“Centennial of LDS Arrival in Tonga Celebrated,” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 77–78
Thousands of people recently gathered in Tonga, Hawaii, California, and Utah in July and August to celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the first LDS missionaries in Tonga on 16 July 1891.
President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy spoke in the Tabernacle on Temple Square at a July 28 fireside honoring the centennial. The three General Authorities spoke about the blessings Tongan members bring into others’ lives, and the blessings the gospel has brought into Tongans’ lives.
One of the largest gatherings in honor of the centennial was held in northern California on the previous weekend, where some five thousand people, most of them islanders (including many of other faiths), gathered for four days of celebration. Honored at these festivities was Tonga’s Princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita, who traveled from her current home in London, England, to the celebration. At the gathering held in her honor, Princess Tuita invited Elder Groberg, a former mission president in Tonga and currently president of the North America West Area, to sit with her in a place of honor during the events.
In his Salt Lake fireside address, President Monson said the peoples of the islands have been blessed with great gifts: the gift of song, the gift of faith, the gift of love, the gift of obedience, the gift of gratitude. “Faith is so characteristic of the Tongan people,” he said. “Love is part of Tonga and always will be.” He reminded them to be always obedient in order to avoid Satan’s traps.
“I urge you to live true to these four points: (1) remember your roots; (2) honor your heritage; (3) be true to yourself; (4) keep the commandments of God.”
Elder Wirthlin spoke of the impressive commitment of the Tongan people to both freedom and faith in God, particularly since the landmark reign of King George Tupou I, beginning in the 1840s. Elder Wirthlin also noted that the country’s motto is: “God and Tonga is my inheritance.”
Elder Wirthlin pointed out that nearly 29 percent of Tonga’s population is LDS.
Elder Groberg commented that the fireside honored not only the arrival of missionaries in Tonga one hundred years ago but also “the faithfulness of the Saints during those one hundred years.
“The Tongan people have great faith. They have the ability to bring down the blessings of heaven,” he said.
President Monson and Elder Groberg had also participated in a celebration in Hawaii early in July to commemorate the LDS centennial in Tonga. Both spoke on the BYU—Hawaii campus on Saturday morning, July 6, and were honored at a program afterward that featured feasting, dancing, and the presentation of gifts. Elder Groberg also spoke at a fireside at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Sunday, July 7.
During the celebration in northern California, Princess Tuita had not only honored Elder Groberg but also honored Church member Joseph H. Tonga by designating him “talking chief,” or an intermediary to royalty, and naming him Toutaiola, or “successful fisherman,” because of his work as a fisher of men in the Church’s missionary program.
The princess spoke at welcoming ceremonies and other meetings, expressing gratitude for the honor and support she had received. She told young people attending the events that “only by living good Christian principles can you ever make any good thing of your lives.” She encouraged the young people to gain an education, but not to forget their Tongan roots and traditions.
The celebrations honoring the Tongan centennial of the Church included testimony meetings, conferences, dances, feasts, parades, and firesides.
The first convert in Tonga joined the Church a year after the missionaries arrived. The Church grew slowly in Tonga over the next half-century. By 1946, membership was only 2,422. During the last forty-five years, however, membership has rapidly climbed, reaching approximately 310,000—almost 29 percent of the population.
Tonga has one of the most successful local missionary programs in the Church, with other successes achieved through the Church school program, including the Liahona High School, which opened in 1952. A highlight in the history of the Church in Tonga was the dedication of the Nuku‘Alofa Tonga Temple in 1983.