“Conference in Tonga,” Ensign, May 1976, 138
NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga—Amidst continuous rain and, in places, ankle-deep mud, more than 10,000 Tongan Saints gathered at the Church’s Liahona High School here for the two-day area conference in February.
Although heavy downpours flooded the area the day before the conference was to start, the culmination of seven months’ preparations and rehearsals continued.
Skies cleared as President Spencer W. Kimball and his official party landed at Tongatapu’s airport. On hand to welcome them was the eighty-member Church high school band, 200 lakalaka dancers from the northern island group of Vava‘u, and local Saints ready to give a royal welcome complete with sisis (leis), songs, and dances.
A police escort accompanied President Kimball’s motorcade along the seven-mile route from the airport to Sopu, where a traditional welcoming ceremony followed at the Sopu mission home.
On the same day, President Kimball, accompanied by President N. Eldon Tanner and Elder Robert L. Simpson, visited with His Royal Highness Prince Fatafehi Tu‘ipelehake, premier and prince regent. Tonga’s King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV and members of his family were out of the country on tours to India and England.
A huge feast, Tongan-style with more than 180 suckling pigs, preceded the cultural presentation. The rain ceased for a few hours to permit more than 1,000 performers to present dances—some in a sitting position—on a very wet and muddy rugby field. Exuberant dancers from four to sixty years old, accompanied by drums, rose to the occasion for two hours in true Polynesian spirit. Attending the presentation with the Church leaders were Princess Siuilikutapu, parliament’s first and only woman representative, the Honorable Tuita, Tonga’s acting prime minister, and other nobles and government ministers.
In the instructional conference sessions, messages of inspiration were delivered by President Kimball, President Tanner, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Elder Marion D. Hanks, Elder William H. Bennett, Elder Robert L. Simpson, Elder Robert D. Hales, Elder Loren C. Dunn, and Bishop Victor L. Brown.
Also speaking in the three general sessions were four local priesthood leaders, Tevita Kaili, Sione Latu, Vaikalafi Lutui, and Vilipele Folau.
In a stirring message, President Kimball urged the Tongan Saints to stay in Tonga “to make Zion bloom where you are.” He implored Tongans to cooperate in this principle of establishing Zion in Tonga, and to teach truths through the Church schools. (There are two Church high schools and ten middle or junior high Church schools in Tonga, with approximately 2,000 students.) President Kimball said that he hoped the Tongan students attending Brigham Young University-Hawaii Campus would return home at the completion of their schooling and not stay in Hawaii or migrate to the United States mainland.
Music for the general sessions was provided by adult, youth, and Church school choirs.
Many sacrifices were made to attend the conference. Approximately 100 Saints returned from overseas especially for the conference, while others made long boat voyages from the outer islands. One boat arrived from Vava‘u carrying 1,000 men, women, and children who had stood shoulder to shoulder for twenty-four hours. The boat was designed to carry 300.
For Tonga, this was the second visit by a President of the Church. The first was in 1955 when President David O. McKay toured the Pacific. It was President Kimball’s second visit to the islands, though. His first was in 1972, as a member of the Council of the Twelve.
Although the conference days were “rained out,” many considered the rain a blessing, since it tempered what otherwise would have been a very hot and uncomfortable climate.
President Kimball urged the Saints to forget the mud and the rain, but to remember the spirit of the conference and to put into practice the principles and the counsel that they had received.