Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Pahoa a Tahiaroa: Returning and Reporting

Pahoa a Tahiaroa: Returning and Reporting

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 06, 2008

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:

Thomas W.
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.



  1. I am assuming you came upon this story because of the existence of the letter. But the variety of sources to put together the other info, as always, impresses me. Do you have access to this trove of data because of where you work?

    Of course I saw the Woodbury name and was curious how Thomas L Woodbury was related to Frank B Woodbury. Turns out they are cousins on both their fathers’ sides, their mothers’ sides, and through Frank’s wife. It never ceases to surprise me how closely early LDS families intermarried.

    Comment by BruceC — August 6, 2008 @ 8:15 am

  2. BruceC, you’re on to my secret: find an interesting event or document, and search out enough other details to build a story around it. If I can get a germ of a story from a newspaper article, something in an old church magazine, a letter in some collection I’m reading, whatever, then I can research the central person in all the same sources you or I would check if we were researching a grandparent. I’m lucky to be able to spend most of my working hours in the church library/archives where I can follow up on a lead immediately — go check an old membership record, or look up any published item that might be mentioned in my first source — which certainly speeds up my research. Because I’m not a church employee, though, I don’t have access to anything anybody else wouldn’t have. My advantages are that I’m *here* and that I do this kind of work all day long as a business so I learn what sources exist and how to search them efficiently.

    I love finding the interconnections, too. Fun!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2008 @ 8:56 am

  3. Another great story, Ardis.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 6, 2008 @ 10:12 am

  4. Very, very cool.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 6, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  5. As an aside I noticed one “Ardis E. Parshall” in some footnotes in Massacre.

    Comment by BHodges — August 6, 2008 @ 11:14 am

  6. Thanks, Mark, J.

    BHodges, must be someone else. Such a common name, you know …

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  7. These stories of unknown saints in varied circumstances and parts of the world are fascinating. Keep them coming!

    Comment by Martin Willey — August 6, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  8. Ardis,
    Your stories are always delightful and related delightfully. This one is among the best. Interesting that your man had paper but no ink. (“Where there’s a squid, there’s a way” heh, heh)Maybe the islanders of today — if there still are any — can tell you whether the two men met. Can you imagine Thomas W.’s reaction when he finally received this note-in-a-bottle? A bit like the reaction of the old-folks retirement home in Royal Oak, Michigan that in the 1970s received a letter written in 1863 from a Union Army hospital in Chattanooga by a young private soldier pining for his Michigan girlfriend.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 6, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

  9. So cool, Ardis. Again, thanks.

    Comment by Ray — August 6, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  10. Fleshing out more of this story would make a good movie. Keep sending us stories of unknown people.

    Comment by Maurine — August 6, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

  11. Martin, Bill, Ray, Maurine, thanks for letting me know you enjoyed this (although I’m going to dock Bill one point for “where there’s a squid, there’s a way” [g]).

    I know it’s corny, but sometimes I just want to throw my arms in the air and shout “These are my people!”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 6, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  12. The magic of your writing is that you make us feel the same way.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — August 7, 2008 @ 6:30 am

  13. Yes, these stories are so wonderful! Thanks for sharing them. =)

    Comment by Tatiana — August 8, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

  14. Ardis, your posts of these stories are excellent reasons why all of us should keep a journal, and why we should keep in touch with the people who have meaning in our lives.

    I regret that I haven’t made the necessary efforts to keep in touch with special friends from high school and college, and missionary companions.

    Post Office forwarding orders expire a year after moving, and Post Office address corrections cease after a certain time too. So those Christmas cards do have more than just an obligatory “Merry Christmas” purpose.

    On another dimension, we can use these stories from the past as templates or examples to create our own stories by following their uplifting examples.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 18, 2008 @ 10:04 pm

  15. Is this a true story? as my last name is mahuki! I’m wondering if Tahiaroa Te Mahuki is my ancestor!

    Comment by raymond mahuki — February 9, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

  16. Yes, this is a true story. I don’t know how to tell you to find out whether he is your great-grandfather (or maybe one or two generations even further back) other than to talk to your parents and grandparents about what they know of their ancestry.

    If you do find out that he is an ancestor, I would really appreciate it if you would come back here and tell us about it. Good luck in your search.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 9, 2009 @ 3:53 pm

  17. Kia Ora

    I am of Ngai Tumapuhia-A-Rangi descent, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.

    I am searching for the above person who commented on this site.. Raymond Mahuki. My sons middle name is also Mahuki, and was very interested to read this.


    Comment by Francine — July 14, 2009 @ 12:11 am

  18. I’m not sure that Pahoa was baptized by Elder WOODDURY because he left TAHITI in 1896 for USA.
    I met his great great son here in Tahiti.
    Will you please give me more informations about this beautiful tale.

    HAUATA Bernard

    Comment by HAUATA — May 2, 2012 @ 8:23 pm

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