thanks” on the subject line.  There is no shame in being content at home.

However, if you do choose to come with me, I really do not know what to tell you what to expect, for this also is my first journey into these worlds.  However, I know from experiences on other journeys that this one also might become quite long and maybe even sometimes a little boring.  All journeys sometimes are.  However, you have at least two advantages.  One is the “delete” button on your computer.  If the passage that we are making between two islands become long and somewhat monotonous, with a simple pressing of this button you can extract yourself from the situation and do something else on your computer, like maybe play a game of Spider Solitaire.  Or better yet, surf the web (Sorry about that, I could not resist.)

The other advantage that you have is that you can at any time jump ship.  If you find that there are just too many monotonies and the journey is becoming much too tedious, you may always write that return letter that says “No Thanks” on the subject line, and I will stop sending them to you.  If you wish to express your extreme dissatisfaction with the voyage, you can follow that No Thanks with a series of exclamation points – the more points meaning the more extreme the dissatisfaction.  For instance, “No Thanks !!!!!!!!” (I hope there will be no more than that).

In this jumping of the ship, there is no danger of shark attacks or of being marooned on a deserted island, but only the comfortable world of your Lane Recliner and TV remote.  So, what can you lose?  You may as well at least begin the journey with me.  Who knows? You might even discover some unknown lands in your own life.


In the Introduction that I sent out last week I mentioned that, as I prepare to take on this work in the South Pacific region, it is like entering into a great unknown for me.  I said that I feel a bit like Captain James Cook perhaps felt as he sailed out to explore the South Seas.  However, as we know, it was not Captain Cook who was the first to arrive to these remote islands of the Pacific.  Wherever he or any of the European explorers went, they found the majority of the many thousands of islands in the Pacific already inhabited.  These island-dwellers were the Polynesians – the people of the South Pacific.

    Of Captain Cook’s travels in the Pacific, we have extensive written records, for the captain very meticulously recorded every detail into his ship’s log.  The situation is quite different with the arrival of the Polynesian people, however.  These people had no written form for their language, so all that we know are the oral traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation.  We should say that it is not as if oral traditions do not have the capacity to transmit history very accurately, but it is just that these means of preserving history are often open to wide interpretations.  In the case of the Polynesians, for instance, these traditions take the form of myths and legends – folklore.

    We of mostly European or Asian ancestry, who are accustomed to having our history in written form, often look upon folklore merely as fanciful stories, superstitions, or tales of pagan gods.  Of course, it can be said that the folklore was all of these things, but it also often served as a way in which the history of their people could be transmitted across the generations.  We all know that it is much easier to remember a story than it is to remember a list of facts and dates. Be that as it may, it is difficult if not impossible for us today to reconstruct the movements of the early Polynesian people from only the folklore that remains, and the origins of the Polynesians have been one of the great mysteries of people migrations.

  The principle difficulty in understanding this is that we almost cannot fathom the possibility that early man could set out into a body of water that covers a third of the earth’s surface, broken only by relative pinprick-sized islands, and then to reach and colonize those islands.  It is difficult for us to get a true picture of the scope of this.  When we look at a map on the wall of the Pacific, the expanses of water appear overwhelming enough, but it still is not the same as actually setting out into this immense and vast ocean to seek to arrive at a tiny island thousands miles away; especially considering the fact that their sailing vessels amounted to little more than large canoes.

    Concerning the mere distances involved, to get an idea of what it must have been like, I made some quick calculations in comparing one of these Pacific journeys with a trip from the earth to the moon.  From New Zealand, which is at one extreme of Polynesia, to Easter Island (the other extreme), the distance is about 4,500 miles (give or take a couple hundred miles).  Considering the relative size of the moon to Easter Island, and comparing the accuracy involved with hitting the moon from the earth with hitting Easter Island from New Zealand, the moon would have to be four times further from earth than it is (from 239,000 miles to almost a million miles away) to make the trips comparable in their difficulty.  Of course, there are obvious difficulties in traveling through space that there is not in sea travel, but traveling by sea is also setting out into a hostile environment, and at least in journeying to the moon, the traveler can see his destination!

     As I also said in the Introduction of last week, I do not really consider myself a man of the ocean or the beach.  I much prefer the forests and the hills.  I feel more in my element in the woods and think that should I ever become stranded or lost in the wilderness, I at least know a few skills that I could use to survive some difficulties.  I do not feel this same reassurance when it comes to the ocean.
     Many years ago, when Vivian and I worked for a year at Porvenir Bible Camp on a Yucatan Peninsula beach, we went swimming almost every day.  Sometimes, I would take an inner tube and paddle out into the Caribbean so that I was quite far from land.  There, lying in that inner tube with nothing but water around me, I would sometimes try to imagine what it would be like to actually be stranded in the ocean.  It is different than on land.  On the land, one can look around and use whatever resources might be available, no matter how meager they might be.  On the sea, there is nothing.  There is only your inner tube and there is salt water, nothing more…oh, there is the blazing sun.  Even though I was not out of sight of land and my thoughts of being marooned were only an imaginary game I was playing with myself, I remember starting to have thoughts of panic as I sat there in the water with only my inner tube.  I thought of the depths of the ocean under my insignificant little watercraft and what sharks or other leviathan monsters might be lurking underneath me.  I never played my little mind game long, but soon, in order to calm my growing fears, began paddling back toward the safety of the sandy beach. 

    So it is that when I think of the ancient Polynesians setting out in their double-hulled canoes over long distances of seemingly endless ocean, I cannot help but admire their bravery.  But it is more than just a blind bravery, for they must have possessed extraordinary skills to navigate between islands.  Among the things that have become intriguing to me about these people is their seemingly fearless ability to cast themselves into the endless and tormentuous oceans of the Pacific in small canoe-like crafts, and, once they had explored an area of the ocean, to be able to navigate from island to island over grand expanses of open sea.
    This took not only and astounding ability to calculate their relative position, but an understanding of the how the winds would blow and the currents of the ocean.  They did not have GPS devices or diesel-powered watercraft, but theirs was a system that was a more diverse and environmental approach.  They learned to navigate using the stars and even the moon.  They knew the migration patterns of the birds and the whales.  Even the sea itself gave them signs to read as to their position in the ocean. My questions are many: How did they prepare their watercraft  for such a long voyage and exactly what kind of watercraft could they have used?  How were they able to plot a course without navigational instruments?  How did they even know that there were islands across such great expanses of ocean?

 The sailing skills and navigational abilities of the early Polynesians are astounding indeed, but because I am limiting myself to the length of each of these letters, we will have to wait to look at these methods of navigation and travel in the next letter.

    There is something else that I would like to consider next time in connection with the Polynesian people: It is thought that the first of these sea explorers started to inhabit the islands of the western Pacific as early as 1500 BC.  For all practical purposes, these people were isolated from the rest of the world between that time until the years that the early European explorers began searching the South Seas in the 1600’s AD.  That is more than 3,000 years of isolation!  Even if one does not accept this earlier date of the first colonization, it almost becomes irrelevant, for this an astounding amount of time.

    In that more that three thousand years, a lot had occurred in the rest of the world, including the events of most of the Bible.  God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans about in the year 2090 BC, and as we know, in the thousands of years following that time, God had many dealings with the people of the earth.  God’s involvement in the world lead up to the most important occurrence in history: the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The Polynesians missed all of this.

    Knowing this, what then are we to say about the words of the Apostle Peter?  Speaking of Jesus Christ, the apostle said this: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NIV).

    If this be the case, our immediate question must be, “What about the ancient Polynesians?”  Of course, the question is much wider than that because it applies to many of the peoples of the world.  Most of you know that I accept the inerrancy of what is written in the Bible.  How then, can we reconcile the love that the Bible says that God possesses with this isolation that the Polynesians had from His Word?
    Well, I have already exceeded my self-imposed restriction for the length of these letters and I am also afraid that I may have set my ambitions too high for the next.  I do not have these letters written beforehand (they are in real-time), so we will see how far I can get on this subject.  Also, I do not want you to expect that every one of your questions on this deep subject will be answered, but we will do what we can.  Neither do I want to dwell on it too long, or I will lose too many of my travel companions.  It is not on a Carnival Cruise ship that we are sailing, but I am trying to guard against the trip being overly tedious.


 As I have before stated, I am not an “old salt.”  The fact that I am not old should be self-evident (I saw that smile pass your lips!), but neither am I a salt – that is, I am not a sailor or a man of the sea.  However, I have always loved reading about the sea and especially of the voyages of the great explorers.  When I was a boy, if you would have asked me who was the greatest of the explorers, I am sure that I would have told you Christopher Columbus.  After all, he was the explorer who discovered America, or so we were told, and we even had a special holiday for him.  In school, we all learned the rhyme to help us in our history test; “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

    Nevertheless, even when I was in grade school, there were some people who said that it was the Vikings who had first reached the shores of North America (apart from the native inhabitants that were already here, of course).  At that time, however, the belief that the Vikings came first was thought by many to be more in the realm of legend instead of actual history.  It was mostly those of us with Scandinavian descent that believed these stories of the ancient Vikings to be actually true.  But, as we have since learned, it is now pretty much of an established fact that it was Leif Erickson and his companions that did first arrive on this continent in about the year 1000.

    The reason that I am bringing some further questions into this now accepted fact is because of some additional reading that I have been doing relating to the Polynesian people.  Up to this point, our study of the discovery and colonization of the United States has been focused on trans-Atlantic travel.  Most of the people who first immigrated to America came across the Atlantic and had their ancestry in the European or African nations.  New York was the front door to America.  But it may have been that even before the front door was opened, some people had been sneaking around the back door – the Pacific coast.

  I probably should not have used the word “sneaking,” for there was no stealth involved.  But there may have been discovery.  The legends of the Vikings may now have become accepted fact, but that does not mean that all legend concerning the discovery of America has died.  I will take a further look at these legends in a future letter, but right now, I have some unfinished business to attend to.  I promised two letters ago to look into some of the sailing techniques of the Polynesian people, and that is what I mean to do.
    I brought up our Euro-centrist perspective of discovery because we also have that same perspective when it comes to our sailing techniques.  From very early in ocean going ships, our seafaring heritage learned to develop and refine technological devices to help them in the discovery process.  All important to the early explorers were the methods that they used in pinpointing their latitude and longitude.  This involved taking readings with the astrolabe or the sextant, two instruments that measured the height of the sun above the horizon.  This was important in determining latitude.

    Longitude was much more of a difficult problem and was actually a major reason why much of the early exploration from Europe was north and south (down the coast of Africa), and not westward, out into the Atlantic.  In order to calculate longitude, early navigators needed an accurate method for determining time.  There were clocks in those days, but none that were transportable or that could keep accurate time on board a rocking ship.

  Because of the need for this important instrument, most of the kingdoms of Europe offered large cash prizes for any inventor who could develop such a “chronometer.”  King Louis XIV of France offered 100,000 florins and King Philip of Spain 10,000 ducats.  But it was finally the ₤10,000 prize money put up by the British Parliament that was won by John Harrison, the son of a Yorkshire carpenter.  On a test run, Harrison’s chronometer lost only five seconds on a nine-week voyage to Jamaica.

    For the early Polynesian explorers, the longitudinal distances they faced were far greater in the Pacific than for the European explorers in the Atlantic, yet the Polynesians put up no prize money for the development of a chronometer.  They did not even possess a compass.  Theirs was a different method of navigation and exploration.  As far as we know, the Polynesians made no maps of discovered lands and island in the Pacific.  They had not graphed their known world into a grid system of latitude and longitude.  Yet, they were able not only to discover islands far out into the Pacific, but find their way back home.

   One of the Polynesians’ principle method of navigation was by the stars.  They had an intimate knowledge of the night sky and used some 32 of the brightest stars as their navigational reference points.  They would set their course for a star that was close to the horizon, and when that star rose too high in the sky or set below the horizon, they would choose another that had the same bearing.  The stars were one of their principle method of navigation, but this was also supported by many other tools that these early sea travelers used.
  In much the same way as they knew the night sky, the Polynesians knew the very ocean on which they traveled.  They were masters at reading the ocean currents.  I am not speaking only of the major ocean currents such as the Equatorial Current, that runs the length of the Pacific, but also the smaller sea swells that flow around and are affected by the islands.  When sea swells strike an island, the wave pattern bounces back upon itself, much like an echo when you shout into a canyon.  The early navigators could detect this “wave echo” that came from one of the smaller islands of the Pacific up to 50 km away.  From larger land masses like New Zealand, they could detect it up to 300 km out into the ocean.  It is said that these men sat in the bow of their outrigger canoes with their hand in the water so that they could feel these ocean swell “echoes.”  It is astounding to me that they were able to detect this movement of the water in this way, but that is what more than one person has reported.  In this way, the early travelers knew of a land mass long before it became visible to them.
Once the wave patterns around an island or group of islands was known to an individual navigator, he would make a chart that are commonly referred to as “stick charts.”  This was a diagram made of thin strips of coconut leaf midrib.  The man tied the strips together in a shape and pattern that represented the wave patterns and ocean swells around or between islands.  Small sea shells tied to the graph represented the islands.  The charts were very individualistic, in that only the person who made them was able to read them accurately.  But even after constructing the chart, the Polynesian sailor would not take it with him in the journey.  He would merely look at it and memorize it before setting out on his voyage. It is said that it was a matter of pride for these early navigators to be able to make a voyage without taking any "helps" with them.

 The traveler, using the stars as permanent reference points and reading the ocean swells as he progressed in his journey, also used the islands themselves as a kind of moving reference points as he passed them.  Interestingly, as the Polynesian navigator sat in this boat, in his thinking it was his watercraft that was the stationary object in the ocean, fixed on his star reference point.  As the islands passed him to his right or his left, in his mind it was the islands that were in motion, not his boat.

    The sailors also looked to the feeding habits of ocean birds to tell them if land was near.  These birds will fly over the ocean to feed during the day, and when evening is about to descend, the birds will suddenly also descend quite low over the ocean and fly in a straight line back to their nests.  Frigate birds are known to feed up to 100 km out into the ocean and terns up to 50 km away from land.

    The Polynesians also had an intimate knowledge of bird migrations.  The first arrivers into the Pacific probably knew of the existence of New Zealand long before they visited there, since there are several birds that annually migrate between the other islands of the Pacific and New Zealand.

    Even the clouds told them of the presence of land far out into the ocean.  Convection clouds regularly form over the land during the day and even indicate the nature of the land underneath them.  Clouds that form over mountainous islands billow high into the sky and can be seen up to 150 km away.  Small coral island atolls have characteristic eye-brow shaped clouds, and can be seen 50 km away.  If the islands are forested, the bases of the clouds take on a greenish or darker appearance.  If the cloud base is bright, it probably is because the sun is reflecting off of the lagoons of the smaller atoll islands.  New Zealand, by the way, has its own very characteristic cloud.  The original name for New Zealand was Aotearoa, meaning “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

A Rotoruan Canoe Chant (English Translation)

Together—all together!
Bow-paddles there, dip together;
'Midships there, keep time!
Stern-paddles, all together.
Now we're going along!
See you brightly shining star
Tioriori, flashing in the morning sky,
My eyes are dim with the heat of paddling.
Plunge in your paddles;
Dig away, dig away!  
I weary with sitting at my paddle.
How our eyeballs wildly glare!
Steersman, straight for the Ohan River mouth
There before me lies my food—
You, my foe, food for my battle axe! Paddle away!  

All together, all together!
Quickly plunge your paddle blades.
How bravely fly the feathers
That deck our war canoe!
Paddle away
And away!  


 One cannot help but respect and even admire an anthropologist like Thor Heyerdahl.  Heyerdahl was an historian who not only made serious investigations into the origins of the Polynesian people, but took great personal risk to test out his theories.  Actually, he was not an anthropologist by training, but was first a biologist at the University of Oslo in Norway.  While on a sabbatical in the Marquesas (a group of islands in eastern Polynesia) to investigate how the animal and plant species of Polynesia first came to the islands, Heyerdahl became interested in the origins of the Polynesian people themselves.  The biologist, trained in zoology and geography, switched fields and became firstly an anthropologist.
    According to Heyerdahl, “It has often been fruitful in the academic world to switch from one branch of science to another somewhat related field of study.  With the same training in scientific thought and procedure, but unbiased [by previous opinions]…the trespasser from one discipline to another will often take a new and untraditional approach to accepted dogma” (from his book, Early Man and the Ocean, page 289).
    That was Thor Heyerdahl – by his own words a “trespasser” into anthropology.  But then, what can one expect from a Norwegian named after the Norse god of thunder.  Other anthropologists in Heyerdahl’s field regularly referred to him as “the Viking.”
    But one cannot help but respect this Viking anthropologist.  And one cannot but respect and even admire his “untraditional approach.”  I think that there is no one who is even moderately interested in anthropology who has not heard of some of his untraditional approaches.  When he noticed that the reed boats of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia were of similar design to the reed boats of the Nile River in Egypt, Heyerdahl decided to build one and sail it from Africa to the Caribbean, which he did in 1970 in a vessel that he christened Ra II (His first attempt, in Ra I failed, but the intrepid viking persisted).  Heyerdahl did this in order to advance his theory that the earliest people in the Americas may not have come over the Bearing Straight in Alaska by foot, but that they came over the sea in reed vessels.
    However, even before he sailed the Ra II, Heyerdahl theorized that the Polynesian islands were populated by a people who did not come directly from Southeast Asia, as almost everyone else believed, but from South America.  He studied the raft-building techniques of the coastal people of South America and also those of the Polynesians, and built a raft that he named Kon-Tiki.  In 1947, he and his companions (I think that there were 6 on board), set out from Peru.  After 101 days of mostly drifting in the tropical ocean, they arrived on Rairoia, an island in eastern Polynesia, some 4,300 miles away.
    Heyerdahl’s reasoning that the people that colonized Polynesia may have come out of South America was not unfounded.  It was not because he was a Viking trespasser into the field to anthropology that he took this unconventional theory.  His reasons seem compelling, although many of these are not widely accepted by most anthropologists.  Heyerdahl himself stressed that he had often been misunderstood and misrepresented, since he said that he never asserted that the origins of the Polynesians were from America, but only that they came by way of America.
    Frankly, in my reading I skimmed over a lot of the charges and countercharges that were made by the various theories, but I do not think that I am mistaken in my impression that most if not all of the anthropologists (including Heyerdahl) believe that the Polynesians have historical ties to some area of Southeastern Asia (although there is not agreement of the specific area of Asia).  It is true that since Heyerdahl’s day (he died in 2002 at the age of 87), further investigation along with the advancing science of genetics, have shown that certain aspects of his theories were probably wrong.  (I suppose that I say “probably” partly out of fear of this Viking who sailed on balsa rafts across endless stretches of the Pacific Ocean).

    However, even though we can now say that certain of Heyerdahl’s conclusions were premature, I am going to take a little time and tell you some of the reasons that he thought that the Polynesians came by way of South America.  The reasons are very interesting and it gives a window into the nature of the islands of Polynesia and the Pacific Ocean.  My account of the Heyerdahl’s arguments may seem a little random and they may not even be what he would consider his best points, but they are ones that stand out to me.  Besides this, I know that my few words are a flagrant oversimplification of the whole matter.

    We all know of the mighty Amazon River, which has its headwaters in Peru and Ecuador and runs almost the entire width of the South American continent, eastward into the Atlantic Ocean.  But this is not the mightiest of the rivers that begins in Peru.  Even greater than the Amazon is the Equatorial Current that flows like a great river westward through the Pacific Ocean for 7,000 miles.  It was on this current that Heyerdahl and his crew rode their Kon-Tiki from Peru to Polynesia.

    It is greatly because of the presence of this Equatorial Current that led Heyerdahl to believe that Polynesia was first colonized by way of South American.  It is noteworthy that, when the Polynesian islands were rediscovered by the Europeans, it was all accomplished by sailing west, from South America.  None of the Polynesian islands were encountered by the early European explorers by traveling east, out of Asia.  This, despite the fact that the Europeans sailed along the Asiatic Pacific coast almost two centuries before they sailed the American Pacific coast.  Even Magellan, the great first circumnavigator of the globe, had previously spent five years in the Asian waters without trying to sail out into the Pacific from that direction.  (I must ad as a postscript here that since I wrote this piece, I have read a book that puts forth some compelling reasons to think that the Chinese may have been the first to explore the coasts of all of the continents around the year 1421)
    What is more, when the Spanish first encountered the coastal Incas of South America, the Incas told the explorers of inhabited islands to the west.  They even told how long it would take to reach them by raft and in which direction to sail.  Conversely, the coastal people of Asia had no knowledge whatsoever of the Pacific islands, at least of those far out to sea.
    I read this week of an early Spanish caravel, weighing about 40 tons and with a crew of 10 men, sailing off the coast of Ecuador in the early days of exploration.  The Spanish sailors on board were amazed to encounter a northbound balsa raft, which they thought must weigh about 30 tons, with some 20 Peruvian men and women.  Eventually, the Spanish explorers came to understand that the Peruvians regularly made extensive trips out into the Pacific and knew of the existence of many of the islands, sometimes staying months on their rafts.

    Heyerdahl, originally a biologist, noticed the presence of some plant life on the Polynesian islands that were indigenous to South America.  Most notable of these was the sweet potato, which was not only present in Polynesia, but was called by the same name as in many places in South America. This was the kumara.  As the islands were explored, the Spaniards and others saw that the native inhabitants possessed dogs.  When asked where the dogs came from, the general answer was that they came from the same people from the west that had brought them the kumara.
   There are many other matters that I could bring out.  Because of all of these that I have mentioned and others as well, Heyerdahl came to believe that the original Polynesians had their closest ties with South American.  But if there are unmistakable genetic ties of the Polynesians with Southeast Asia, how and why would these people first settle in South America before settling in the Polynesian islands?  How were they able to go against this mighty Equatorial Current, which flows west?  Heyerdahl claims they used the route that he calls “the easy way from Asia to Polynesia.”
    Although at the equator, there is a strong current that flows to the west, there is also an east-bound current in the Pacific.  This is the current later discovered by Captain Cook in his first trip into the Pacific.  As he sailed north toward Japan, the current began to carry him to the east and brought him all the way to the Northwest Coast of North America.  This east-ward current runs between Hawaii and the Aleutian Island chain of Alaska.  (note: there is also an east-bound counter-current, near the equator, but Heyerdahl claimed this was unreliable).
    Heyerdahl theorized that in the very distant past, sailors from Southeast Asia caught that current and sailed to the coast of North America.  These newcomers to America eventually sailed further to the south, establishing settlements in several places including Ecuador and Peru.  It was these Asian people that had been transplanted in Peru that were the eventual discoverers of the Polynesian islands. It may sound like an incredible theory but it may not be so unbelievable as it at first seems, especially taking into account the strong ocean currents which would facilitate this movement.  These same currents also inhibited any attempts at sailing in the opposite direction.
    Heyerdahl also goes to some length to show many cultural similarities between the Polynesian islands and early civilizations in the Americas, both north and south.  According to Heyerdahl, the Native Americans of the northwest coast are very distinct in their culture from the rest of the Indian tribes in the rest of the United States.  However, many these distinctions that they have and that are different from other North American tribes, the natives of the Pacific Northwest hold in common with Polynesia.  One intriguing example is the carving of totem poles, which we associate with the Indians of that area, but that are also common with the early inhabitants of New Zealand, the Maori.

 (written after a long hiatus)

  In case you have not noticed, our Polynesian voyage of discovery has slowed significantly.  Voyages sometimes do.  For instance, the early explorers discovered that there are areas of relatively calm winds near the equator.  If your vessel is a sailing ship, this can be frustrating and even disastrous as you and your crew sit under hot and sunny skies with not a breath of air to fill your sails.  They called these areas the “doldrums.”
    This is not the reason that our voyage has slowed, however.  We have not been in the doldrums.  In our case, there has been plenty of wind, but the winds have blown me in other directions.  I have had many other things to attend to and have not had time to read as much as I would have liked.  The main reason for this, I think, is because maple syrup season has ended.  Up until about a week or so ago, I had the pleasant job of attending the 50 maple trees that we had tapped out in the woods.  I gathered the sap into our boiling pan of about one hundred gallons, which I had positioned over a fire.  There I spent several very pleasant days tending the fire and cooking the syrup, but always having a few books with me to study. Plenty of time to read.
    But now those days of making maple syrup have come to an end and I no longer have the excuse of making syrup for sitting in the spring-time woods and reading.  And, as we all know, when one job ends, four or five others come rushing in to fill the hours.  Vivian and I are always busy with our preparation work in getting ready to start our ministry in the Pacific, and part of this work is putting out occasional news letters, which we did last week.  I know that many of you received one of these letters.  Besides this, in this last week, I made the almost last editing touches on the book that is being published.  Now I am waiting for the publisher to send the book back for one last step.
   However, the really BIG news is that Vivian and I are grandparents again!  Jesse’s wife Lisa gave birth to a really cute handsome baby boy.  I myself have not seen him yet, but I have received reports from some very reliable sources, like Gramma Vivian.  Vivian is over in the Twin Cities right now (where Jesse and Lisa live), and I am going there tomorrow.  The baby’s name is William Morgan (Rhody), which even sounds a bit like an early English explorer.
    Another thing that has been happening this past week was that our youngest son Levi, who is in the army, was home for a short leave.  It was great fun to see him and we filled our days to the fullest.
    So, that is my list of excuses for being slow in my progress of the Polynesian studies.  I thought that I had better get a letter off now, however, since I will not have the chance to do another for more than two weeks.  I am leaving on Tuesday for New Zealand, where I will meet many of the people with whom I will be working and perhaps start to look for a place for Vivian and me to live.  They have asked me to preach on the Sunday that I am there, so I am looking forward to sharing with the people.

    If you are able to remember, the last letter that I sent had to do with the theories of Thor Heyerdahl concerning the origins of the Polynesian people.  Heyerdahl gave some very convincing reasons to back up his theories, but most present-day anthropologists do not agree with his east-to-west version of the migration and settling of the Polynesian islands.  Today, almost all anthropologists that study historic migrations of peoples believe that the discovery of the islands of the Pacific by the original inhabitants occurred from the west (the coast and islands of Southeast Asia) and progressed in a general eastward direction.  I will give some of the reasons in future letters for this theory, but in this letter, I would like to touch on a belief that may seem unbelievable and absurd to us, but in the 1800’s, it was considered a legitimate theory.
    The origins of the Polynesian people are one of the world’s great mysteries, and, as in all great mysteries, there are incredible theories that try to explain how it came about.  In Polynesia, some of these theories took the form of a great lost continent.
    We have all heard of the lost continent of Atlantis, which supposedly was in the mid-Atlantic Ocean.  In the Pacific, this lost continent was called Mu.  That’s all – Mu. An easy name to spell and to remember.
    The theory of the lost continent of Mu arose as an attempt to explain some of the phenomena of Polynesia that were not understandable in other ways (at least to the believers of this theory).  One of these facts was the amazing similarity in language of the various islands.  The islanders spoke different languages, but as early as in the days of the first explorers, it was clear that all of the languages had similar roots.  Indeed, the man from Tahiti that accompanied Captain Cook on his first voyage was able to understand people from many parts of the Pacific.  Even today, the Maori people of New Zealand who know their original language can understand the Hawaiian language (I am speaking of the indigenous one, not the English one). The customs of the Polynesians from various islands also have very many parallels.  Some people have even noted the similarities of the statues of Easter Island with ruins in the Caroline Islands, in the far opposite extreme of the Pacific Ocean.
    According to the belief of the land of Mu, there once was a great continent that spread over thousands of miles in the Pacific, and which included the islands of Hawaii, Easter, Tahiti and Fiji, and stretched all the way up to the Mariana Islands (the islands that the early Spanish explorers called the “Ladrones”).  Some time in the past, it is said, this great continent sank below the waves of the Pacific Ocean, leaving only the highest mountains to rise above the waters.  Those mountaintops are what we now know as the Pacific islands.
    As late as the 1920’s and 1930’s, an Anglo-American named James Churchward still promoted the past existence of the continent of Mu, which he said sank about 13,000 years ago.  He even produced a map of the Pacific region that showed Mu as being larger than North America.  As one might expect, this theory was not the result of any research of any kind, but Churchward claimed to have learned what he called an ancient language, which then gave him the ability to interpret some secret tablets that told of the continent of Mu.  And, as is usually the case with these types of occultist teachings, it attracted some followers.
    As has become obvious to us today, there is no lost continent on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, but in the 1800’s, scientists knew almost nothing about what was at the great depths of the Oceans.  However, as is also often the case in fantastic and implausible theories, factors that would tend to discount the ideas are minimized or ignored.  One of these factors is the great racial diversity among the Polynesians.  The original people of the Pacific differ in appearance from quite light-skinned and European in appearance to very dark and African looking.  It is this great diversity of the Polynesians in some respects, but similarities in other ways, that only adds to the mystery of their origins.
    I am afraid that there is much that will remain mystery, but it still makes for an interesting study.  However, I find that I continually return to what the verse in the Bible says about the movement of ancient people.  Do you remember it?  I mentioned it in the very first letter and also in the prayer letter that we just sent out.
    From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  (Acts 17:26-27 NIV)


A friend of mine, who travels extensively in his work, told me that when he was starting his job that required a lot of overseas travel, he was told not to be concerned about jet lag.  “Jet lag is all psychological,” his company told him.
Well… I returned home yesterday evening from a fact-finding trip to New Zealand, the same trip that I mentioned in my last letter.  In the 48 hours prior to my arrival back to my home from the other side of the world, I had slept a total of about four hours.  Back home in Wisconsin, I went to bed early last night, fully expecting to sleep deeply all night.  After all, I was very tired when I went to bed and I am a good sleeper.  It is the one talent that I have.  However, as I write this letter, it is 1:00 AM.  I woke up after only four more hours of sleep, fully awake and unable to continue lying in bed.
So, I would just like to say to my friend: “Dean, my friend, I have to tell you, either I am the victim of a severe psychological delusion, or your company deceived you.”
In a previous letter of this series, I spoke of the importance of an accurate chronometer (as they called the early clocks) in determining longitude.  Before the early explorers of the Pacific had a chronometer like this, there were a number of ways that were purposed to help the navigators determine Greenwich Mean Time.  One of the most unusual proposals was the use of what was called “powder of sympathy.”  Powder of Sympathy was a mysterious powder that the people of the time thought could continue to inflict pain to a wound in the body after it had completely healed and even years after the injury occurred.  This delayed pain could be brought about, they believed, by sprinkling some of the magical powder on the weapon that made the wound.  When the powder came in contact with the weapon, every wound that it had ever inflicted would again throb with pain, no matter where in the world the injured party happened to be.

This all reminds me of what my school bus driver told us kids when I was in elementary school.  He warned us about sticking our arms out of the bus window.  “If you stick your hands out of the window,” he told us, “a truck might come past and rip your arm right off your body.”
That warning might be enough for most people, but our bus driver decided that he must accentuate the warning and make it even more vivid.  He continued… “Then, when the road crew finds your arm lying on the road, they’ll pick it up and throw it in the dump.  After that, when the bears come to the dump to find something to eat, they will find your arm and start chewing on it.  Every time they take a bite of your arm, you will feel the pain of them biting it, just as if your arm was still connected to your body!”

Powder of Sympathy was thought also to cause pain by remote control, but in a little different way.  In this case, the arm or other limb may have been injured, but had not been severed from the body.  It did not matter that the injury later healed, because the pain could again come when the powder came in contact with the weapon that caused the injury.
Because of this, when looking for a way to help navigators know the hour by Greenwich Mean Time, the idea was put forth to put a cut in the legs of several dogs.  These dogs would then be used by the navigators and taken on board on the ships of the Royal Navy all over the world.  The single knife used to inflict the wound in all of these dogs would be kept at Greenwich, England.  According to the plan, at noon on every day in Greenwich, the offending knife would be plunged into a jar of “powder of sympathy”.  The moment that this was done, the sea dogs, no matter where they would be in the world on board the ships of the Royal Navy, would howl with pain.  In this way, the navigators of the ships would know the exact moment that it was noon at Greenwich, and be able to calculate their longitude.
We sometimes think that we as people have a preoccupation with time, but time is important to us in many ways, some of which we are not even aware.  In some regards, it can even be considered another dimension of our lives, along with the three dimensions of height, width, and breadth.  Time helps us in more ways than we know, and when we are disorientated in regards to time, our bodies have trouble adjusting, just as if we suddenly lost an eye and could not determine depth in our vision.  Close one eye and try to pick something up from your desk and you will see what I mean.  Our bodies must adjust to a sudden change.  It is much the same with time.  When there is a sudden change and the hours of day suddenly become the hours of night, our bodies must adjust.  So here I am…adjusting.  It is almost 2:00 AM now.
In the next letter of the Polynesian Discoveries, I will return to the theme of the colonization of the Pacific islands by the original Polynesians.  I am very busy in these days so I do not know when I will have the time to read more about this and write the letter, but who knows, maybe this time adjusting thing will take a couple more nights.  Perhaps I’ll see you tomorrow morning at 1:00 AM

Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.  Let them give glory to the LORD and proclaim his praise in the islands. (Isaiah 42:10, 12 NIV) 

West of Auckland, the shoreline drops off so quickly into the Tasman sea, that fishermen stand on the rocks and are able to deep-sea fish right from shore.  Yes, it is a little dangerous.


As you may remember, in a letter some time back I summarized the theories of Thor Heyerdahl concerning the colonization of the Polynesian Islands. Heyerdahl believed the colonization took place from the east and spread westward. Specifically, he believed that the first colonizers set out from the shores of present day Peru and Ecuador and followed the westward-flowing equatorial current of the Pacific.
 This theory finds very little acceptance among anthropologists today, even though I must say that I find some of his conclusions convincing. But I am not an anthropologist, so my opinion probably does not count for much. However, it seems like there is some miscommunication that has occurred between the various anthropologists, since Heyerdahl was in agreement with most others in the belief that the Polynesians had their origins in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, other anthropologists consistently ignore this statement of Heyerdahl’s and claim that he asserted that the origin of the Polynesians was from the Americas. As we saw in a previous letter, Heyerdahl did claim that the original Polynesians may have come by way of South America, but that their origins were really from Asia.
 Nevertheless, leaving this confusion aside, we will move on to say that most anthropologists today believe that even the direction of the colonization took place not as Heyerdahl purports, but rather in the opposite direction, that is from the west to the east. It is thought that despite opposing ocean currents, the original Polynesians traveled directly from Southeast Asia and sailed eastward into the Pacific Ocean. It is this theory that we will take a look at in this letter.
 One of the evidences that anthropologists give for this eastward movement is the presence of a certain kind of pottery that is specific to this Pacific region. You and I may get tired of looking at case after case of pottery when we visit museums, but ancient pottery and even shards of pottery is of great interest to archeologists and anthropologists. The study of pottery is one of the sometimes few resources that these scientists have to study ancient civilizations. Many early peoples, even before they had the knowledge of working with metals, knew how to make vessels of pottery. Sometimes, these bowls and containers of pottery are the only evidences of an ancient society that have survived the decaying effects of climate and time.
 This is much the case with the Polynesian people. One of the reasons that most anthropologists today believe that the colonization of the Pacific islands began in the west and spread to the east is because of the progression of a certain type of pottery known as “Lapita.”
 Lapita pottery is a recognizable type of ancient pottery in that it is adorned with a dental molding around the opening of the vessels and sometimes includes a certain motif design pressed into the clay. It derives its name from a group of islands off the coast of New Guinea, where appears for the first time. Present day evidences derived from the remains of this pottery shows that the people who produced it gradually spread eastward to the Pacific islands.
 But pottery is not the only artifact of the early Polynesians that has survived the scourges of time. As we know, the Polynesians were great sailors, and their main vessels for both local and ocean going voyages were dugout canoes. Some remnants of the canoes do remain, but more importantly, many of the tools that were used to make the canoes can still be found. These were the old adzes.
 Many people today do not what an adz is (I did not intend that to be a pun or a play on words, it is just that it is a funny name). I once bought an old adz at a garage sale in Guatemala where the owners did not know what it was and just wanted to be rid of it. An adz is a tool much like a pick-ax, but instead is shaped in such a way so that it can be used for flattening a round log, for instance. In the case of the Polynesians, the adz was used to gouge out the center of a log in order to make a canoe.
 The early adzes were not made from steel, since the first Polynesians had not yet understood how to work steel, but from basalt, which is a relatively hard rock. These basalt adzes have been found throughout Polynesia, and the way in which they are shaped and even how they are adorned with various markings tell archeologists much about the movement of the peoples from island to island. At least, that is what the archeologists purport. In truth however, the data is always open to be interpreted to whatever theory the individual archeologist or anthropologist favors.
 Despite all of the theories of discovery and colonization, nothing about the origins of the Polynesian people is very clear. It is true that certain facts seem to indicate a common origin of all of the people of Polynesia. For instance, in the past few years, studies of the mitochondrial DNA of the Polynesian people would suggest that they are closely linked genetically to the indigenous people of Southeast Asia. More specifically to the point, when one looks at the language groups of the Pacific islands, they show an almost definite link to Taiwan.
 Today, the language of Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese, owing to the great influx of Chinese mainlanders coming to the island about 400 years ago, at least in any significant numbers. However, the main immigration of the Chinese into Taiwan was after World War II. In fact, even the name Taiwan is of fairly recent origin. I can still remember when I was in grade school the old maps in our school called the island Formosa. Today, only about 2% of the inhabitants of Taiwan are of the original and indigenous people of the island. These inhabitants are thought to have migrated to the island some 6000 years ago and are quite distinct from the Chinese race of people.
 It is from the language of these indigenous Formosans that the Austronesian language family arises, and is it from this language family that all of the Oceanic languages are derived. What is more, many of the cultural traditions of the original Taiwanese and stories of the creation of the earth, sky and sea are very similar as those in many places of Polynesia.
 However, there are other matters that make this conclusion ancestry somewhat less certain. Some anthropologists have given evidences of other sources of origin. They have put forth the astounding hypothesis that the Polynesians were originally of European descent. This is believed by some because they note that the Polynesians do not have the physical characteristics of Asians, but more closely resemble those of Europeans. This idea has since been discredited, but the very presence of such a suggestion by some demonstrates the difficulty in tracing the origins of the Polynesian people.
 In truth, the physical characteristics of the Polynesian people does vary greatly from the Melanesian Islanders further to the west. If the Polynesians did indeed migrate from the west relatively recently in history, it is difficult to imagine how there could come to be such a marked difference in such a short time. The Melanesians are typically quite short, perhaps five feet four inches in height, very dark skinned with very little facial hair. Polynesians, by contrast, are very tall, often well over six feet in height, with full beards and lighter skinned. Notice the European-type features on this Easter Islander of 1777. Notice also the long ears, stretched that way for style. The Spanish called these people the "Orejónes (long ears).
Thus, the mystery continues and we shall not attempt to solve it. However, because of the sometimes contrasting evidences of origin, we can see why this study is so fascinating.
 But we shall move on. Our voyage is not really an anthropological one, but merely one of discovery. I will only say that it is generally accepted that the Polynesians as a race of people has its birthplace in the islands of Samoa. From Samoa, it is believed that the Polynesians moved eastward to Tahiti, then northward to Hawaii. Only lastly did they migrate south to New Zealand, Aotearoa, “The Land of the Long White Cloud.”

It is this path that we shall also take in our letters. From this point on in our journey, we will look at the specific islands, beginning where Polynesia begins, Samoa.

At this point in our voyage around the Pacific basin, we will now begin to look at some of the individual island groups.  As we said at the inception of this voyage and as we state in the title, this is a journey of discovery.  In every work of discovery, there will undoubtedly be some first impressions that are faulty.  This is one of the risks of discovery.  Even Captain James Cook, who was known for his meticulous and careful observations and calculations, had to occasionally correct some notations that he had earlier made.

Sometimes the mistakes of a discoverer can be potentially fatal, as when Captain Cook decided to taste a pufferfish in New Caledonia in September of 1774.  Certain parts of the pufferfish are poisonous.  After eating the pufferfish, Cook became very ill and actually almost succumbed to tetrodotoxin poisoning.

Captain Cook unfortunately did not have Señor Roke on his voyage with him. Señor Roke was a man that worked at the Bible camp where Vivian and I served in Mexico some 25 years ago.  I used to go fishing in the Caribbean with this old fellow, and one day we caught a pufferfish.  He warned me about eating it and showed me the exact parts of the fish that were dangerous to eat (some parts you could eat).  Roke was an elderly Mayan gentleman and was illiterate.  I often wondered how this process of learning what parts of the pufferfish were poisonous was accomplished.  Did Roke’s relatives notice that the person who ate the liver of the pufferfish got sick and died (for instance), and then decided that they had better not eat that part of the fish?  However the learning process occurred, Señor Roke showed me exactly what parts of the fish were edible and what parts were toxic.

But getting back to the Pacific, as we get underway, we begin with the Samoan Islands.  I am sure that we will not finish speaking about the Samoas in this letter, so in the intervening time, if there is any information that you might have about this group of islands, I would appreciate hearing about it.

The Samoan Islands were first known to the European explorers as the “Navigator Islands” and actually retained that name for at least two hundred years.  When the French captain, Louis de Bougainville was nearing the vicinity of the islands in the year 1768, he encountered many Samoans in small canoes who were paddling and sailing far from the site of land.  Bougainville assumed the islanders to be superb navigators to sail in this way in such small boats and thus bestowed upon the islands the name “The Navigator Islands.”  Bougainville was not the first of the Europeans to come upon the Samoa Islands however.  It was a Dutchman by the name of Jacob Roggeveen who first sighted the islands in 1722.

But the Samoan people were no less impressed with the arrival of the light-skinned Europeans in their vessels of exploration.  To the Samoans, these ships seem to have come out from the narrow slit of the horizon that separates the sky from the sea.  They thought that the Europeans must have burst through that narrow gap, and thus gave the Europeans a name that meant “sky-bursters.”  That name, palagi (or papalagi), is still used today to refer to any Westerner with light skin.

The Samoan Islands have the distinction of being called the cradle of Polynesia, because it is thought that it was here that the original settlers of the Pacific islands first became distinguished in race and culture and as the distinct people of Polynesia. In fact, some say that the word “Samoa” demonstrates this very fact.  It is said by the Samoans that there is a connotation in this word that shows that they are the “heart” or the “center” of Polynesia, although it should be said there are also other ideas of the etymology of this word.

However, whatever the true meaning of the name of Samoa, the Samoans see themselves as the very beginning of the race of Polynesians, and most anthropologists agree with this.  The difference is that the anthropologists would say that the original colonizers of the islands came from somewhere in Southeast Asia, but the Samoans see themselves as having been put on the islands by God himself.

The name that the Samoans called God was Tagaloa-Lagi, which means “The God of Heaven.”  Tagaloa-Lagi, the Samoans believe, is the Supreme Being who created all things in the beginning.  What is more, it is an interesting fact that there are many very close parallels to the original creation account of the Bible and the creation traditions of the Samoans.  We will speak more about the religion of the Samoan islands in the next letter.

There are eight main islands that make up the Samoas, but the two main islands are the westernmost and called Savai’i and Upolu.  The Samoan islands are actually divided into two main groups.  The eastern islands are the American Samoans, which is a territory of the U.S. and the western islands (the main ones of which are Savai’i and Upolu) are the Independent State of Samoa.

The Samoan Islands are some of the most beautiful of the Pacific, with coastal plains and a very rugged and mountainous interior.  On the island of Savai’i, which is the westernmost and largest of the islands, the mountains rise to over 6000 ft and are considered an area of active volcanoes, although the last eruption was in 1911.  As might be expected, in such areas of seismic activity, earthquakes are also of frequent occurrence, much like our family’s former home country of Guatemala.  The two countries are, after all, part of the same “ring of fire,” as geologists refer to the coastal lands that encompass all of the Pacific Ocean.  In all of these regions, volcanoes and earthquakes are common.

Also, like other islands in the same latitude in the western Pacific, Samoa is subject to violent hurricanes, especially between the months of November and May.  The Samoans call these winds “afa fuli fao,” or “knock-down winds.”

Early visitors who wrote of the Samoan islands were impressed with the physical appearance of the Samoans, calling them “a remarkably fine-looking race of people.”  The custom of tattooing largely originated in Samoa, and in the early days it was reported that the men were usually tattooed from the waist to the knees, as well as makings on the face and other parts of the body.  The tattooing from the waist to the knee was not only of very fine lines and designs, but was so complete that the first visitors mistook the tattoos for a form of “a pair of light breeches.”  In the word of a visitor in 1772, the men of Samoa were described as “being clothed from the waist downwards with fringes, and long hose made of a kind of silken stuff artificially wrought.”  What he saw was actually tattoos.

The tattoos were made by making a series of puncture wounds in the skin and injecting a die made from the soot of a burnt candlenut and mixed with oil.  The tool used for making the needle-prick wounds was a comb-like instrument that was carved from bone or tortoiseshell.  This comb was placed on the skin and struck with a wooden stick used like a hammer.  The word “tattoo” actually comes from the sound that was made during the process.  In the tropical air, one could hear the sound of “tat-too, tat-too” coming from among the trees and would know that someone was getting his body tattooed.  The pain involved with this process was considerable, since in involved great portions of the body.  However, it was considered a sign of bravery to have a large area one’s body submitted to tattooing.

Polynesian Discovery - Part 9 (Samoa 2, John Williams)

As I have mentioned before, I preface the below remarks by clarifying the fact that these letters, just as the title suggests, are letters of discovery.  In this type of discovery, there will invariably be some missteps.  The letters are really sort of a journal of my own exploration as I seek to learn something of the area of the world in which Vivian and I will soon be working.  As I read and I talk to people, I do not yet have any first-hand experience to verify if what I am learning is correct, so I invite any who read these letters to feel free to write to me to clarify or correct anything that I have written.

The people of the Samoan Islands have a long and rich history.  As we saw in the last letter, it is thought that Samoa was the place where the first wanderers of the Pacific settled and were isolated long enough from the outside world so that they could be properly identified as the distinct race of the Polynesian people.  Indeed, the name Samoa means “The Sacred Center” or “The Sacred Heart”.  It was from Samoa that these early Polynesians gradually journeyed out to settle the rest of the eastern Pacific islands.
More specifically, according to Polynesian tradition, one of the islands of Samoa, the island of Savai’i, is the land of ancient lava flows, volcanoes, and the Creator God.  It is because of this, it is said, that Samoa was the beginning place of the Polynesian people.  The Samoans take great pride in this thought.  In the rest of the Polynesian islands, the people point to some other island in the Pacific as the place from which their ancestors came.  Not the Samoans.  They say that it was God Himself who put them on their islands of Samoa.  In fact, the national motto is: Samoa is founded on God.
Indeed, when the first Christian missionaries came to Samoa and told them of the Creator God of the Bible, the Samoans readily accepted this revelation into their beliefs and became Christians.  Much of the early work of bringing the message of the Bible to Samoa can be credited to a man named John Williams.
John Williams was an early missionary with the London Missionary Society and was very influential throughout many of the Pacific islands, beginning in the Society Islands in 1817.  Ten years later, while in the Cook Islands, Williams built a sea-going vessel of seventy or eighty tons, out of mostly local materials.  This ship he christened Messenger of Peace, and intended it for bringing the message of Jesus Christ to the islands of the Pacific.  It was in 1830 when he arrived in Samoa and worked there for several years, as well as in other islands.  However, in 1839, while seeking to bring the Gospel to one of the island of New Hebrides (now known as Vanuatu), Williams and a fellow missionary were killed by a cannibalistic tribe of the indigenous people and eaten.
Despite this unfortunate end to his life, John Williams had had a fruitful ministry in the Pacific islands, including Samoa.  He came to what was already a rich culture and brought to them the Gospel of Christ.   The Samoans still have a rich culture.  In Samoa, the importance of the family is paramount.  It is not only one’s immediate family, but the aiga, or the extended family.  The concept of respect is very important in Samoan culture, not only within one’s family, but also to one’s elders, to the local chief (called the matai), to pastors, doctors, teachers and politicians.  This is “Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan way or the Samoan manner of doing things.     
At first blush, this may seem like a very positive aspect of the culture, and if applied realistically, it indeed is very positive.  Unfortunately, however, this expression of respect is often given without question and simply out of social pressure.  This creates an unresolved tension in the society and has resulted in some very undesirable consequences, one of which is they have one of the world’s highest suicide rates.  In looking into this aspect of Fa’a Samoa, I will specifically mention the place of the pastors in society, since that is the area in which I will be working.
The role of the pastor of a church in Samoa is very often misapplied and used for the wrong reasons.  Because of the culture, the local pastor is the recipient of much unquestioned respect and honor, this despite the fact that he may be acting in a most disrespectful manner.  I have been told by several that in Samoa, the people consider serving the pastor as equivalent to serving God.  Even when one’s family has great need, when one spends the day working in the pastor’s field, he can consider himself blessed because he has been working in the field of God.  This same field the pastor may have acquired one day as he visited a farm and complimented the farmer on it.
“What a lovely field,” the pastor may have said, “I wish that I myself would have such a field.”
“Oh pastor,” the farmer may have responded.  “Please, you do not even have to ask.  The field is yours!”
Say what we may about the generosity and piety of the farmer, the pastor’s comment was designed so that he may attain the field as his own, and the respect of the farmer was only because of the pressure placed upon him.  At village-wide meals, the pastor does not eat with the rest of the people, but a special platform is erected for him so that he may sit above everyone else and be served by the people.  I will hasten to say that this is not necessarily the case of every single pastor in Samoa, but this condition has been mentioned to me often enough, including by native Samoan people, that I believe that it must not be unusual.
It is into this atmosphere that I bring the work of pastoral training.  This is a difficulty for which I have no clear idea how I will enter into the work.  The difficulty is really many faceted.  For one, the pastors usually feel that they already have adequate preparation.  Indeed, it may be true that they hold a degree from a seminary.  However, pastors that act in this manner are not fulfilling the work of the pastor in the Biblical sense.  The pastor in a Biblical sense is as a man who is looking over and supplying the needs of his flock.
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3 NIV).
However, as in the example of the pastor above, we see that his goals are mostly self-serving.  Our main goal in pastoral and leadership training is not increased competence in Biblical knowledge, as important as that may be.  Our main goal, however, is that the pastors and church leaders demonstrate and live lives that show a Christ-like character.
So he (Jesus) got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place…
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15 NIV).

    The first European to make a sighting and land at Tonga was the Dutchman Abel Tasman.  Tasman was perhaps the greatest of the Dutch explorers and among the first to sail in the Southern Seas.  When Tasman landed on Tonga, he found the land so bountiful in foodstuffs and other supplies that he felt like it was almost as if he were back in Amsterdam.  Thus, in honor of his native land, he also named this place “Amsterdam.”   Of course, the name later gave way to that of “Tonga,” which is a Polynesian word meaning “South.”
    Incidentally, it is for the explorer Tasman that the island of Tasmania is named and also the Tasman Sea (Yes, and I suppose you could say that by extension the Tasmanian Devil of Bugs Bunny fame was also named for the explorer Tasman).  The Dutch explorer also named other places that he discovered.  He had given Australia the early name of “New Holland”- but it was another name that did not stick.  However, he also named New Zealand, which of course, is a name that did endure.  The original Zealand (Old Zealand?  But spelled Zeeland) is a northern region of the Netherlands.  The name Zeeland is probably of Scandinavian origin, and in case you don’t know Old Scandinavian, Zeeland, surprisingly enough, meant Sea Land.
    Captain James Cook knew of the Tongan islands by the accounts of Tasman, and on Cook’s second voyage through the southern Pacific, he wrote in his log book on 18 September 1773:  “I directed my Course to the West inclining to the South... to get into the Latitude of Amsterdam Island discovered by Tasman in 1643, my intention being to run as far west as that Island and even to touch there if I found it convenient.”
    Cook evidently did find it convenient to land on the island, for not only did he “touch there,” but was so warmly greeted by what he called an “immense crowd of men and women,” none of whom carried so much as a stick in their hands as a sign of conflict, that the captain felt that he was very welcomed there.
    On his return trip, Cook again landed at the Tongan islands, although not the same island that he earlier did.  But even if it was another island (there are 150 of them in country of Tonga), the natives sought Cook out, asking for him by name.  From this, Captain Cook knew that the various islands of the region had communication with one another.  The Captain was again impressed with the hospitality if the Tongan people, and gave the islands yet another name, one by which it is still sometimes referred today: “The Friendly Islands.”
    Cook, however, did not realize that some of the Tongan chiefs were plotting to assassinate him and only escaped this fate because of some disagreements among the chiefs on the best method to carry out the treacherous scheme.  Captain Cook sailed away before they were able to carry out their objective.

    Such was the European’s first experiences with the islands of Tonga, but Tongan history is of course much older.  The Samoan people had always believed Tonga was originally settled by some of the first Polynesians coming from their own Samoan islands, which lie to the north of Tonga. As we earlier said, the word “Tonga” does in fact mean “south,” which would have been the direction the Samoans would sail to get there.  However, Fiji also lies to the north of Tonga and some of the latest archeological evidence suggests that it was from these islands that Tonga was settled.
    In the Tongan tradition and indigenous beliefs, their islands were originally brought forth out of the sea by Maui, one of their three major gods.  According to this story, Maui, using a great hook and a resolute rope, drew the islands one by one out of the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
    The early European explorers described Tonga as having very humid climate, with heat that at times was very oppressive. The rain came in heavy downpours and the morning dews were also quite heavy.  These early Englishmen said that the transition from the cold to the heat was quite sudden and “quite trying on their constitution.”
    “Hurricanes,” they said, “are of frequent occurrence, scarcely a season passing without them, and earthquakes are also more or less felt amongst these islands.”
    It may be that the person who wrote these accounts was of a somewhat despondent personality, for Cook had a far more favorable opinion and writes of islands that were highly cultivated, and with good broad roads intersecting each other in every direction.  Indeed, most of the Tongan islands are notable for their fertility and because of the very great variety of fruits and vegetables grown there.
    But it is true that there is a capricious side to Tonga.  For instance, the trade-winds at the latitude of Tonga are not constant.  As we saw in earlier letters on Polynesia, mostly the trade-winds are out of the east throughout the Pacific, but especially at the latitude of Tonga, the winds can switch around from the west almost at any time.  The Tongans call these winds the “matayo vale,” or “foolish winds.”
    Although when Captain Cook first visited Tonga, the people lived scattered throughout the several islands, today most Tongans live in villages or small towns.  Tongan social structure is like that of much of Polynesia, in that it is very highly stratified.
    A male receives his social rank by birth.  Originally, on top of this social structure was the royal family, under which came the various chiefs.  The chiefs were the estate owners and warlords.  Below the chiefs were other levels of chiefdom called the “talking chiefs” and even the “would-be talking chiefs.”  These “talking chiefs,” whether they were actual talking chiefs or only “would-be” ones, basically did the work for the chiefs who were above them, like the fishing and tax-collecting.
    I have not been able to discover why these held the unusual title of “talking chiefs,” or “would-be” ones, and any reason that I gave would be only a guess.  Maybe someone who reads this letter knows the answer and can tell me the reason for the strange titles.
    The early English settlers in Tonga often remarked of the remarkable physical features of the Tongan people.  Indeed, the Tongans (like the Samoans) are a tall race of people.  “They are a fine-looking race,” one settler wrote, “tall, well made, with fully-developed muscles; and the women as well as the men are equally remarkable for their personal beauty.”
    I bring this up because the Tongans are known as great Rugby players, and even though it seems as we again just got underway again on our voyage, in the next letter I think that I should write a little about the sport of Rugby.  Rugby is the major sport not only in Tonga, but also in New Zealand and in many parts of Polynesia.  I thought that at the beginning of the American football season, it might be good to take a little look at Rugby.  Perhaps this is not very important, but because it is part of the culture of the lands that Vivian and I will soon be living and working, it may be helpful.
    There are actually two types of Rugby.  Why is it that, (as one man in New Zealand told me), one of these is played by “gentlemen” and the other is played by “hooligans”?  Perhaps in the next letter we shall see why.

Normally, you would not expect a letter on the subject of rugby from a missionary, but since this sport is such a big part of New Zealand and the culture of most of the Pacific islands, and since I am pretty much ignorant about the game, I thought that before I live and work in that part of the world, I should know at least something about rugby. Maybe you already know something about the sport of rugby.  If so, my explanation of it that follows might sound as if it is not from experience but strictly from what I have read.  It may sound as if I have never played rugby and in fact have never even watched more than a few minutes of it on TV.  Hmmm, funny it should sound that way.

My previous perception of rugby was that it was about like football (American football), but played without all of the protection pads that we have here.  Also, I assumed that there were relatively few rules, but that it was just played by a bunch of guys who like to beat up on one another and didn’t mind being beaten up themselves.  Some of this actually might be not far from the truth, but I should have known that anything invented by the British would never be allowed to exist long without rules – many rules.

It might be that American football grew out of rugby (I am not sure), but the game of rugby actually had its roots in English football, which, as you know, is what we call soccer in the U.S.  Really, if one cares to go back in history far enough, we could follow the origins of rugby to the Medieval years.  Back in those days, there was a game played between neighboring villages where an unlimited number of townspeople would meet in a pushing and jostling horde to kick, carry, drag, or use whatever means possible in order to move an inflated pig’s bladder to markers on opposing ends of town.  The game was called, appropriately enough, “mob football.”  Some say that the game was sometimes called “Dane’s head,” since that is what they used as a ball instead of a pig’s bladder.  But c’mon, this can’t be true!

The invention of true rugby is often credited to a schoolboy of the town of Rugby, England, who, while playing English football (soccer), decided to pick the ball up and run with it to the goal instead of just kicking it down the field.  The other schoolboys, instead of calling “penalty,” thought that what he did was a pretty good idea and decided to change the rules so that they could also do that.

As I explain the rules of rugby, I am going to use American football as a comparison, since there are some similarities and this at least helps me to make some sense of the game.  Rugby is played on a field much like football (except that they call it a “pitch”), but the rules do not actually state that the field must be level and there is some leniency as to the exact size.  Usually in these days, however, all of the fields are pretty much standard and not too different in size to a football field.

The Scrum
In American football, we are well accustomed to the “lineup” and the “snap.”  This is where the players from the two opposing teams line up against one another and the player called the “center” of the offensive team snaps the ball to the quarterback.  This is the way that the ball is put into play as the offensive team then tries to advance the football up the field.

In rugby, there is no snap.  Instead, the ball is put into play by use of the “scrum.”  In the scrum, both teams line up their players in three rows, the teams facing one another just as they do in American football.  In rugby, however, the players link themselves together by putting their arms over their teammates’ shoulders on both their right and left sides (except, of course, for the players on the ends of the lines).  Then, the players in the front rows of the two opposing teams interlock their heads, much like we do when we interlock our fingers of our two hands.

When everyone is in position, the ball is thrown into the space or “tunnel” that is created between the two rows of legs from the players with the interlocking heads of the two front lines.  Both teams then compete for the ball by pushing on the opposing line and trying to hook the ball backwards with their feet, passing it to their own halfbacks who then pass it yet further back to the three-quarter backs.  One of the backs picks the ball up and like the first schoolboy in Rugby, England, begins to run toward the opponent’s goal line, or as they call it, the “try line.”

Even though there are halfbacks like we have in football, and they also have three-quarter backs, there is no quarterback like we have who always receives the ball from the snap and then either passes it forward to a player who catches the ball or hands it off to someone who runs it forward.  In rugby, the backs run with the ball until they see that they are getting into trouble and then pass the ball either laterally or backwards to another player, who then continues to attempt to advance the field position forward.

There are no forward passes of the rugby ball, and in fact, there are rules about any player touching the ball if it was last touched behind him.  There is another thing: any player on the offense who is ahead of the ball may not interfere with the play in any way.  Thus, there is no blocking of the defensive players as we have in American football.  Off course, none of this applies if the situation is open to the “10 Metre Variation” (I am not clear on what this means, but I came across so many obscure rules in my reading that it was difficult to keep them all straight).  

Rucks, Mauls and Tackles
When the forward progress of the player moving the ball down the field is stopped by the opposition, a couple of things can happen.  If player who is kicking the ball down the field in front of him is stopped by a defensive player and the ball is on the ground between them, a “ruck” will form.  A ruck is when players from both teams join in the standoff and try to gain the possession of the ball.  Although it looks like a disorganized mob, there are many rules that regulate how the ruck forms and what determines the outcome.

If the player had been carrying the ball instead of kicking it down the field, and he is stopped by a defensive player, a “maul” will form.  A maul is much the same as a ruck except that in a maul, the ball will sometimes be passed from player to player.  In both the rucks and mauls, the players normally remain on their feet unless they unintentionally fall.  It once was against the rules to deliberately pull down a maul, until the Union enacted what they call the “Experimental Laws Variations” (see parenthesis above).

If the player running with the ball is actually tackled and is on the ground, he is required to immediately release the ball.  When this happens, the ball becomes open to possession by either team, and a loosely organized mayhem again ensues.

Rugby Union and Rugby League
These things, at least, are what happen in the Rugby Union.  However, there is more than one kind of rugby.  The most popular two are the Rugby Union and the Rugby League.  The League is a result of a schism that took place within the sport of rugby back in 1895.  The Union has 15 players, and the League 13 (there is yet another – rugby sevens, with, of course, 7 players to a team).

The Union and the League are not two conferences that play by the same rules as we think of the NFC and AFC of the National Football League.  The Union and the League, although in most aspects the same, are really two different kinds of rugby.  I do not want to go into the differences here or this letter would get very, very long (instead of just very long).  In the League, the rucks and the mauls happen only occasionally and are really almost incidental to the game.  In the Rugby League, if the ball carrier is tackled, he stands up and with his foot, he sweeps the ball to a player in back of him to begin the play again.  In this case, six tackles are allowed before the ball is turned over to the opposition, much like we have four “downs” in American football.

There are several differences between the two types of rugby, but in general it can be said that the changes made to form the Rugby League were to make a more continuous play, rather than stopping the game continually because of the rucks and mauls or, even more so, because of the many rules in the Rugby Union and the constant pauses in the action caused by infringements of the “laws” and the “variations” on nearly every play.

In fact, the Rugby Union has so many rules that it is said that no one knows them all.  The players seem not to know them all, and neither do the commentators who are calling the play by play.  Even the officials cannot keep them all straight.  If one of the teams commits an infraction of the rules, the referee will not necessarily halt the play, but simply call “advantage” until he deems there was no benefit for the team in the infraction.  Or eventually (its entirely up to him when he wants to do it) he can stop the game and penalize the team.

Sometimes the rules simply are not clear and are open to interpretation.  Often, like a judge in a court of law, the referee depends on precedents – how other referees had ruled previously on similar situations.  Is it any wonder that Rugby Union was and is played in the elite schools of England that produce the lawyers and politicians?  The Rugby League, however, was begun by people in the north of England, the men who worked in the coal mines or the textile mills and who had to work six days a week.  They had no time for haggling over obscure rules.

Many other aspects of rugby are similar to American football, but I am not going to explain more since I am sure that I would lose even the small percentage of you who have even continued reading this far.  However, the study was beneficial to me since I think that I have at least sufficient understanding to not stand dumfounded when someone from Tonga begins to talk about a ruck he was in.  Instead of having a picture of him in my mind of being stuck in the mud with a truck (which I before would have had), at least now I know he is talking about rugby.

It might sound as if I am making fun of this sport, which I suppose that I am.  But to my friends in New Zealand, you should know that I do not take any sport seriously and freely make fun of American football as well.  I used to take it all quite seriously and played American football with great aggression, but that is in the past.  After living for 15 years in Latin America where football (soccer) seems to rule every aspect of life, I was nonetheless astounded when I returned to the U.S. and saw the level that sports in general and football especially had reached up here – even in the church.  A couple of our boys, upon returning to the U.S. also made comments about the “ubiquitous altars of football conversation” in the churches.  I also like playing and watching sports, but I am afraid that sometimes sports has surpassed any level of importance that they should have in any culture.  We are becoming like the ancient Greeks who worshiped the Olympians.

In our next letter, we will get back to our voyage around the Pacific Islands.  I think that we will stop in at the Cook Islands.  These islands have a very close social affinity with New Zealand and of course were named for the captain whose voyages we are loosely following – Captain James Cook.

    I am hesitant to speak too quickly and optimistically, but it may be that our ship of Polynesian Discovery is underway again.  We have loosed ourselves from the reef with little damage to our vessel, and the wind has filled our sails.  I am sorry for such a long hiatus from our voyage, but the last couple of months have been ones of extreme activity for me (at least by my standards), and I have had little time to do extra reading and even less time to write.
    There have been many changes since the last letter.  I think that all of you on board must know that Vivian and I are now in New Zealand.  In fact, we are living in Auckland, which is called “the city of sails.”  It seems like everyone in this city owns some kind of water vessel and most of those watercraft have a sail attached to it in some way.  Vivian and I have rented a little apartment about three blocks from the wharf, so life is interesting.

In these Polynesian Discovery letters, we deal not so much with our work here in New Zealand and the Pacific, but reserve the letters mostly for discovery.  Before our vessel of discovery so violently hit and jolted to a halt on another reef, we were sailing on our way to the Cook Islands, and it is to there that we go now.

Although the Islands are named after the famous Captain James Cook, it was not he who gave the islands that name.  Captain Cook, despite his extraordinary achievements, was much too humble of a man to ever consider such a thing.  As a matter of fact, Captain Cook did not even extensively explore the Cook Islands, although he did navigate and map much of the island group.  However (and almost surprisingly), Cook never sighted the largest and perhaps the most beautiful of the islands, Rarotonga.

Cook himself gave the islands the name Hervey Islands to honor a British Lord of the Admiralty.  But in the sometimes capricious nature of historical records, the islands later came to instead honor Captain Cook.  This happened a half a century later when Russian cartographer published the Atlas de l'Ocean Pacifique, in which he renamed the islands as a tribute to the great explorer of the Pacific.

The Cook Islands lie to the east of Samoa and Tonga, other island groups that we had visited in earlier Polynesian letters.  A couple letters ago, when I wrote about Tonga, I mentioned that a local tradition was that the islands of Tonga were drawn out of the floor of the ocean by one of their gods, using a great hook and mighty line.  I do not want to start a new tradition about the Cook Islands, but these islands may seem to some as if they were scattered like a handful of pearls over a vast region of the Pacific.

There are fifteen main islands in the Cook Island group.  The islands are strewn over a vast area of the Pacific, roughly the same size of all the land area of the United States east of the Mississippi River.  The Cook Islands, however, have only a total land area of about ninety-one square miles – not much larger than the township of Ogema, Wisconsin.  When one considers this fact of so little land area scattered over such an immense ocean, perhaps it is not so surprising that Captain Cook did not sight all of the islands in his exploration.

There are actually two main island groups to the Cooks, the northern and the southern groups.  All of the Cook Islands are of volcanic origin, but the Northern Cooks are geologically older.  These oceanic volcanoes have largely sunken in the waters of the Pacific, and now exist as atolls, which are, by definition, a ring of small coral islands that enclose a lagoon in the center.  The Southern Cooks are younger, and the islands rise sharply out of the ocean.  It is in the southern group that the main island of the Cooks, Rarotonga, is found.

Rarotonga is said by some to be the most beautiful of the islands of the Pacific Ocean, but one should take this statement in its context.  In reading about the various island groups of the Pacific, it seems like someone says that about many of the islands.  However, it was to Rarotonga that many of the mutineers of the H.M.S. Bounty wished to retreat and live for the rest of their lives.  It was perhaps only because the captain of the mutiny, Fletcher Christian, feared that the Royal Navy would eventually find them on that island, that they sailed past and finally settled on the small and remote island of Pitcairn.  Also, I read one writer saying that if you had your choice on which island to be abandoned in the whole of the Pacific, Rarotonga would be your best decision.

The original inhabitants of the Cook Islands are thought to come from what is now known as Tahiti and French Polynesia in about the 6th century A.D.  Today, however, the local indigenous population is most closely related to the Maori of New Zealand, and the Maori language of both nations is fundamentally the same.  The Cook Islanders strongly believe that this similarity in language is one evidence that demonstrates that the great Maori migrations that took place in settling New Zealand originated from Rarotonga.

The first known landing of any foreign vessel on Rarotonga was in 1814 from an Australian/New Zealand commercial ship on an exploratory voyage to look for sandalwood.  It was not a good first encounter.  Not only was there no sandalwood on Rarotonga, but conflict broke out between the islanders and the crew of the ship, with many being killed on both sides.  One of the casualties was the captain’s girlfriend, who was on board the ship.  She was not only killed but was also eaten by the cannibalistic islanders.  As far as history tells us, she was the only white woman ever to be killed and eaten by any of the cannibals of the Pacific Islands.

In one of my previous letters, I spoke of a missionary named John Williams of the London Missionary Society.  Williams arrived on the island of Aitutaki of the Cook Islands in 1821, and helped by Christian converts from Tahiti, he began to tell the Cook Islanders of the message of Jesus Christ.  The people listened with great interest and openness, and many of the islanders converted to Christianity.  It was through the efforts of Missionaries like Williams that the Cook Islanders gave up the practice of cannibalism.  Williams also took the same message to other of the Pacific Islands where he met with various receptions, both positive and negative.  As poignant as it seems, some years after Williams helped the people of the Cook Islands to turn away from cannibalism, he himself was killed and eaten by cannibals in the islands of New Hebrides, now known as Vanuatu.

For much of their history, the Cook Islands had no central government, but in 1843, the French launched an armed takeover of Tahiti and the Society Islands.  This caused a great feeling of apprehension among the Cook Islanders, and many of the chiefs appealed to the British to act as their protector.  The British responded to the request, but were reluctant administrators and pressured New Zealand to take on the islands as a protectorate.  The New Zealanders finally did agree, but it did not formally occur until 1900 when a deed of cession was signed between the chiefs of the Cooks and New Zealand.

New Zealand maintained that responsibility until 1965, when the Cook Islands became completely self governing.  But close ties between the two nations remain, and all Cook Islanders also hold a New Zealand citizenship.

        We have all recently been bombarded by news and opinions from the Copenhagen summit on climate change, where anyone with the desire to make a political statement on the current acceptable views on the environment found the stage from which they could make it – and the audience to listen.  Quite frankly, it is a little difficult to know what the true facts are, being that the political climate is such that anyone who is so bold to express a question or a doubt is considered unenlightened.  I am always a little skeptical when this is the temperament surrounding an issue.  I am old enough to remember that in the 1970’s there was an environmental scare about global cooling.  Some of those same voices that were the most vocal in the 70’s, warning us of the coming ice age because of the actions of man, are now telling us that we are the cause for global warming.

        And we all remember Y2K.  Our family was living in Venezuela at the time and I remember reading about reputable companies and banks in the U.S. spending millions (or was it billions?) on making their computer systems immune to the pandemonium what was going to sweep across the rest of the world at the change of the millennia.  Surely, I thought, the men and women making these important decisions and spending that kind of money to protect themselves, must know what they are talking about.  In Latin America, however, it was largely a non-issue.  Y2K came and went, and I do not remember any major problems anywhere.

        So you see, there is a history behind my skepticism.  I no longer accept without question the conclusions of those whom one would think should know the answers.  Even beliefs are sometimes simply fashionable.  On this current issue of international importance, I have come to the point were I accept that we are probably experiencing a global warming, but I have yet to come to the point where I see that it is caused mainly by the actions of man.  It may be that it is, but in the current environment of what is fashionable, it is simply difficult to know.  Does this mean that I do not care about the environment?  It does not mean that at all – it is just that I do not think it wise to spend billions (or is it trillions?) on a solution that will not address the real needs.  We should at least find out what would be real solutions.  By the way, if you want to know some my views on the environment, read the chapter on Our Kinship with Creation in my book Reaching for Eternal Truths– (just a little sales plug).

“So…” you might ask, “What does all of this have to do with our Polynesian Discovery cruise around the Pacific?”

        Well, one of the regions of the earth that is most threatened by rising ocean levels are those islands of Polynesia, and some of the most vocal of voices in Copenhagen are coming from the small island group of Tuvalu.  Global warming or not, the problems that the people of those islands are facing are real.  I thought it a good opportunity to look at this group of islands.

I think that I told you last time, when we were looking at the Cook Islands, that the total land area of the Cooks was not much larger than the township of Ogema, Wisconsin.  Well, if you would divide the township of Ogema into eight equal parts, the total area of the nine islands of Tuvalu would be about the same size as one of those portions – 10 square miles.  The population, however, is more than several Ogemas – about 12,000.

        During World War II, Tuvalu was a major base of operations for the U.S. and the Allies who were fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.  The airstrip in Funafuti, the main island, is one that was built by the U.S. at that time, when thousands of Marines were stationed there.  Tuvalu is now an independent nation, but during that time it was a colony of Britain and called the Ellice Islands.

        The island nation of Tuvalu today consists of nine main islands.  Four of these are exposed reefs and five are true atolls with an enclosed lagoon.  All of these islands lie very low, averaging only about six feet above the ocean level.  The highest peak is on the main island of Funafuti, where there is a spot of land sixteen feet above sea level.

        Reef islands and atolls have the same fundamental composition.  They are both made of coral that has been built upon underwater volcanoes.  Atolls have their characteristic ring-like shape because the coral has built itself up around the edge of the volcano, the center of which later collapsed or eroded away, leaving the lagoon in the center.  Of course, there is also the natural crater in the center of many volcanoes.  Some atolls, where the bedrock of the original volcano has not eroded away, can have slightly higher elevations.  However, even in the best of cases, all of these islands are in the process of slow erosion by the sea.

        Such is the case with the islands of Tuvalu.  They are some of those islands in the Pacific that are said to be sinking, but in the present political and environmental consciousness of today, this sinking is all attributed to global warming and the rising ocean level.  However, if the case for the sinking of the islands is that they are in large part actually sinking, then all the nations in the world cutting their CO2 levels will not help the real problem of these islands, even if one accepts that this action of cutting CO2 emissions will reduce global warming.

        However, beyond all the politics of the day, the inhabitants of Tuvalu truly are in a precarious situation.  They are in a circumstance where the ocean levels are rising, even if at least in some measure, this rising level may be only relative to their elevation.  However, whatever is the case and whatever the cause, it is undeniable that the water of the ocean is lapping at their doorsteps.  What is more, beyond the normal tides that rise and fall with the cycles of the moon, in that part of the Pacific they experience what they call the king tide.  The king tide occurs twice every year, once during the summer tidal cycle and once during the winter tidal cycle.  This tide is an exceptionally high tide, and when the king tide comes, most of the land of Tuvalu is inundated by the sea.

        Because of this, it is easy to see why the soil of Tuvalu is not suitable for most types of crops.  Added to this is the fact that the delicate aquifer of freshwater has largely become salinized.  Part of the reason for this is probably because too much of the underground fresh water had been extracted in order to irrigate a Japanese pineapple plantation on Tuvalu, allowing the saltier sea water to encroach upon the fresh water aquifer.  And, as you can imagine in such a delicate situation, any disturbance of the land itself only hastens erosion.  Even the building of the runway is also said to have contributed to this problem.

        As you can see, the geological situation of Tuvalu is complicated and the stakes are actually very high for the islanders.  That is why, when we are looking for solutions, it is important to ask the right questions to try and find real answers.  In the political climate such as we have in the world today, those who sometimes dare to ask such questions are ostracized.  But the alternative is worse, for if the difficult questions are not asked, true answers will not be found.

        I know that speaking about the problems of this tiny island nation is an deviation from our normal course in these letters of Polynesian Discovery.  Up to this point, we have simply been enjoying a pleasant cruise around the Pacific.  However, I bring out this situation of Tuvalu not merely to address the present debate, but to also talk about an issue that is of even more importance.

        It seems to me that our very lives can be likened to these eroding atolls in the middle of a great ocean.  Our lives may also be built upon foundations that are fragile indeed, and every day there is erosion that is taking place.  We, like the inhabitants of Tuvalu, sometimes find ourselves knee-deep in the problems surrounding us, and we are looking for answers.  Sometimes, it is easy to accept answers that are politically expedient or socially popular, but these may not be answers that really give long-lasting solutions.  When we are talking about the physical and geological situation of a small nation in the middle of the Pacific, it is of great importance, but when we are talking about our own spiritual and eternal destiny, it seems that it is of infinitely more importance that we ask the right questions.  We cannot be afraid to seek real answers.

        Really, that is all that I ask of any person.  I think all of you on board our Pacific cruise know that I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.  However, I do not ask people to accept what I believe to be true based only upon what I say.  I never want to convince anyone what they should believe.  I only ask that a person not be afraid to ask of themselves the hard questions.  I have spent my life asking myself hard questions about my beliefs.  As a very young man, I was alone living in India, far from anything that I had ever known up to that point in my life, and suddenly aware that I had never confronted what I thought I had believed about God.  In fact, at that point, I did not even know if I believed there was a God.

        So I began asking myself that question:  Is there a God?  If so, how do I know?  Slowly, very slowly, I began to build foundations.  The more I asked the difficult questions, the more I found answers that had substance.  I came to the realization that not only was there a God, but that He was intimately involved with my life.  There, in that place and surrounded by all of the religions of the East, I was re-introduced to Jesus Christ.

        That is my story.  Yours will be different, but I have come to the point where I believe that the life and the teachings of Jesus Christ is the only truth that will give us peace and security.  Some may react negatively to this, but as I said, I am not trying to tell you to take me at my word.  I ask only this: do not be afraid to ask yourself the difficult questions.  Otherwise, you may find yourself thinking that the answers are to be found in the composition of the air, while all the time, the ground and the foundations under your feet are eroding away.

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (words of Jesus Christ – John 8:31-32, 36 NIV)


POLYNESIAN DISCOVERY - PART 14 (The Solomon Islands)
    With all the news that usually fills the airwaves (much of which usually seems to surround the latest life drama of some Hollywood celebrity), I am not sure if the earthquakes in the Solomon Islands of the Pacific has been getting much play time in the U.S.  However, beginning on the 3rd of January and continuing every day, there have been earthquakes that have various parts of the Solomon Islands.  Some days have been less severe, the quakes more like what we called in Latin America, “temblores,” where things shake a little and then die down, but some of the shocks that have come to the Solomons have been quite strong.

    So far, no lives have been lost in this series of quakes, but of course there has been much property damage, not only from the shaking, but from the resulting landslides and some relatively small tsunamis (about 10 feet high).  As you can imagine, people are on edge, especially since it has only been about three years since about fifty people were killed in a much larger tsunami.  I should also say that there are seven fishermen who have been reported missing.  They were out in their boat when a series of quakes hit last Monday, and they have not been seen since.

    In my last letter on our Polynesian Discovery series, the phenomenon known as the sinking islands in the Pacific induced us to look at the islands of Tuvalu.  This time, the islands of the Pacific are again in the news because of some sort of disaster befalling them.  The Pacific Ocean landmasses, especially around the edges of the Pacific, are quite susceptible to natural disasters.  These are areas in what is called the ring of fire and which make up the circumference of the Pacific.  This ring of fire is where the underground and undersea tectonic plates are constantly moving and shifting, causing earthquakes and volcanoes.

    The city of Auckland in New Zealand is built right on this ring and many of the islands are also found right in the most active areas.  Actually, where we used to live in Guatemala was also right on the ring of fire.  The continuous flow of lava off of a distant volcano that we could see as we stood on the roof of our home was a constant reminder of that fact.  Where we lived in Venezuela may not have been right on top of this ring of fire, but very near to it.  There is no death wish in us, it is just that these places are where we have happened to been called to work.

    I wish that it were from some other incentive than another natural disaster that I would continue our journey around the Pacific, but at least for this time, I thought that it might be helpful to look at the Solomon Islands.


    If you are like me, your first question may be, “Why are they called the Solomon Islands?”  Being almost a life-long Bible student, the fact that they are named after Solomon is especially intriguing to me.  The name comes from the early Spanish explorer, Álvaro de Mendaña, who was one of the first Europeans to sail in the Pacific.  These early Spanish explorers always had gold on their minds and often quite blindly chased any legend or even any rumor that told of great gold reserves.  Again, referring back to our time in South America, there are many stories about expeditions in search of the lost city of El Dorado, where the king of that fabled land was said to have daily covered himself in gold dust before bathing in the sacred lake.  These were the types of visions that filled the dreams of the early Spanish explorers.

    Mendaña was no different in this respect than the other explorers of his country, and finding some signs of alluvial gold on one of the islands, he was very quick to conclude that he had found the source of the gold of King Solomon!  He turned out to be wrong, of course, but after all, his countrymen had their quest of El Dorado in South America, so one can understand why Álvaro would want his own legend.  Another of the local names, one of the main islands of Guadalcanal, is not really a canal at all.  It was named by one of Mendaña’s men after his home in back in Andalusia, Spain (just in case you are wondering).

    The Solomon Islands are not actually part of Polynesia, but rather Melanesia, which is an area of the Pacific that includes Papua New Guinea and Fiji.  As you might suspect, the Solomon Islands were inhabited long before the Spanish landed there.  They were, in fact, the furthest east into the Pacific that the earliest humans had settled prior to the more recent wave of people from Asia between three and four thousand years ago.  With the initial contact by Mendaña in 1568, the Spanish later tried a couple of times to establish an outpost in the Solomon Islands, but were unsuccessful.

    After those attempts, there were really no further contacts by the Europeans with the Solomon Islands of any significance until the late 1800’s.  These next contacts, in their own unfortunate way, had a link with the United States.  As you know, the early 1860’s were the years of the American Civil War.  During these years, the cotton output of the southern states was greatly reduced, and this shortage had a profound effect on the world market.  The English were quick to see potential in this, and being very active in the Pacific, developed their own cotton plantations in Fiji.  This was also true of the newly formed self-governing British colony of Queensland (Australia).  For these new plantations, a new source of labor was needed.  This created a new form of labor marketing in the Pacific called “blackbirding.”

Although the governments of Britain and Queensland tried to regulate it, blackbirding really amounted to little better than slave trading, where laborers were sometimes falsely enticed and sometimes kidnapped men from various islands of the Pacific to work in the cotton (and sugarcane) plantations.  Many of these laborers came from the Solomon Islands.

Coinciding with these blackbirding expeditions, missionaries also arrived in the Solomons, but understandably, the native people were highly suspicious of them and the missionaries had at first very little receptivity or success.  Gradually, however, as the governments of Britain and Queensland began to more firmly regulate the labor market, the missionaries found, in the islanders, a people who were very receptive to hear the message of Jesus Christ and many became Christians.  Later, the English and the Australians gradually developed coconut plantations there and life became more stable.

Life continued like this until, in the 1940’s, the Solomon Islands found itself the site of some of the fiercest fighting of World War II.  In January of 1942, the Japanese Imperial forces invaded and occupied Guadalcanal.  Then, in August of that same year, the 1st Division of the U.S. Marine Corps landed on the island and for three years, the Allied forces were engaged in some of the bloodiest of all the battles of the War.  Some of our bravest soldiers fought and many were killed in the Solomon Islands.  Here in New Zealand, since this happened in their “backyard” and since they felt the threat of Japan so acutely during World War II, the actions of these soldiers are especially appreciated.

Stability to the islands was restored after the war, but as you can imagine, all of the fighting that went on there had a profound impact on the culture and life of the Solomons.  Not only was the devastation of the land severe, but the very sudden introduction of modern machinery, technology and western culture created a sort of “future shock” for the people of these once isolated and remote communities.

The Solomon Islands had been a protectorate of the British since 1899, but in 1976, it achieved its independence.  However, life has not been easy for the small republic.  In the past decades they have suffered some major cyclones and, as we know, live with the constant danger of earthquakes.  Malaria is a problem and they have even had to deal with the pollution caused by warships that were sunk around their islands, some of which were killing marine life.  Most of these sunken vessels are safe, but more than fifty of them contained large reserves of oil, diesel fuel, and even unexploded ordinance.

Although what had happened during WWII on the Solomon Islands was the result of a clash between world powers and had little to do with the islanders themselves, the islanders have had their own internal differences.  In 1999 these differences escalated into their own civil war on Guadalcanal between the indigenous people of the island and those from the neighboring island of Malaita, who had migrated to Guadalcanal.  Although there have been various agreements for peace and most of the tensions have abated, there still seems to be some unresolved ethnic tensions, not only with the islanders themselves but with the substantial Chinese population on the islands.

Despite the political and ethnic shaking, however, it is the literal shaking of the ground that is mostly in the minds of the people now.  The only reason that there have been no deaths in the latest series of earthquakes and tsunamis is that the Solomons know how to respond to the conditions.  The general rule of thumb is that if the ground shakes for more than twenty seconds, or if the water recedes at all in the ocean – head for the high country.


I know, I know…you thought that the Polynesian Discovery voyage had once again run aground.  Well, maybe it did for a time, but the wind has once again filled our sails and the deep blue of the open ocean is before us.  It may not be a bad thing that we were not sailing much as of late, since November through April is the summer season in the South Pacific, the season for cyclones.  Or, you might call them typhoons.  Actually, cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes are all regional names for the same kind of intense tropical depressions and the severe storms that they produce (except, of course, here in the antipodes, they circulate clockwise instead of counter clockwise like they do up north).  When we lived in the Yucatan in Mexico, they told us that the word hurricane was actually a Mayan word, and here in the Pacific they tell me that the word typhoon has its roots in an old Chinese language.  But they all mean the same thing and they are all potentially very destructive storms.

Two of these cyclones, named Tomas and Ului, have recently swept across the South Pacific.  Both were larger and more powerful than was Katrina, the hurricane that battered New Orleans a few years ago.  The first of these, Tomas, thrashed the island group of Fiji.  Ului, although it began as the larger of the two and threatened the Solomon Islands, diminished in power.  Finally, it did hit Queensland in northern Australia and the destruction was severe enough, but nowhere as terrible as was at first feared.

A couple of months ago (if you can remember that far back), we looked at the Solomon Islands, which had experienced some earthquakes.  In that letter, we talked about the geological instability of the Pacific basin and what is called The Ring of Fire.  I would now like to continue our voyage by looking at the Fiji Islands, not only because the recent cyclone has brought it to my attention, but because I am praying that the Lord will perhaps open up opportunity for us to work there.  I will explain more about that in an upcoming letter.  However, to begin, I would like to look a little into the history of Fiji, and then the beginning of the Christian work in those islands.

Like the Solomons, Fiji is not technically part of Polynesia, but rather Melanesia, which consists of the islands to the east.  However, as you might imagine, the historical relationships with Polynesia are strong.  Through the years, anthropologists have identified a certain kind of pottery, which they call the Lapita pottery, shards of which have been found throughout most of the islands of the Pacific.  The anthropologists have used the presence of this pottery to help them study the movements and relationships of the early Pacific people.  Because it is usually thought that the Pacific Islands were settled by people coming from the west, the Fiji islands were some of the first to be colonized.  This happened perhaps three thousand years ago.

The early Fijians were formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals.  The cannibalism of the early Fijians was legendary, and the people of the islands in these days look back on that age as “na gauna ni tevoro” (the time of the devil).  The written accounts of some of the early missionaries of the mid 1800’s almost defies belief, but there is no reason to doubt the truthfulness of these reports, since they are numerous and come from many sources.

Cannibalism was practiced not only in the islands of Fiji, but also on several of the Pacific Island groups.  However, since Fiji was known as the Cannibal Islands by the early Europeans and this fact often frightened the European sailors from going into Fijian waters, perhaps this is as an appropriate of a time as there is to mention this part of early Pacific culture.  However, I do not want to give the impression that cannibalism existed throughout every island group of the Pacific, because it certainly did not.

We are all familiar with the iconic image of the missionary being cooked in a cannibal’s cast iron pot and we have heard many cannibal jokes, but in reading the accounts of some of these early missionaries, we get a little comprehension for what they must have endured.  I include the following account from an early missionary to help us get a sense of the times.  It is by no means the most graphic or horrific of the accounts that I have read, but it will give you an idea of the environment of the times.

I just want to also mention that I do not include it as an affront to the Fijian people, but as an affront to all of us.  We all have horrendous acts that were carried out in the histories of our own people.  Besides this, I do not think we should assume that anyone, without knowing the fear of God, could not again resort to such acts as these, even in these modern and “enlightened” times.  I also include this account as a representative sample of what we owe to men and women in the past who laboured hard and out of love among these people, knowing that any day they also might be slain and eaten.  Some were.  The following is an account written by the Reverend John Watsford of the village of Ono in Fiji, November 6, 1846
We cannot tell you how many have been slain. Hundreds of wretched human beings have been sent to their account, with all their sins upon their heads …Some of the chiefs of other tribes, when bringing their food, carried a cooked human being on one shoulder and a pig on the other; but they always preferred the ‘long pig,’ as they call a man, when baked.
…One Christian man was clubbed at Rewa, and part of his body was eaten by the Vewa heathen and his bones then thrown near our door. My lad gathered them up and buried them, and afterwards learned that they were the bones of one of his friends. After Rewa was destroyed, heaps of dead bodies lay in all directions; their bones still lie bleaching in the sun.
… A canoe was wrecked near Natawar, and many of the occupants succeeded in swimming ashore. They were taken by the Natawar people and ovens were at once prepared in which to roast them. The poor wretches were bound ready for the ovens and their enemies were waiting anxiously to devour them. They did not club them, lest any of their blood should be lost. Some, however could not wait until the ovens were sufficiently heated, but pulled the ears off the wretched creatures and ate them raw.
When the ovens were ready, they cut their victims up very carefully, placing dishes under every part to catch the blood. If a drop fell, they licked it up off the ground with the greatest greediness. While the poor wretches were being cut in pieces, they pleaded hard for life; but all was of no avail: all were devoured.
We will continue with the history of Fiji in our next letter, but I will just tell you – the future is much brighter.


    If you remember, we ended the last Discovery letter commenting on cannibalism in Fiji, in fact, I concluded the letter with some rather graphic eye-witness accounts that gave an example and some idea of what it was like to live in Fiji (and some other Pacific islands) in the early to mid 1800’s.
    The first European to sight the islands of Fiji was that first Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, for whom the island of Tasmania and the Tasman Sea were named (not to mention the Tasmanian Devil of the Bugs Bunny Cartoon fame).  Tasman (the Dutchman – not the cartoon guy) sailed past Fiji in 1643.  It was actually about 130 years later that Captain Cook first began charting the islands.  However, interestingly enough, it was the mutinied Captain William Bligh, of the HMS Bounty who is credited with much early information about Fiji.  After the mutiny, Bligh was set adrift in a small launch with eighteen of his crew and barely any supplies.  Bligh almost miraculously brought his small boat to safety after a grueling voyage of 3618 nautical miles (about 4160 miles).  All but one of his crewmen survived the ordeal along with Bligh.  The one who did not survive, however, was killed on an island landing just before Fiji, so although Bligh and his men were in great need of food and water, they were afraid to try another landing so soon.  Indeed, the captain and his 18 men were pursued by two Fijian canoes, but managed to elude capture when the canoes returned to land at sunset.
    I also mentioned in the previous letter that, by now, the iconic image of missionaries being cooked by islanders in a cast iron pot has today become the subject of many jokes.  However, at the time, it was far from a laughing matter.  It has caused me to have a great respect for the men and women from outside societies who first traveled to these islands in order to bring the news of Jesus.
    Some may not agree with me on this point.  There are some in the world of anthropology who would say that it is condescending and even pompous of us to assume that the message of Jesus Christ should be brought to indigenous peoples of the world.  “Leave their societies as they are,” some would say.  Of course, it is obvious that I do not see it in that way, otherwise I would not be involved in the kind of work that I am.  I will not begin to explain the most important of the reasons that I believe the way that I do, but speaking purely on a societal and cultural level, we have a very good example of the importance of the message of Christ in the indigenous societies of Fiji and many of the Pacific islands.
    Actually, if one would speak in generalized terms, we could say that there were two categories of people from the world outside of the Pacific who first came to Fiji and to the other islands (that is, after the explorers).  These two groups were the missionaries and the merchants.  The word “merchants” may be too generous of a term for many of these who came, for they came only seeking the natural wealth of the islands.
    The missionaries normally arrived only after the merchants first made an impact in the islands.  In many cases, the mistreatment that the islanders had earlier received at the hands of the merchants later caused the treatment by those same island people to be especially harsh upon the first missionaries .
    We cannot say that every action of every merchant was evil, nor was every action of every missionary beneficial to the islanders.  However, there was a fundamental and underlying difference is in the motivation of the two groups.  The merchant was looking for financial gain.  He sought to benefit from the natural wealth of the islands.  The missionary, however, was looking for ways in which he or she could bring help to the people of the islands.  Certainly, these are generalizations, and we can also point to specific instances in both cases where this was not true.  What is more, financial gain for the merchants is not necessarily a detriment to the local people, for it can also improve their lot.  However, we have far too many examples of unscrupulous outsiders who take what they can and leave the native people with nothing.
    On the other hand, we also have missionaries who have ignored local customs and thought that bringing western values and traditions was at least as important as bringing the message of Jesus Christ to the people.  This also has often hampered more than it has helped.  That is why I am always careful to distinguish between “Christianity” and the “Teachings of Jesus Christ.”  The way in which the work of missions has developed, the two do not always mean the same thing and much done in the name of Christianity has not been in accordance with the teachings of Christ.
    However, no one can realistically think that any society on this planet, no matter how remote, can forever remain untouched by the outside world.  I made this same point  several years ago when I worked with the Quechuas high in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Andes.  It seems better to me that the first contact that any society can have with others is with people who seek to help them rather than with those who are instead seeking to benefit from them.  I believe that the teachings of Jesus Christ, applied in the correct way, will always bring benefit.  It does not destroy cultures, but enriches them.
    I will not write any more on this right now, since I have done it in many places in the past.  However, in the case of the islands of Fiji, it is very evident that the teachings of Jesus, the Gospel, brought great social benefit to the people.  This much is certainly true, beyond the even greater spiritual benefits.  It is said that as the missionaries gained influence in the islands, cannibalism quickly disappeared.  The story of the first Christian missionaries is an interesting one indeed, for these were not men from London or from America, but indigenous people from Tahiti.  I will tell a bit of that story next time.

As you may remember, we left off in the previous letter speaking of the early missionaries to the Fiji Islands.  Fiji was at first neglected by the western missionaries in preference to other island groups like Tonga and Samoa.  I am not sure why this was the case.  Perhaps it was because of Fiji’s horrific reputation of being the “cannibal islands,” as they were called at the time.  Perhaps it simply was that the prospects for Christian works were brighter in the other islands like Samoa.  This, at least, was the opinion of one early missionary leader in the Pacific.  That was his stated reason why he made no effort to visit Fiji.

The early missionary work in the Pacific was mostly carried out by two groups.  The first of these was the London Missionary Society (LMS).  The LMS was an organization that was comprised of several church denominations, and came into being because of an appeal from William Carey, working in Calcutta, India, about a need for more missionaries.  In the Pacific, perhaps the best remembered early missionary from the LMS was John Williams, who had an interesting and productive career of bringing the word of God to many islands of the Pacific.  The other group of missionaries that was very active in the Pacific islands in the early days was the Wesleyan Missionary Society.  These two groups worked together sometimes, but often separately in different parts of the vast ocean.

Fiji was in the area of the ocean where the Wesleyans were most involved, but the very first missionaries to Fiji itself were actually the results of a work by God through the London Missionary Society in a very distant part of the Pacific – the Society Islands (French Polynesia).  The island of Tahiti is one of the windward islands of this group and the place where at least one of these missionaries came, but the other men came from some of the leeward islands.  These three men had the names of Taharaa, Hatai, and Arue – names that one would not automatically associate with early mission work.

The London Missionary Society had also been active in Tonga as early as 1797, but after only about three years of work they had to abandon the island because of civil war in Tonga.  This was in 1800.  The LMS did not return there until for another twenty two years.  However, coincidentally, there had  long been trade between the Fijians and the Tongans.  Because of this relationship between the two island groups, during the civil war in Tonga, many refugees from Tonga fled to Fiji.  It is thought that from the three brief years that the message of Jesus Christ had been introduced into Tonga, in this way some of these ideas also had found their way to Fiji.  When some of the facts of the teachings of Jesus reached the ears of one of the influential chiefs of Fiji, a man name Melani, he sent a man to Tonga as an emissary to learn more, or as one early writer said, Melani sent this man “For instruction concerning Christianity.”

This man sent as an emissary was a Fijian named Takai.  While Takai was in Tonga, a Wesleyan missionary happened also to be there for just a brief time – just over a year.  There in Tonga, Takai learned more of the message of Jesus Christ.  This Fijian named Takai was reportedly a very likable and extroverted fellow was also soon employed as a pilot and interpreter by an English sandalwood trader (Sandalwood, by the way, was one of the prized possessions of the Pacific Islands, treasured for its fragrance, carving and medicinal purposes).

Takai, along with a Tongan friend named Langi, sailed with this sandalwood ship around much of the Pacific, finally ending up in Sydney, Australia.  Sydney was not to these tropical islanders' liking, especially in the winter.  Although very mild by Midwest U.S. standards, this Australian port was not so mild by Fijian standards.  And Takai and his friend could not find coconuts or yams!  That’s like a Swede trying to live without coffee.
Eager to leave what was to them this God forsaken place of Sydney, Takai and Langi found passage to Tahiti.  Tahiti was not the same as Fiji for this man, and as we can see by consulting our map, the vessel must have sailed quite near to Fiji and to Tonga, but the only ship that he could find was one going directly to Tahiti.  To Takai it might have seemed like it was for me back when I was living in Latin America and flying in the U.S.  It seemed like wherever I wanted to go in the U.S., I first had to fly to Atlanta.  Atlanta might have been the last place I wanted to go, but it was the airlines that set the routes, not I.

So, as our story continues, we have these three men from the Society Islands in Tahiti, ready to serve the Lord.  Now, we also have this Fijian named Takai and his friend Langi, also both Christians, sailing to Tahiti.  You will notice that, although western missionaries were involved in the formation of the characters of our story, this seems to be leading up to a purely indigenous movement.  The events of these two separate stories seem to be coming to a common point on the island of Tahiti.



    As you may remember from the letter of a couple of weeks ago, we left the story of the first missionaries in Fiji with three men from the Society Islands in Tahiti who had been studying and preparing to serve the Lord.  Then, through a series of unlikely scenarios, there was a Fijian named man Takai and his friend Langi, also both Christians, that had left Australia and were sailing to Tahiti, although they did not want to go there.  This was in the year 1825.  I continue the story now, although I have shortened and simplified it quite a lot.  There are quite a lot of characters in this short piece, so try and hang with me.

    The two travelers, Takai and Langi, only intended to stay in Tahiti long enough until they could find passage to Fiji, but while there, they made their acquaintance with a missionary from the London Missionary Society (LMS), about which I wrote in the last letter.  This missionary, an Englishman named John Davies, had some knowledge of Fiji.  In 1809, when Davies was sailing to Sydney, his ship had struck a reef off a northern Fijian Island, and he was stranded there until they could repair the vessel.

    As a result of this friendship between Davies and the two travelers, Takai and Langi began attending a Bible School in Tahiti.  While there, they also came to be friends with a Tahitian named Taharaa.  After a time, Takai requested from the LMS to give him a native missionary to go with him back to Fiji to teach the Fijian the word of life.  Remember, Takai had originally been sent from Fiji by a local chief giving Takai the task of “instruction concerning Christianity.”

    The LMS had actually before attempted to send some Tahitians to Fiji, but when these first men arrived as far as Tonga (these were two completely other men), a chief in those islands learned of their mission and obliged them to stay in Tonga.  The chief considered Tonga to be much more important than Fiji, and said that “if this be the true Word of God, it should not go to the tail first (Fiji) but to the head (Tonga).”
    The two Tahitians thus stayed in Tonga, built a chapel, opened a school and began a worshiping congregation in that place.

    However, one of the things that had been accomplished with this first effort was that these men, with the help of the LMS, began work of producing the first Fijian spelling book.  Nevertheless, when these first missionaries stopped in Tonga and began working there, the Fijian chief was very disappointed.  He called for someone to come to tell them the word of God.  The chief also gave the LMS the assurances that the missionaries would be treated kindly (translation – we will not eat them).

    It was with this that the Fijian Takai and his friend Langi, along with the Tahitian Taharaa were to be sent by the LMS to Fiji.  Before they left, they were also joined by two other men from the Society Islands, Hatai and Arue.  These men reached Fiji July 9, 1830, stayed the rest of their lives, teaching the Fijians the Word of God.

    I am going to leap over some years of Fijian history (which I may address in the next letter) to the year 1874.  This was the year that Fiji officially became a colony of the British Empire.  These were the heady years for the English, as they solidified their reign over many parts of the world.  In Fiji, the English were planting large sugarcane fields, but needed labourers for the fieldwork.  There were not sufficient workers in Fiji, so the Brits began bringing indentured labourers from India, which also was a colony during these years of the British Raj of India.

    Although India gained its independence from England in 1947, Fiji did not do so until 1970.  In these early years of the 20th century, the sugar plantations continued in Fiji, mostly worked by the Indian labourers.  The English managers discouraged missionary work among the people, since as they had experienced in India and other places, that many of the Christian teachings (such as equality of races) were not helpful to their empire building efforts.  It was difficult for missionaries to gain visas for these places.

    However, one Australian sensed God was calling him to go to Fiji.  He could not get a missionary visa, but he gained a business visa to go there.  While there, he befriended a young Indian man who was studying to be a pharmacist.  That young Indian, once a Hindu, became a believer in Jesus Christ.  Very early in his Christian life, God called him to begin a training institute to train pastors for the churches of the Pacific islands.  This he has been doing for the past thirty-five years.  Some time ago, the Lord had put in his heart and in his plans to begin an extension work in many of the islands where he has had students.  His idea is to “train the trainers” of the word of God in these islands.

    Almost as a side note but one that is of interest to me, in 1970, I myself a young man, went to India to serve in the Peace Corps.  While in India for more than two years, I came to have a great love for the Indian people, and for their culture and ways.  I also came to respect them as very capable people.  Thus, when I met with the Fijian Indian, we immediately had a commonality between us.

    I don’t know if this is interesting to you, but it is extremely interesting to me.  God is the Lord not only of the present and the future, but he is the God of history.  One of the things that I most look forward to in eternity is to see how God has worked in history to bring people to an understanding of who He is.

From one man he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:26-28 NIV)


 The man in the photo on the right was named Seru Epenisa Cakobau.  We will just call him Cakobau (pronounced Thakombau).  This man lived between 1815 and 1883.  He was a warlord in Fiji of that time and one who managed to unite many competing Fijian tribes under his leadership to become more or less a unified nation.  He also was called “Cikinovu.”  That is a Fijian word meaning centipede, because it was said that as a warrior, he “moved silently and struck painfully.”

The man on the photo on the left was named John Hunt.  Hunt was a Wesleyan (Methodist) missionary from Lincolnshire, in the Midlands of the U.K.  Hunt was about the same age as Cakobau, but Hunt’s life was much shorter.  He was born in 1812, but died in 1848.  Hunt’s first occupation in Lincolnshire was as a ploughboy, but he was also a lay preacher.  Through a series of events that we shall not explore at the moment, the Lord prompted him to go to seminary and then as a missionary to the Fiji Islands.  When Hunt went to Fiji, he was a young man of twenty-seven years old.

The lives of these two men were to come together in a way that would shape the history of Fiji for many generations to come.

John Hunt was well respected by the Fijians, which was in contrast to some other of the missionaries of the time.  Hunt was a keen judge of personality and was able to see the quality of a man that went beyond any outward status that they may have had in the communities.  He was honest and frank with the people, not coming to them in an attitude of superiority, but neither was he obsequious toward them.

Hunt never “went native,” as missionaries sometimes  do.  He remained very much an Englishman, but in spite of this, his message to the Fijians was not clothing, punctuality and an English lifestyle. He instead spoke of Jesus Christ.  Even before the Fijians began to believe in this Christ, they respected John Hunt as a “man of God.”  Hunt claimed that the reason that he was not killed and eaten by the cannibalistic Fijians was because they credited him with the “tapu (taboo) of holiness,” as they did their own holy men.

Even the very practice of cannibalism, to which most missionaries simply reacted in shock and horror (and understandably so), Hunt decided that he must try to calmly consider the reason for this atrocious custom.  The Fijians, after all, were not devoid of any religious beliefs.  The Christian missionary felt that if he were to come to them telling them of what they would see as an alternative to their own religion, he would do well to at least know something about the reasons that the Fijians did the things that they did.

Hunt wrote in his journal, “We requested permission to go into the temple, which was granted, and we took our seat near the High Priest and the old King.”  Hunt went on to describe the prayers of the chief, the presentation of the whale’s teeth, which they considered tapu, and the coconuts.  His attitude in all of this reminds me very much of what we read about the Apostle Paul in the city of Athens.  As he walked around the city, he said that his spirit was “greatly distressed” within him.  However, he did not preach abusively against the Athenians for their superstition and paganism, but calmly presented to them a truth that they did not know.

We should return to tell the story of Cakobau, but we will leave it for next time.  His life is also similar to the Apostle Paul in at least one aspect: he began his adult life fighting against the followers of Christ, but later himself became a Christian and did much for the spread of Christianity in Fiji.


Cakobau was a prominent Fijian warlord in the mid part of the nineteenth century.  As we mentioned in the last letter, he was also known “the centipede,” since as a warrior, it was said that he “moved silently and struck painfully.”  Although his home was on the relatively small island of Bau, off of the east coast of one of the two main Fijian islands, he would later in his life become known as the man who would manage to unite the many competing tribes of Fiji into a unified nation…but we are getting ahead of ourselves in this story.
Cakobau, in the early part of his life, was known as a ferocious warrior – a great killer and eater of his enemies.  It was said that his cannibalistic feasts were so frequent, that the ovens in which his defeated foes were cooked never completely cooled.
A little north of the small island of Bau was another island, named Viwa.  On this island lived an ally of Cakobau’s, a warrior named Virani.  Virani was not his real name but one that was bestowed upon him when he led the looting of a French ship that had come within striking distance of his island.  He killed the captain and the crew of the ship.  The name Virani is a French family name, and in some way that I was not able to discover, the Fijians more widely applied the name to anything having to do with the French.  As a commemoration of the taking of that French vessel, this warrior

 Virani took that name.  Virani was also the nephew of the high chief of the island of Viwa.
These two men, Cakobau and Virani, made a formidable and feared pair.  It was into this atmosphere that the Wesleyan missionary, John Hunt arrived.  Hunt, as you may remember from the last letter, was a ploughboy from the midlands of England, whom the Lord had called into service to the Pacific islanders.
One day, as Hunt was reading from the Gospel of Matthew in the newly translated New Testament, Virani was among those who were listening.  Much to the surprise of Hunt, when he read about the crucifixion of Jesus, Virani became visibly uncomfortable.  I would very much like to know what was going on within the heart and mind of this ferocious killer and eater of men that would make him so upset when he heard this account of the death of Jesus.  The cruelty of these kinds of things, it seems to me, would have become commonplace to him.  Whatever else it was that moved him, the Holy Spirit worked in his heart.  It was not at that meeting that he gave his life and heart to Christ, but it was not long after.
In fact, before he even made the final commitment to his new belief, he first told his friend and ally Cakobau that he was going to become a Christian.  Cakobau was indignant.  “If you become a Christian,” he told his friend, “I will kill you and eat you!”  Virani responded that he would pray for Cakobau.  Hunt had also told Cakobau that he was praying for him.
Despite these warnings from someone who would ordinarily carry them out, on Good Friday in the year 1845, Virani became a Christian.  His conversion was especially gratifying to John Hunt, for he saw sweeping changes in Virani’s lifestyle and values.  Often, Hunt had heard Fijians profess a faith in Christ, but there were few accompanying changes in their lives.  With Virani, the changes were vast and deep.  With it also came a great turning to Christ among the people of his island of Viwa.  As for Cakobau’s threats – they were never carried out.
In 1848, some three years after Virani’s conversion, the missionary John Hunt died from dysentery on the island of Viwa.  He was 36 years old.  Virani prayed at his funeral.  In 1853, Virani also was killed while trying to reconcile two warring tribes on another island.

Cakobau, in the mean time, had not been so receptive to the Christian message.  He had been the son of the chief ruler of Bau, and when his father died in the year 1852, six of his father’s widows were blindfolded and strangled to death.  When another missionary named Watsford objected, Cakobau oppose him for coming and interfering with the local customs.  “I only come out of love for you and the victims,” the missionary told Cokobau.
“Love?” Cakobau answered, “Oh we love them.  That is why we are strangling them.  They are so happy that one would think that they were going to a dance.”
In 1853, Cakobau was installed as the warrior-ruler of Bau.  He continued to resist the Christian message, and at the ceremony of his own acceptance as ruler, eighteen people were eaten in his honor.  However, Cakobau could not forget that John Hunt had prayed for him.  Also, at Hunt’s funeral, when he stood opposite from his friend Virani at Hunt’s casket, they looked at one another for some time, and Cakobau knew also that Virani had long prayed for him.  Now these two men both were dead.
The next year, in 1854, Cakobau received a visit from the king of Tonga.  If you remember from our earlier letters, Fiji and Tonga had a long history of trade and commerce.  The Tongan king was a very dedicated Christian, and spoke to Cakobau about his faith.  Later, the Tongan king continued his journey and went on to Australia, but before he left he said that when he returned to Fiji, he would continue to talk to Cakobau about the matter of his faith.
However, even before the Tongan king returned, another missionary by the name Waterhouse had what he called “an unusually long interview in private” with Cakobau, explaining to him the way of Christ and entreating him to put away his old life.
The following Sunday Cakobau appeared at the church in Bau, accompanied by his own high priest and more than forty wives, and gave his heart to Christ.  Voluntarily, he remained married to his “main wife” and gave all the rest their freedom.  This is what his friend Virani had done when he became a Christian.
The history of Cakobau continues.  As we mentioned in the last letter, his influence grew to extend over the large area of the islands of Fiji.  Interestingly, his conversion to Christ did not automatically lead to a large movement of conversion to Christianity among the Fijians.  This was actually unusual in the culture, for the lesser chiefs and the people would generally follow the leadership of the ruler.  However, they looked upon this decision as a deep and personal one - that of changing from worship of thier ancestral spirits to the new teachings of Christ.  Although there was a definite beginning with Cakobau, the teachings of Christ gradually came to have an effect in the lives of the people.


This morning while reading the Fiji Times newspaper, I came across a local piece of history that fits in well with our series of studies.

Near the capital city of Suva, the difficult decision has been made to cut down a large baka tree.  The tree stands on the grounds of a school, and has grown so large that the roots of the tree are creating structural problems for the buildings.  Cutting an old and historic tree is always an excruciating decision, since in some ways we look upon them as being living witnesses to events of the past.  What has made the decision to fell this particular tree particularly agonizing is because of what took place under its branches in the years following the turn of the last century.  Even in the early 1900’s, this baka was a large tree and offered shade from the hot Fijian sun.  It was in that shade that a woman named Hannah Dudley, a Wesleyan missionary from Australia, gathered a group of people to teach them about Jesus Christ.

Miss Dudley did not actually begin as a missionary to Fiji, but to India.  She served in that country for six years before ill health obligated her to return to Australia.  After she recovered her health, she repeatedly attempted to return to India, but was refused permission by her mission board to do so.  However, she later learned of need in Fiji, and when she had the opportunity to respond, she did so unhesitatingly.

If you remember from previous letters of our Polynesian Discovery series, in the late 1800’s, Fiji had become home to a very large population from India.  During that period, the British took workers from one of their colonies (India) and moved them to another one of their colonies – Fiji.  Sometimes when I learn of situations like this, I think of the board game named Risk, when the players of the game, in making their world conquests, move large armies from one continent to another.  However, in this case, it was not armies that were moved from one continent of the British Empire to another, but labourers.  The British needed the Indians in Fiji to work in the sugar cane fields that the British had developed in Fiji.

Miss Dudley saw in this relocation of thousands of Indians the opportunity to return to her beloved Indian people, even though it was to Fiji that she went and not to India.  Not only did Miss Dudley teach about Christ, but she served the people of the area.  So loved was she by the people that they referred to her by the name of Hamari Mataji (Our Honoured Mother).  She also took five orphaned children into her home and raised them as her own, one of them eventually to become the president of the New Zealand Methodist Conference.

Today, in the grounds around that baka tree are the buildings of a High School named in honour of Miss Dudley: The Dudley High School.  The tree, it seems, must go, but it is planned to take numerous cuttings from the tree and offer them to former students who wish to plant them in memory of Hamari Mataji.  (Evidently, it is possible to propagate the baka from cuttings taken from it).  It is now 113 years since Miss Dudley first taught in the shade of that tree.

The title of the newspaper article was: “Thank you Hannah Dudley”.

Polynesian Discovery – Part 23

In a couple of weeks I will be going to Vanuatu to begin to set up a training program there. As always, when I go to a new place, I like to read about its history and customs before I go. One of the aspects of living and working in the region of the Pacific Ocean in the past couple of years is to hear and read about the various legends of how the islands of the Pacific came into existence.
Often, when the modern scientific man or woman hears these local legends, the first reaction is to scoff at them or dismiss them as ignorant local folklore. However, this derisive reaction to the folklore itself might be motivated not only by ignorance, but even by willful ignorance. After all, by definition ignorance is simply, not knowing. We can excuse someone for not knowing something when he has not had access to some information, but when someone willfully ignores some information, overlooking their ignorance becomes a little more difficult.
Legends from the past often include monsters and supernatural deeds. When we hear these characteristics included in a story, we are often likely to dismiss it as “only a story.” Of course, it may only be a story, but sometimes it may be the case that the characters and the activities of the legend are representations of something that really did happen.
We are perhaps accustomed to hearing legends of great dragons or enchanted lands, but in the Pacific region, even the mountains themselves sometimes take on human characteristics, even moving from one place to another.
For instance, here in New Zealand, we have the local Maori legend of some mountains involved in a lover’s triangle. Near the center of the North Island is a group of mountain peaks. In times past, among these were two mountains named Taranaki and Tongariro, both tall and impressive mountains. Nearby stood another beautifully forested smaller mountain, named Pihanga. Because of Pihanga’s beauty, all of the mountains admired her, but she was especially loved by Tongariro.
One day, Tongariro caught Taranaki making advances with his lovely Pihanga, and in rage Tongariro threw forth great smoke and fire. A great fight ensued between Tongariro and Taranaki. Lava spewed forth from both of their mouths and the earth trembled and shook. In the end, Taranaki fled from the rage of Tongariro. The injured Taranaki first traveled to the south, and as he struggled in his journey, he left a deep trench in the ground. When he came to the sea, he turned and went toward the setting sun and ended up on the west coast of the North Island, where the mountain still stands today.
The next day, a stream of clear and fresh water immerged from the side of the victorious Tongario and flowed down the trench left by the fleeing Taranaki. That stream became the Wanganui River that also still flows today. Some think that this rivalry between the two mountains is not yet over, and that Taranaki is only brooding and biding his time, some day to return and claim the lovely Pihanga. Because of this, many Maori refuse to live in the path created by Taranaki, thinking that he will one day retrace his steps.

That is the legend. It is so fantastic that it is difficult to see that there could be any reality to it. And yet, in the Pacific there are other stories of mountains that have moved from where they once stood. In some ways, if we consider the geology of the region, we may be able to see how some of these stories have arisen.
This is especially evident in the Hawaiian Islands, because they actually are moving. Presently, they are moving northwest at about 4 inches per year (it may have been different in the past). From what we can understand, all of the islands in the archipelago were formed from a single hotspot on the ocean floor, but as the tectonic plate of the ocean floor moved, it has continually pulled the islands further away from the hotspot, causing the creation of yet another new island (concerning plate tectonics, read the chapter, Of Faults and Faith, in my book Surprised by a Garden).

Here in New Zealand, Vivian and I are presently staying in a house of some friends that has a view of Rangitoto. Rangitoto is volcanic mountain that was non-existent just 600 years ago. It was at that time that a sub marine lava vent opened up, causing a great uplift in the seabed and throwing great amounts of molten lava into the sky. The local Maori associated the birth of this new mountain with the defeat of the captain of one of the local war canoes. The name Rangitoto means, “blood in the sky,” which refers to both the color of the erupting volcano, and the blood of their captain that was lost in his defeat.

As you can see, the geology in the Pacific is constantly changing. It may be a slow and steady change, as we see in Hawaii, or sudden, like Rangitoto. Growing up in Wisconsin, we had our own local geological legends which were obviously only tall tales. I think that they were mostly made up for entertainment in the logging camps or other places. For instance, I don’t believe that there is any truth to the legend that the Great Lakes were formed by the footprints of Paul Bunyan. It always seemed to me that if that were true, the size of his feet would be hugely disproportionate to the rest of his body.

Oh wow, I am really rambling. I must be getting old! As I read back in this letter I see that I started telling you about my upcoming trip to Vanuatu, and now I am telling Paul Bunyan stories. In my defense, I will say that the common link is legends. Some have merit, some do not. I will pick it up next time and hopefully stay on track.

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