Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Venus in Tahiti: 8 March – 24 March 1915

Venus in Tahiti: 8 March – 24 March 1915

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 17, 2013

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Mon. Mar 8 [1915].

We arose bright and early and had hardly finished our breakfast before our native friends were back again, many of them bringing others with them, until the house was filled with smiling chattering natives. They are a very affectionate people, and have a very peculiar way of showing it. One old lady (Moufa) held on to my hand with one of hers while she patted and rubbed my face and arms with her other one, all the time grinning and whining in a most endearing tone. All day long they came and went, and we were kept busy shaking hands and smiling at them while they sat either on chairs or on the floor looking at us and discussing us to one another.

Tues. Mar. 9.

The mission house which is one of the nicest in Papeete is a large two story rustic building with wide verandas front and back both up stairs and down, from which are suspended many beautiful hanging baskets. On either end of the broad front steps are beautiful potted ferns and palms, while trailing vines covered with gorgeously colored flowers climb all along the rails and up the ends of the porches. Every room in the house opens out of the porches by large double french doors hung with white lace curtains. Here we spend a greater part of our time, for there are plenty of easy chairs and hammocks for one to make himself comfortable. The interior of the house is finished with ceiling lumber this being too damp a climate for plaster and paper. The wood work is stained brown and varnished and the walls are painted in light colors. Downstairs we have a large living room reception hall, library and office, dining room, printing office, bath room and a darkroom for photography work, and a cook house about twenty feet away from the house Upstairs we have five bed-rooms, clothes closets and a bath. The furniture isn’t very nice, but the boys say no one else in Papeete has better. The church is just a few steps away and all around the two places is a beautiful green lawn shaded by cocoanut mangol and oleander trees. In every shady nook and corner are palms ferns and cactus of every description.

Wed. Mar 10.

We went for our first bath in the ocean, walking about two miles out of town to a pretty little cove where the steel frame of an old sunken vessel projects up out of the water. We were accompanied by four native girls, Tuerau, Mari, Teipo and Teata, all of whom are expert swimmers, one of them being a pearl diver. With their long black hair hanging around their shoulders they would dive from the highest point of the old ship swimming under the water about one hundred feet before they came to the surface laughing and talking. After our swim we walked to Mari’s house where we had a fresh water shower. Mari is a beautiful half caste girl. Her mother who was a Mormon died about a year ago, and she would like to be baptized, but her father who is a French Catholic objects to it.

Thurs. Mar. 11.

One of the native women took me to see the town wash tub which is in reality a stream of clear running water at the side of the road. Here the women sit waist deep in the water, pounding the clothes on the rocks with a wooden club or scrub them with an ordinary scrubbing brush on a wooden platform at the side of the stream. They sit flat on the floor with a fibre mat before them to iron the clothes using an old fashioned charcoal iron. They do beautiful work and charge ten cents to wash and iron each piece.

Fri Mar. 12.

I was slightly poisoned from eating a mangol, a tropical fruit that tastes something between an orange peach and a carrot. My body become swollen and numb and broke out in a scarlet rash and hard white lumps and I was suffering terrible pain. The boys administered to me and all pain and swelling instantly left my body, leaving only the rash which remained with me about two weeks. In the evening Bro. Louis Westover came down from Takaroa, one of the other islands where we have our largest branch of saints.

Sat Mar 13.

Our first cleaning day in the mission. Each person cares for his own room, and the cleaning of the rest of the house is divided among the boys, while the president cleans the office & I cook the meals and do the Saturday baking. Bros Irvine Pierson and Montrose Killpack who was ill arrived from Hikueru and in the evening we held a priesthood meeting.

Sun Mar 14.

One week has passed since our arrival and we wonder at the way time flies. We hold our Sunday School at 10:30 am but as early as eight thirty the good old sisters gathered at the house where they sat and waited for the hour of commencement. I shall never forget my first Sunday School in the Islands. Besides the six elders there were three native women, barefoot and dressed in bright red dresses who seated themselves on the front bench, with their faces all aglow and their heads stretched forward ready to drink in every word that was spoken. For their part of the lesson each had memorized a chapter from the bible, which they chanted or rather sang without a falter. Not only that but when the teacher attempted to quote a passage, they would start out with him and finish before he had said the first line. They certainly do know the scripture. The singing was indescribable. They have no accompaniment, and one old lady who must have been chosen because she could sing the loudest lead the songs. She didn’t sing she just hollered at the top of her voice, and at the end of every line she held out three or four beats longer than the others, and then ended with a sudden jerk and a grunt. Although I couldn’t understand a word of the service, I was impressed by the earnestness of the women and the good spirit that existed among them. At the sacrament meeting which is held at three o’clock, we had one more woman making four in all. After the opening services the new arrivals each gave a short talk through an interpreter. The faces of the women were beaming with anticipation, and at the end of every sentence they gave a grunt of approval, or if anything was said that particularly pleased them they would laugh and clap their hands. While Ern was talking, Terai a dear old lady that the boys call mother, so forgot herself that she drew one bare leg up under her on the seat while she dangled the other to and fro. After church they came over to the house where they sat as is their custom and talked for an hour or so.

Mon. Mar. 15

The native women and girls sew beautifully, and are very neat with their work, making all of their own clothes, many of which would be a credit to the average American girl. They also make their own hats weaving straw and fiber into braids of various designs. They are usually trimmed with bands of tiny shells or flowers made from bamboo shavings, and occasionally a band of ribbon. They spend a great deal of time making patchwork quilts of brightest colored calico in very intricate design, they are very pretty when finished, and we use them on all of the beds at the mission house.

Tues. Mar. 16.

Went driving through the picturesque streets of Papeete, many of which are entirely canopied over by the immense mangol trees. We had a nice little runabout and a shaggy little horse about the size of a burro, but it was better than most of the horses of Tahiti.

Wed. Mar. 16.

Conducted a song practice with a number of the native girls, who need only to hear a tune three or four times before they know it. Singing in parts seems to be natural for them.

Thurs Mar 18.

Held a prayer and priesthood meeting after which Bros. Ira Hyer and Irvine Pierson left for a two weeks stay in Morea.

Fri. Mar. 19.

Bros Ernest Rossiter and Otto Stocks left on their bycycles for a trip around the island, expecting to meet Bros. Orton and Shaw in Vairao

Sat. Mar. 20.

Bros Wm. Orton and Albert Shaw left by boat for Vairao.

Sun. Mar 21.

There are now only two elders left in Papeete besides me. Bros Montrose Killpack and Louis Westover, who conducted Sunday School and Sacrament meeting, assisted by Toae, a native member who held a toothpick in his mouth during the entire service & while he preached.

Mon. Mar. 22.

We are respected and treated well by most of the people here, but occasionally in passing I overhear someone say “Mormona puaa” meaning Mormon beast or swine.

Tues. Mar 23rd.

Pres. Rossiter and Bro Stocks returned to Papeete, not being able to accomplish much work on account of the very heavy rains and the severe cough that Bro Stocks had contracted.

Wed. Mar. 24.

It is a custom among the Tahitian people to give their children away, generally to their relatives or anyone else who will take them. In some families there are not two to be found with the same blood. Not being aware of the custom, I was very much upset today by our neighbor Tahiri offering me his little six year old boy Mahungo. Although we refused his kindly intended offer, he was not in the least offended, and the next day sent us a stock of bananas.

(To be continued)



  1. These journal entries are marvelous! I love Venus’ ability to bring events to life with her vivid details: the brother who preached with a toothpick in his mouth, the people chanting scripture chapters in church, the woman who “forgot herself” and sat on one bare leg while dangling the other, girls diving off the sunken ship in the cove to swim underwater. It’s all so delicious.

    Comment by Marilyn O. — February 17, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  2. She really is extraordinary, isn’t she? Even apart from the exotic setting, the detail and chattiness of her entries is something I’ve very seldom seen in journals.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 17, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

  3. I had never heard of a mango allergy (I’m assuming ‘mangol’ meant mango) but a quick Googling shows it’s a thing. Imagine living in a tropical island paradise and being allergic to mangos!

    Comment by Chad Too — February 18, 2013 @ 10:00 am

  4. If I may tell a personal story with no point… it seems Sister Rossiter and I have both a mango allergy and a tropical mission in common.

    Mango and poison ivy are cousins; an oil in the mango skin and pit is very similar to the afflicting oil from poison ivy. Contact with the oil can cause “type IV contact dermatitis.” Ouch. Ouch. I’m going to lay awake tonight remembering that time my face swelled up and then fell off via the open, running blisters. Also: how much I like fresh mango and how lovely Minas Gerais, Brazil was when all the mango trees were covered with fruit. My eyes are itching already.

    I am glad to hear Sister Rossiter found relief so quickly; I did not. (Alternately: I’m a wimp.)

    To make it all more exciting, I was newly arrived in country and so did not speak Portuguese well enough for an emergency room. My companion got me admitted, gave me a blessing, and went home (as he had been instructed by the office staff). The doctor spoke soothingly but all I got out of the conversation was “staphylococcus” and “meningitis” and “might die.” (I knew what meningitis was and was in considerable pain, so “might die” seemed plausible.) I dutifully wrote a letter to my parents on toilet paper.

    I didn’t know I was allergic go mangoes and neither did the doctors. They kept me for fifty-three hours while they monitored my condition and waited for cultures to grow (and gave me antibiotics).

    Mango season continued and I itched and had rashes but only had to go to the doctor two or three times after that. It wasn’t until after the mission that I figured out the mango connection. I am now pretty sensitized, so being in the same room when someone cuts a mango can be enough to give me a rash.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — February 18, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

  5. Glad that you survived the attack of the mangoes, Edje. Of course, those of us who agree with Mrs. Isabella Beeton that mangoes are liked only “by those who have not a prejudice against turpentine” are spared the risk of severe allergic reactions to the cruel fruit.

    It’s not at all surprising to me that mangoes and poison ivy are close relatives.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 19, 2013 @ 8:00 am

  6. What a story, Edje!

    I can attest to the reality of mango allergies — over Christmas break I purchased some very nice-looking peach-mango salsa. Just a few bites and my throat started to swell shut. I sat there and coughed and gasped while my husband pulled out the Benadryl. The Benadryl knocked me out and I crashed on the couch for about five hours. Every now and then the noise level would swell and I’d pry open my eyes and tell the kids to go to bed. The first time was about 6:30, so they just giggled at me.

    Moral of the story: if you’re not used to mango, have some Benadryl on hand.

    And, this is a lovely diary, Ardis. This is the first chance I’ve had to read it, and it’ll be a great read.

    Comment by Amy T — February 19, 2013 @ 1:25 pm

  7. Was dürfen wir weiter Zeugnis?

    Mangoes are evil.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 19, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  8. How did I miss this series? I’m going to have to go back when I have more time and start at the beginning.

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 19, 2013 @ 1:55 pm

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