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David O. Mckay Lectures

Pacific Islanders 'in the nethermost parts of the vineyard': Identity and Challenges

President Shumway and the University Administration and Faculty,President Orgill ('Okili') and the PCC Administration, Special Guests, Alumni, and My Young Friends, the Students of the BYU-Hawaii:

Aloha and Malo e Lelei!

It is with deep respect and humility that I approach it this assignment because I know the stature of the revered person to whom this Lecture is dedicated, our late Beloved Prophet David O. McKay.

In his tour of the Church in 1955, he stopped in Tonga for a couple of days. The Tongan Saints gave him and his wife " a welcome that was ordinarily reserved for royalty and nobles" (Britsch, 472). President McKay was the first Prophet of the Church to ever visit the South Pacific islands. I, being very young, was very curious and wanted to see and touch him. I still have a vivid memory of that occasion. I was not fortunate to be close enough so I could touch him or whisper to him my childlike admiration for a prophet. So my father lifted me onto his shoulders where I saw him well from a distance. It was a special moment.

I was a freshman at this school when the 3rd David O. McKay Lecture was given. It was my first. It was held in the McKay Auditorium. I don't remember any specifics, but I do remember very well how I talked to myself if there will be a time, I may be privileged to give such a Lecture. Back then, it seemed such an impossibility. It was fun, though, to dream, maybe daydream. Today's Lecture is a fulfillment of a dream.  So I have titled my Lecture, Pacific Islanders "in the nethermost parts of the vineyard": Identity and Challenges.

I am honored to speak on behalf of the Pacific Islanders. If in trying to do so, I refer rather too frequently about Tonga, I hope you will forgive me — it is the part of the Pacific I know best. I have found in my contacts with the Pacific Island, and from my own reading, that we Polynesians, Micronesians, and Melanesians have much more in common than things that set us apart.

I believe that President McKay loved the people of the Pacific Islands. In 1955, on his visit to Sauniatu, Samoa, which he felt was the most beautiful place he had ever visited, he told the Saints that they soon would be able to "enter a house of the Lord in some location not far away,.." (Britsch, 422). He was making reference to the future temple to be built in New Zealand, and later dedicated in 1958. Also in the conference session on this visit, he told the LDS matai's from Upolu and Savai'i: "Be sure to honor your native titles but do not put them before the Holy Priesthood of God" (442). Who among us here can ever foret the story, that has been told and retold, of the flag-raising ceremony at the Laie School in 1921 that President McKay witnessed? It was the beginning of an unfolding process which showed his genuine concern that the Saints of the Pacific Islands be given opportunities for intellectual and Spiritual development.

In 1966, as a student at the Church College of Hawaii (CCH), and as a performer at the PCC Show, I was blessed to be part of the cast that traveled and performed at the Hollywood Bowl, California, and in Salt Late City, Utah. The highlight of that trip, however, was our visit as a group to the home of President McKay at Huntsville, Utah. He was 93. I personally shook his hands and for a moment I looked into his eyes ( or rather he looked into my eyes) and I experienced a flashback to the memory of 1955 in Tonga. Again, I was inspired: words cannot adequately describe how I felt, except to say that the experience left a lasting impact.

I t is in the spirit of love and concern for the people of the Pacific Islands, that I wish to make this, the 39th Lecture in the series. I hope to be able to articulate the message of today in such a way that Pacific Islanders will be persuaded that God had paced us in the isles of the sea with a sacred purpose. I am fully convinced of that.

This Lecture is divided into four parts to provide a framework for clarity and connectedness to the presentation: (1) Early Socializations Toward a Traditional Identity, (2) Jacob 5 and a Book of Mormon Class at CCH, (3) The Pacific Islands Identity as The Pacific way, and (4) Pacific Islanders' Challenge for the 21st Century.

Part 1: Early Socialization Toward a Traditional Identity

I was born and raised on the small island of 'Eua in the Tonga Islands without electricity and all the attendant blessings and conveniences it brings. The conditions and circumstances of my birthplace were, by any standard, very deficient and lacking. Yet, I felt I was born in a heavenly part of this earth.

Throughout my early years in Tonga, my socializations were aimed at making me POTO, to be wise and learned according to cultural norms. It was the process of making a young man or young woman become a productive citizen. These were set of behavior, called Anga Fakatona, to be taught at home in order to achieve the community purpose of POTO. Anga Fakatona consisted of four elements:

Anga Faka'apa'apa [ Respect, reverence, deference, obedience]

Anga 'Ofa [Friendly, helpful, kindness, sharing]

Loto Mateaki [Being loyal, devotion, dedication}

Lotu [Spirituality, worship, Religious]

Most Tongans1  refer to these as the Four Golden Strands. Some2 referred to them as the Directive by King Tupuo I3for his people to use in teaching their children how to behave in social functions. The ultimate aim was to make these young people POTO.

When I came to CCH in 1964, I had been taught well in the Anga Fakatona, the set of human values at the core of my personhood. These virtues formed my identity as a Tongan Pacific Islander. I carried them into the classrooms: I carried them everywhere. There were times when I was not very proud to reveal that identity. There was nothing wrong with these human values in my cultural upbringing.

At critical times I found that my cultural identity were barriers to my attempts at intellectual activities in the classrooms. There were times I wished I could simply abandon this traditional identity and adopt the American way, a much more modern way. The emphasis of the American way on critical thinking, flexibility, creativity, individual rights, personal freedom and choices, I much admit, was so appealing. It was so difficult to resist the urge to supplant the traditional way with the modern way. I had difficulty reconciling the seeming discrepant elements of my traditional way with the American way I was assimilating.

Part2: Jacob Chapter 5 and a Book of Mormon Class at CCH

There was this one day in my Book of Mormon class; something uncommon happened: Uncommon, because I was exited this day about what we discussed in class. Sometimes, we take our religion classes for granted, especially if we were born and raised in the Church. There were many days when my attitude was dull and typical about my religion class. Many of you understand very well what I mean. But this one day, I remember, was not one of them.

Jacob chapter 5 was our topic of discussion. It got me engaged. Now one else knew I was having an unusual day. I gave no reason for anyone to believe I was having a very special day. I asked so many questions, quietly, to myself. I was a typical Pacific Islander: Ask no questions of the teacher and pretend 'no need worry'. This however, began a private quest for personal understanding. Today's Lecture has become a way of consolidating answers to some of the questions asked that day in my Book of Mormon class.

I do not remember any other particulars of that day. I simply remember an insatiable feeling that I needed to know more about this allegory of the Olive Tree. Jacob 5 by Zenos really captured my interest. I felt a simple sincere desire to understand the message of the story. It persisted and It never went away. Soon I was wondering about it and its possible connection to my identity as a Pacific Islander. Thus was the origin of a never-ending search for meaning and deep understanding of a topic I consider at the core of Pacific Island psyche (spirit). No wonder this chapter, Jacob 5, is characterized as "the lengthiest and perhaps the most complex chapter in the Book of Mormon." (Joseph Fielding McConkie & Millet, 1988).

Further, Millet wrote that:

"...the allegory of Zenos is a prophecy of comic scope, an oracle without peer. It is of itself more than an adequate response to the allegation that the Book of Mormon is that work of a farm boy turned theologian. Its complexity combined with is consistency bears eloquent witness that the Book of Mormon came trough Joseph Smith, not from him." (48)

I had particular interest in some of the verses, especially those regarding "these young and tender branches," being " the nethermost parts of the vineyard....according to his will and pleasure" so "that I may preserve unto myself the natural branches of the tree; and that I may lay up fruit" (verses,13,14).

I was also curious about the exchange between the master and the servant in which the servant asked, "how comest thou hither to pant this tree?... it was the poorest spot in all the land of the vineyard." To which the master replied, "counsel me not; I know that it was the poorest spot in all the land of the vineyard"(verse 21).

Having a sincere desire to have a personal understanding of these verses, I found comfort in the words of Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve. He explained:

"Scripture reading may...lead to current revelation on whatever [subject] the Lord wishes to communicate to the reader at that time.

"Because we believe that scripture reading can help us receive revelation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures again and again" ("Scripture reading and Revelation," Ensign, Jan. 1995, 8).

Additionally, using Nephi's guideline to " liken all scriptures unto you, that it might be for our profit and learning"4  along with the knowledge that a parable or allegory can have global as well specific meanings at differing periods of time, I feel confident to suggest that the " n atural young and tender branches" refers to Pacific Islanders. They were placed in the farthest quarters of the earth for a purpose of preserving some of the identifying divine characteristics of God-fearing group of people who are of the house of the Israel.

Thus, there is great meaning, purpose and direction in the commentary that "God placed individuals and groups in locations and circumstances which will maximize their potential for growth and spiritual development and that they might serve as the leaven of the loaf" (McConkie & Millet, 1988, 53).

The use of the word "hid" and the phrase "according to his will and pleasure" to describe the way these natural branches (Pacific Islanders) were "placed" suggests that they were placed in such a way and in such places that their identities would be unknown (or known vaguely) to themselves or to others who might be interested in knowing more about them. It seems that this also has reference to the confusion and great debate among scientists, historians, and social scientists regarding the true origin of and the most probable migration theory about the Pacific Islanders. Of course only God knoweth everything about them because they were never out of his sight. That is why, I believe, he emphasized frequently that "I have nourished it this long time."

The phrase, "It was the poorest spot in all the land of the vineyard," appears to be quite descriptive of the conditions of the Pacific Islands in many ways. The territory of the Pacific Islands is full of disadvantages: isolation, limited natural resources, limited opportunity for university education, small skilled work forces, vulnerability to natural disasters, high population density, poverty, limited sea-worthy means of transportation, high stratified societies, high imports with low export potential, high dependency on foreign aid, etc..

However it is within the bounds of these glaring limitations, I believe, that God proceedeth to do miracles and, thus, fulfill his purposes. And if we are in tune, we will be blessed to understand that teaching moments He subtly weave into the fabric of our daily lives which may be frustrating or joyful experiences.

Therefore, it should become apparent to us why the Master answered to his servant in such fashion, " counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor sport of the ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time" (verse 22). President Ezra Taft Benson stated it best when he said:

" and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that he can make a lot more of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace." (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 361)

Part 3: The Pacific Island Identity as the Pacific Way

About six years ago Dr. Paul Spickard, our Division Chair at the time, spoke with me about developing a Special Topics course. He said, "How about a course to be called Psychology 390R: Pacific Island Psychology." I said, "that sounds very good." Really, I was not sure of myself. Nevertheless, I submitted a proposal. Dr Burroughs and Dr. Robertson helped with the approval process. Shortly, they told me, that my new course was approved; it looked very interesting. I am indebted to them for their insistence and patience. I will say this, that this Pacific Islands Psychology course is opening windows of appreciation and new meanings never available to me before. I hope, in all sincerity, that it is likewise for my students.

In this course over the past semesters, I require each student to take a Pacific Island culture and do a thorough research and identify the commonalities in the culture as compared to my traditional identity model (Anga Fakatonga: Anga Faka'apa'apa, Anga 'Ofa, Loto Mateaki, and Lotu), Identified in Part I of this Lecture. Students also indicate the uniqueness of that culture and how it is contributing to international peace. As expected, they found a lot of commonalities among Polynesian cultures. What was surprising were the number of commonalities of Polynesian cultures with Micronesian and Melanesian cultures.

This has led me to consider very seriously adopting my traditional cultural identity,  Anga Fakatonga as the Pacific Island Identity. Going one step further, I would like to propose that this same Pacific Island Identity be also christened as The Pacific Way

The phrase The Pacific Way is one that was coined by Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara of Fiji. He was using the phrase in the different contexts of politics and economic developments, but the theme remains the same. That is, "people of different races, opinions and cultures can live and work together for the good of all, can differ without rancor, govern without malice, and accept responsibility as reasonable people intent on serving the interests of all" (Mara, 1997).

He tells us in is own words: "I coined the phrase [The Pacific Way] more than twenty-five years ago, and it has been my touchstone ever since. I am still confident that therein lies the realization on Fiji's future." (preface, xvi)

With faith and confidence, I reaffirm Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara's Declaration that herein, inherent in The Pacific Way, lies the realization of the future of the Pacific Islands. Dr. Sione Latukefu said that The Pacific Way is a modern concept and that it "is for the present and future generations of Pacific Islanders to develop" (Presidential Lecture, BYUH, Laie, Nov 1990).

We should be guided in our pursuit of The Pacific Way  by the advice of Elder Richard G. Scott, who said:

"Where family or national traditions or customs conflict with the teachings of God, set them aside. Where traditions and customs are in harmony with His teachings, they should be cherished and followed to preserve your culture and heritage." (in Conference Report, Apr. 1998, 114: or Ensign, May 1998, 87)

It may seem to some that the sacredness and magnitude of our duty to preserve a cultural way of life that is consistent with gospel principles may be impractical. But if there is anything of our cultures that is worthy of preserving, like The Pacific Way, then it is imperative that we exercise utmost care and expend a great deal of energy to see that those values and traditions are maintained and passed on to future generations. We are hopeful that " others" may embrace it, too.

The words of Father Edward Tremblay to his congregation in Tonga, in the presence of Queen Salote Tupou III, are most instructive to us all. They remind use of our identity and the purpose of our being in the vastness of the Pacific. He provides, I believe, a summary of the essence of The Pacific Way: This is our commodity we hope to offer as our contribution to international peace.

Father Tremblay said: "In Tonga you have no silver mines or gold mines, as some countries have. But you have far more precious treasure, fe'ofo'ofani (brotherly love). You have that wonderful family spirit, that willingness to help each other . That is your God-given gold and silver. That is you treasure..."

I am persuaded that this is just as applicable to all the other Pacific Islands. It should be noted as a caveat that the King of Tonga in the 1970s contracted with several oil companies to drill for oil in various locations in Tonga. The result was no oil. That really killed the excitement of the Kingdom for material prosperity. To some observers, it was a blessing in disguise.

Part 4: The Pacific Islanders' Challenge for the 21st Century:

Pacific Islanders are Lamanites in the isles of the sea. They are descendants of the sons of Lehi, who was a descendant of Manasseh, the son of Joseph, the son of Jacob, whose name was called Israel, who was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. With this lineage flow blessings, but also with added sacred responsibility and challenges.

President Kimball, in an area conference in Mexico in 1977, spoke of what he saw in the future for the Lamanites. He said:

"As I looked into the future, I saw the Lamanites from the isles of the sea and Americas rise to a great destiny. I saw great numbers of the Lamanites... in beautiful homes that have all the comforts that science can afford.

"In my dream I no longer saw you the servants of other people. I saw you the employers. I saw you the masters, owners of banks and great political positions and functioning as administrators over the land... as doctors and lawyers. Many of your people I saw were writing books and magazine articles and continuing to have a powerful influence on the though of the country...

"Now, that was my dream. Maybe it was a vision. Maybe the Lord was showing to me what this great people would accomplish." ( Church News, February 26, 1984)

Consider also the words of Dr. Sylvester M. Lambert, an American physician who was working in Fiji in 1924. He traveled throughout the different Pacific islands; he had great admiration and deep respect for the Pacific islanders' way of life. Of the people of the Pacific islands, he said:

"It needed no British or American schoolmaster to teach them kindness and neighborly generosity that are the aims of higher civilization. They have these things, which are at the heart of social happiness. The time will come when he [the islander] will become our teacher . Not in the science of war, God deliver us, but in the more difficult art of living together in harmony and peace." (quoted by Donna Gerstle in Gentle People, 1973; also Lambert, 1941, 385-386)

I believe that Dr. Lambert was making a prophetic statement. As Dr. Latukefu has said, that The Pacific Way  is a concept for future generations of Pacific Islanders to develop, I say likewise that "the time will come" is now. We ought to prepare ourselves and our children to be torch bearers of The Pacific Way.

President James Faust of the First Presidency puts the preparation this way in a talk he gave to the Tongan Saints in their stake conference at the Salt Lake City Tabernacle in 1998:

"You are an American of Tongan descent, thus, you are entitled to all of the privileges and responsibilities of this country. But be careful because it would be a tragedy to give up your Tongan culture. It should be perpetuated, but you must adjust and observe the rules of this! Whatever you can achieve in athletics, you can achieve in academics... You must work hard for an education;..." (President Faust, Stake Conference, Tongan Stake, Tabernacle, SLC, Utah, 1998)

Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (1997) said that it has become "apparent to the indigenous peoples that the key to their future lay in education, and this had to be added to their basic requirements." (Mara, Appendix, 246)

The concept of civility is perhaps the equivalent of what we have termed here as The Pacific Way. I, therefore, plead with you to remember the instructive, yet warning, statement of President Hinckley regarding the balance between civility and being learned:

"Civility is the root of the word Civilization. It carries with it the essence of courtesy, politeness, and consideration of others... All of the education and accomplishments in the world will not count for much unless they are accompanied by marks of gentility, of respect for others, of going the extra mile.

"This is the essence of civility... to extend, without price, a helping or lifting hand to those in need." (Hinckley, 53)

I wish to quote from President Bush's inaugural address. I am thrilled to hear a promising proposition by the Chief of the richest and mightiest nation on earth that is committed to return to the basic principles which the founding fathers said were self-evident objective truths. I hope it is also a return to the acknowledgement that there are moral absolutes. President Bush said:

"Today we affirm a new commitment to live out our nation's promise through civility, courage, compassion and character.

"America, at its best, matches a commitment to  principle with a concern for civility. A civil society demands from each of us good will and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness." (Inaugural Speech, Bush, Washington, printed in Honolulu Advertiser, January 21, 2001, 3)

I hope and pray that the richest and most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America, and the poorest scattered islands of the Pacific, may be able to speak a common language when it comes to civility and moral responsibility. That way, we the Pacific Islanders can make our contribution toward a common cause of the 21st Century and thereby assist in the process of building His kingdom here on earth. May our language which define The Pacific Way  never be confounded.

President McKay said, in dedicating this University:

"The world [and women] who cannot be bought or sold, men [and women] who will scorn to violate truth, genuine gold. That is what this school is going to produce. More that that, they'll be leaders. Not leaders only in the islands, but everywhere. All the world is hungering for them and, best of all, the world is recognizing them." (David O. McKay, February 12, 1955)

Thus, I submit to you that there is divine purpose and meaning in being a part of, in being associated with, and even in learning about Pacific Islanders "in the nethermost parts of the vineyard."

Thank you and tu'a 'ofa atu.


1The conversation with Kelepi 'Ofahengaue took place in May 1994 in the home of his younger brother, Moana 'Ofahengaue, at Hauula, Hawaii. Kelepi is regarded by many on Tongatapu, especially on the eastern part of the island, as a "keeper of Tongan traditions" because of his many years of service as the Pule Fakavahe (equivalent to being a mayor) of his district, which gave him unlimited opportunities to carry out functions of the anga fakatonga for the King and the nobles. He said that Tongans called the Anga Fakatonga as the Faa'i Kavei Koula (Four Golden Strands).

2In a speech he gave at the Tongan Village Culture Day at PCC, Laie, on November 2, 1996, the Honorable Tu'ivakano identified four directives given by Tupou I for his subjects to follow in the teaching the young people of his Kingdom. Tu'ivakano is one of the 33 nobles in the Kingdom of Tonga.

3King Tupou I is the first king of Tonga who finally united the entire Tongan is lands under on ruler in the 1860s. He is often referred to as the Kamehameha I of the Tonga islands, but lived 100 years later than Kamehameha.

41 Nephi 19:23