Pahoa a Tahiaroa was born on April 23, 1873, on the island of Ravahere in the Tuamotu Archipelago (French Polynesia), son of Tahiaroa Te Mahuki and Rotiura Tane. The archipelago’s tiny, widely scattered specks of land in the South Pacific were governed by French colonial officials; in Mormon geography, they were part of the mission headquartered at Papeete, Tahiti. Marokau, the Tuamotu island where Pahoa settled as a young man, was rarely visited by either government official or Mormon missionary.
Thomas L. Woodbury of Salt Lake City, a newlywed when he was called to serve in Tahiti, was assigned to visit Marokau in 1899. Pahoa met him then, and Thomas baptized him on April 3, 1899.
Pahoa married about 1901, to a young woman named Kaputai Agapito, whom he baptized in 1903. The couple eventually had six children, and the growing family formed the nucleus of an LDS branch on Marokau. At some point, probably in the early 1920s, Pahoa was appointed branch president by the mission authorities.
Another appointment came in 1928, this time from the French colonial government: Pahoa was named governor of Marokau. The French official explained his choice to the assembly of island leaders. “I have chosen Pahoa a Tahiaroa to fill this important office because he does not drink liquor.”
Although it had been almost 30 years, Pahoa wanted to let Thomas Woodbury know of his prestigious appointment, and especially that it was due to following the Word of Wisdom Pahoa had learned from Thomas. There were two obstacles to overcome, however.
First, whatever gubernatorial duties fell to Pahoa, they evidently did not include much paperwork. Pahoa could find no ink anywhere on the island, nor did he know when a ship having ink to trade might call at Marokau.
I thought of the octopus. I got my spear, went to the lagoon and paddled out, and it was not long before I had bagged my quarry. Upon returning to the shore, I extracted the bag of squid ink and tried to write with it. I found, however, that it would not adhere to the paper. I tried mixing it with rain water, then sea water, but it would not stick. Then I took the juice from a coconut and boiled it, and then mixed it with the squid ink. Inaha! (“Eureka!”) A beautiful brown ink was the result! It flowed freely, looked neat, and adhered sufficiently.
So he wrote his letter, then ran into the second obstacle: He did not know Thomas’s full name – among the islanders, Elder Woodbury had been called “Toma.” Somewhere Pahoe found his name written as “Thomas W.” So he addressed his letter thus:
Roto Miti, Utah
with “Roto Miti” being a literal translation of “Salt Lake.”
The letter went out, but was returned by the U.S. Post Office demanding a better address. By a quirk of fate, Elder Harrison Conover, then serving in Tahiti, was in the Papeete post office when Pahoa’s letter was returned there, and the “Roto Miti” address caught his eye. Somehow he convinced the postmaster to let him claim the letter, and it didn’t take him long to identify “Thomas W.” of “Roto Miti” from mission records. He enclosed Pahoa’s letter in a new envelope and addressed it more conventionally.
In due time, Thomas received Pahoa’s report:
From my youth to the present time, I have always determined to oppose liquor. The French governor knows something of “Mormonism” – that its teachings have made the island people better, that its adherents abstain from liquor and obey the laws of the land. He knows also that at islands at which he calls in the course of his duties, where the local governor belongs to some church that does not place such stress upon the evils of liquor, there is much trouble caused by intoxication and licentiousness, and the native governor himself, the very person who is expected to maintain law and order, becomes a helping hand in the breaking of law and the commission of sin.
Therefore, in my office of governor, I will not permit liquor to be brought to this island, that my people may not waste their money on things that injure them.
Thomas L. Woodbury returned to Tahiti in 1937 as mission president. I do not know whether the two old friends met again before Pahoa a Tahiaroa’s death on July 10, 1938.