Author: Shumway, Eric B.
Polynesia is most frequently identified as those Pacific islands lying within an enormous triangle extending from New Zealand in the south to Hawaii in the north and the Easter Islands in the extreme east. The major Polynesian ethnic groups include Hawaiians, New Zealand Maoris, Samoans, Tongans, and Tahitians.
A basic view held in the Church is that Polynesians have ancestral connections with the Book of Mormon people who were descendants of Abraham and that among them are heirs to the blessings promised Abraham's descendants (see Abrahamic Covenant). Since 1843, the Church has undertaken extensive missionary efforts in the Pacific islands, and large numbers of Polynesians have joined the Church (see New Zealand, the Church in; Oceania, the Church in).
The belief that Polynesian ancestry includes Book of Mormon people can be traced back at least to 1851, when George Q. Cannon taught it as a missionary in Hawaii (he was later a counselor in the First Presidency). President Brigham Young detailed the belief in a letter to King Kamehameha V in 1865. Other Church leaders have since affirmed the belief, some indicating that among Polynesian ancestors were the people of Hagoth, who set sail from Nephite lands in approximately 54 B.C. (cf. Alma 63:5-8). In a statement to the Maoris of New Zealand, for instance, President Joseph F. Smith said, "I would like to say to you brethren and sisters you are some of Hagoth's people, and there is NO PERHAPS about it!" (Cole and Jensen, p. 388.) In the prayer offered at the dedication of the Hawaii Temple, President Heber J. Grant referred to the "descendants of Lehi" in Hawaii (IE 23 [Feb. 1920]:283).
Among scholars, the exact ancestry of the Polynesian peoples is a matter of debate. While some non-LDS scientists have insisted on their Western Hemisphere origins, the prevailing scientific opinion from anthropological, archaeological, and linguistic evidence argues a west-to-east migratory movement from Southeast Asia that began as early as 1200 B.C.
What seems clear from the long-standing debate is that considerable interaction was maintained over the centuries from many directions. The island peoples had both the vessels and the skill to sail with or against ocean currents. It would be as difficult to say that no group could have migrated from east to west as to argue the opposite in absolute terms. Church leaders, who have attested to Polynesian roots in the Nephite peoples, have not elaborated on the likelihood of other migrating groups in the Pacific or of social mixing and intermarriage.
Throughout the Church's history in the islands, Polynesian members have demonstrated spiritual receptivity, maturity, and leadership. In 1990, more than 100,000 Polynesians, including approximately 30 percent of the Tongans and 20 percent of the Samoans, were members of the Church. In all areas of Polynesia, local leaders preside over organized stakes and wards. Missionary work continues, much of it under the direction of local mission presidents and missionaries. In Tonga and Samoa, for example, almost the entire force of missionaries is made up of local youth, and hundreds of others have been called to serve missions elsewhere in the world.
Some Polynesian Latter-day Saints have left their homelands and established communities abroad. Honolulu, Auckland, and Los Angeles have extensive LDS Polynesian populations. Thousands of LDS Polynesians have also migrated to Utah's Wasatch Front area and to Missouri, California, and Texas.
Britsch, R. Lanier. Moramona. Laie, Hawaii, 1989.
Clement, Russell T. "Polynesian Origins: More Word on the Mormon Perspective." Dialogue 13 (Winter 1980):88–89.
Cole, W. A., and E. W. Jensen. Israel in the Pacific. Salt Lake City, 1961.
Loveland, Jerry. "Hagoth and the Polynesian Tradition." BYU Studies 17 (Autumn 1976): 59–73.
ERIC B. SHUMWAY