Brigham Young University

The kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy in the South Pacific consisting of 150 islands. Its first Christian mission was established in 1826 during violent civil unrest. By 1853 the islands were united under the undisputed authority of Taufa’ahau Tupou I, who freed the commoners from bondage to the chiefs (1862) and established a constitution (1875).

The first Latter-day Saint missionaries to Tonga were sent from the Samoan Mission, arriving 15 July 1891. After six difficult years and very little success, the missionaries were withdrawn. Missionaries were later sent back to Tonga, first to Vava’u (1909), then to Tongatapu (1911).

The Tongan Mission was established in 1916, but it was immediately threatened by the passage of the Passport Act, which forbade the entry of foreign missionaries. Thanks to the efforts of President Vernon Coombs and the few devoted local Saints, the Act was repealed in 1924. A Church high school, Makeke, was established the following year.

By 1941 Church membership exceeded 2,000. Except for mission president Emil E. Dunn, foreign missionaries were withdrawn from Tonga during World War II, giving native Tongans greater opportunity for Church leadership. The Book of Mormon was published in the Tongan language in 1946. In 1953 Elder LeGrand Richards dedicated a new Church School, Liahona, and in 1956 an extensive chapel-building program was launched throughout the islands. In 1958, 35 Tongan Saints traveled to New Zealand on the first of many excursions to the temple there.

By the early 1960s, missionary work began to flourish, and in 1968 the first stake in Tonga was organized under the direction of Elders Howard W. Hunter and Thomas S. Monson. Saineha High School, located in Nejafu Vava’u, was dedicated in 1978. By the time the Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple was dedicated by President Spencer W. Kimball in 1983, there were 11 stakes, and the Tongan Mission was averaging well more than 1,000 converts per year. Large numbers of Tongan Saints have emigrated to New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. Worthy Tongan youth serve in missions around the world. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there were 16 stakes and 44,819 members of record in Tonga.

[Year-end 2005: Est. population, 120,000; Members, 52,421; Stakes, 16; Wards, 121; Districts, 2; Branches, 40; Missions, 1; Temples, 1; Percent LDS, 46, or one in 2; Tonga Nuku’Alofa Mission; Source: 2007 Church Almanac.]

SOURCES

Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986.

Cummings, David W. Mighty Missionary of the Pacific. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961.

Shumway, Eric B., ed. and trans. Tongan Saints: Legacy of Faith. Laie, Hawaii: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1989.

ERIC SHUMWAY

From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1252-53. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.