Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Marriage, Tattoos, and Baptism Among the Maoris: Missionary Instructions, 1888

Marriage, Tattoos, and Baptism Among the Maoris: Missionary Instructions, 1888

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 20, 2012

The following 26 “pointers” delivered by New Zealand Mission President William Paxman in April 1888 were recorded in the notebook of an elder from Utah serving in that mission (please forgive me for not naming the elder; I need to guard the source for the time being). Reading them is like listening in on half a phone conversation – the instructions clearly arise from situations within the mission at that time, some of which we can guess at but others of which seem opaque, to me at least.

In any case, reading them provides a glimpse into an exotic culture and a distant time …


1. A half-caste raised by Maoris is counted as a Maori, and in case of marriage, no license is necessary. But if raised by whites, is counted as and subject to same conditions as a white.

2. Have nothing to do with marrying Europeans, nothing whatever.

3.In case of a person desiring to be married who has been married before, and no divorce obtained, it is well to find if the original marriage was recorded; if not there is no danger. If a certificate is held, be cautious.

4.A couple living together who have never had any form of marriage. They should be married.

5. Where members desire to be married and parents object, if there be no good reason for an objection, strong arguments may be used. If under such circumstances, and their desire for each other being very strong they sin, more charity should be shown than in other cases, but if they have been duly warned, and sin against light, it may be accounted a double sin, and they be cut off, with the understanding that if they repent and prove faithful they may ere long be restored.

6. Let a couple be married by any authority rather than that they should continue living together in sin; then they may be rebaptized if proper. We must not appear, even, to sanction sin, in the eyes of the World.

7.Meetings. When the District President is in a branch, he may preside or ask an assistant to do so. All authority is subject to the presiding [authority].

8. Sunday meetings should be regular in time of commencing, whether Fast day or other the length to be governed by circumstances. The Spirit should direct.

9.Wednesday and Thursday are both good for weeknight meetings if the District Pres. desires so that he may attend both.

10. The times for priesthood meetings must be governed by circumstances. It would be well to hold a branch meeting for minor reports before the regular monthly meeting discussion that little matters not of a public nature may not be brought up at the district meetings.

11. Fast day in this land should be on the first Sunday of the month.

12. Sacrament. No law has been given as to the hour of administration, only that Sunday is the proper day. The general in this land is Sunday because it is considered best. The spirit is the same, whether morning or afternoon, if hands are clean and hearts pure before God.

13. Accusation without proof. In the mouth of two or three witnesses &c. Matt. 18:16. it is a very serious matter, to handle a person for standing, and should be very carefully done. Put the accused on oath, referring to case of Ananias and wife, and other illustrations, and it will generally cause a confession in case of guilt. The party confessing and making charge against another, should cease partaking of the sacrament, and although derived by other parties, may be baptized on the strength of his or her confession, and if it is afterwards found to be false, that person should be cut off the church, for lying to the priesthood is a very grievous and wrong sin.

14. Scattered members, Actions for standing, &c. It is well to know where, and how or what the scattered members are. Where found opposing the Work, deal with and cut them off, for they have no portion with the faithful. Where careless only, and undecided-like, be reasonable, labor with and influence them if possible to do well. If they still continue indifferent, neglecting duties, &c., deal with them; but be careful, doing duty, but avoid overdoing it. Those who cannot be found after diligent search, it would be well to report in a separate column as such in making out next annual report, that they be not confounded with scattered members who cannot be accounted for.

15. In dealing with a person he must be notified to appear. If notified verbally, there must be a witness. If written it must actually be believed and known to be understood. If a person requests action and will not, it may be done at conference if there be no branch.

16. Tattooing. As saints, we are all opposed to disfiguring the body. It is displeasing in the sight of the Lord. A saint should not tattoo an outsider if they can be persuaded not to. He should be counseled not to do so. It is not right for members of the church to disfigure themselves. Where done in ignorance it will not be condemned.

17. Separation. It is dangerous to advise separation, for sin is likely, but where continual abuse comes from a man, we count him unworthy of a wife. He should be tried for his fellowship and cut off if he will not repent so that a reconciliation may be brought about, and the wife should not be compelled to live with him. We cannot give writings that will be of any worth, the only thing that we can do is to try a person for fellowship. It will not do to recommend separations only in extreme cases and the only way is to handle one or both as the case may require. We must teach the people the great necessity of keeping sacred their marriage covenants.

18. In baptizing it is best not to change or baptize under a new name, also to use the full name, to avoid much trouble in genealogies. The Elders should be careful in keeping the records straight, not trusting to Maoris, as they are not capable of keeping the books in proper shape. Children baptized who have been blessed are not new or additional members.

19. In removals, certificates or recommends should be taken and properly entered in the books that all may be kept in proper order. All on record should be counted. Children are not responsible for the acts of their parents.

20. In case of a breach of promise, we can only counsel and advise and do all in our power for good.

21. There is no law that can deprive a man of his priesthood except excommunication.

22.A person who has stolen must make restitution and then ask forgiveness of the saints. It is best to do nothing in secret among the Maoris.

23. There is no law of God which will justify a man in putting away one of two wives to whom he is already married, but he cannot take another wife after he has received light, only in the temples of the Lord.

24. Fines for Sins. There is no law with us more severe than excommunication. We cannot impose fines for sins.

25.An Elder has no authority to baptize unless appointed to do so. There is a great difference between ordination and appointment. Our priesthood is to remain with us forever if we prove faithful, while an appointment is for a time.

26. It is proper for all to attend karakia [prayers] atone place, but if some are unable to do so it would be well to have prayer with them either before or after regular karakia.



  1. President Paxman certainly held some distinct beliefs and understandings of Maori culture. I wonder how many of them would hold up under scrutiny with almost 125 years of hindsight. They seem to have a practical slant to them, so perhaps more than I would imagine.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — December 20, 2012 @ 10:23 am

  2. One idea that I think was rather forward-looking is 18, about not giving a new name with baptism. That is addressing the standard but culturally insensitive practice of giving a “Christian” name to converts whose own names were incomprehensible to Christian missionaries. It happened everywhere Europeans sent missionaries, and we did that, too, in the LDS Indian Missions of the 1850s (I don’t know specifically about Mormon practices in other times and places).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 20, 2012 @ 10:49 am

  3. It does seem like the President was trying to adapt and respect the local culture and still hold on to gospel principles (although I’m not so sure about threatening with that “Ananias and wife” business.)

    It also makes one wonder what unofficial “policies” there may have been in the mission or any other. In Brazil, there were rare cases of Elders teaching new converts (or prospective converts) to take all their saints and go smash them in the back yard (as graven images, I guess). I heard a few Elders talk about it, but never saw nor participated. And how do these unofficial (and inappropriate) policies get started? And who wrote that mimeographed extra discussion in our mission all about why blacks couldn’t have the priesthood? -Full of false doctrine, of course.

    Comment by Grant — December 20, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  4. We cannot impose fines for sins.

    Wait, seriously? Someone asked the mission president whether they could levy fines on someone for having sinned? Wow — talk about a creative solution to ward budget woes!

    Comment by David Y. — December 20, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

  5. That’s what I mean by hearing half a conversation! That’s what it sounds like to me, David, — sure hope I can find more.

    As for the ward budget, if fines were imposed the bishop might be GLAD ward members sinned differently than he did!

    Agreed, Grant. There may well have been justification for more local autonomy in 1888, when it may have taken many months for round-trip letters between New Zealand and Salt Lake … but by the time we were serving that should have died away. I don’t suppose you still have your mimeographed copy of that extra discussion?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 20, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

  6. I’ll go look, but I don’t think I have it. As I recall (from 35 years ago) it started off with how the priesthood was restricted to Levites in Old Testament Days and then went into Pharoah and the seed of Cain, the whole Ham business and everything. The Levite part, true doctrine. The rest, false. It did have a statement from, I think, David O. McKay that one day Blacks would have the priesthood (also true doctrine). I only taught it once but it made me uncomfortable and was so relieved when the revelation was announced the last month of my mission.

    Of course, the Maoris were always OK.

    Comment by Grant — December 20, 2012 @ 11:25 pm

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