chaplain in New South Wales, provided support for the LMS missionaries. He initiated, and supervised from Australia, the CMS work in New Zealand.
Early failures in Tonga and the Marquesas, opposition and apathy in Tahiti and New Zealand, questioned the missionaries' methodology and optimism. Missionary isolation and local hostility led to the withdrawal of some missionaries. While Pacific peoples at first welcomed missionaries to live among them, they saw them primarily as the bearers of European goods and as people to facilitate trade. The missionaries brought a message of sin and redemption, the need for conversion, the setting aside of Sunday as a holy day, the imposition of strict moral behaviour (which many other non-missionary Europeans by their lifestyle rejected) and an iconoclastic attitude towards indigenous culture, its symbols and rituals. For the local people, with a strong sense of community identity and belonging, the individual call to conversion which attempted to reproduce the missionaries' own religious experience was quite alien.
During the first fifteen years in Tahiti and New Zealand missionaries began to learn the local languages. Henry Nott in Tahiti and Thomas Kendall in New Zealand laid foundations for the translation of the Bible, Nott completing the Tahitian Bible in 1835. Tahitians from about 1815 and Maori after 1830 were intrigued by the process of reading and writing and attracted to the medium as well as to the Christian message. Literacy brought a new source of mana or power which communicated new ideas. Social, economic, political and cultural changes resulting from European and missionary influences had a profound influence on tribal societies in the Pacific. The missionary impact was caught up in the maelstrom which Pacific peoples faced. The effect of muskets on tribal warfare in New Zealand in the 1820s and the introduction of previously unknown European diseases resulting in high rates of death are examples of influences which created instability in traditional patterns of warfare, health and welfare.
The acceptability of the Christian message, after its initial rejection, was closely aligned with the internal power dynamics within Pacific societies. The Polynesian peoples living in the geographical triangle stretching from Hawaii in the north to Easter Island in the east and New Zealand in the south were chiefly societies in which birth and rank gave status. Powerful chiefs such as Pomare II in Tahiti, Kamehamaha II in Hawaii and, later, Tamati Waka Nene and Hone Heke in New Zealand, Malietoa in Samoa, Taufa'ahau in Tonga and Cakobau in Fiji were affected by Christianity and were among those who used it for their own political ends. The European principle of 'where the king, there the people' found expression in Polynesia as 'where the chief, there the people'. Evangelical missionaries were faced with tribal conversions or people
Was this article helpful?