“Blessed by Mama Taamino,” Ensign, Apr. 2010, 61–62
When I met Taumatagi Taamino, I was a young missionary laboring in my own country. An aging widow, Sister Taamino was slightly bent over from age and hard work, but she always extended her arms to greet my companion and me and kiss us on both cheeks, as is the custom in French Polynesia.
Sister Taamino was frail, and her walk was slow and deliberate, but she took care of everyone. She even made sure that my companion and I always had clean, ironed clothing. Children loved to be around her because she welcomed them and listened to what they had to say. She lived a simple life in a two-room home surrounded by sand, palm trees, family, and friends. Out of respect, everyone called her “Mama Taamino.”
The Tahiti Papeete Mission president had assigned my companion, Elder Tchan Fat, and me to help prepare a group of 80 Latter-day Saints to receive their endowments and be sealed as families in the nearest temple—the Hamilton New Zealand Temple, five hours away by plane. Mama Taamino had traveled to the temple every year for six years, and this year she would go again. I wondered how she could afford such expensive trips when her living conditions were so meager. Six years later I learned the answer.
In 1976, as president of the Papeete Tahiti Stake, I regularly inspected the stake’s meetinghouses. One day at noon I stopped at the chapel in Tipaerui. At the time, we had paid custodians, and there I found Mama Taamino, now in her late 60s, working as a custodian to help support her large family. She greeted me with her usual “Come and eat,” but I replied, “Mama Taamino, you are not young anymore, and for lunch all you are having is a small piece of bread, a tiny can of sardines, and a little bottle of juice? Aren’t you earning enough to have more food than this?”
She replied, “I’m saving to travel to the temple again.” My heart melted with admiration for her example of love and sacrifice. Mama Taamino traveled to the temple in New Zealand nearly 15 times—every year until the Papeete Tahiti Temple was dedicated in October 1983. At the dedication she radiated joy.
In 1995, this time as a mission president, I saw Mama Taamino again. She had moved back to the atoll of Makemo, not far from her birthplace. Now in her 80s, she could no longer walk, but the wrinkles of her face expressed peace, patience, and a deep understanding of life and the gospel. She still had a beautiful smile, and her eyes showed pure charity.
Early the next morning I found her seated in one of the meetinghouse flower beds, weeding and cleaning. One of her sons had carried her there. After she finished one area, she would use her hands and arms to move herself to the next area. This was her way of continuing to serve the Lord.
In the late afternoon when I was conducting temple recommend interviews, Mama Taamino was brought to where I was seated in the shade of a tree near the chapel. She wanted the opportunity to answer each question required for a temple recommend.
“President, I cannot go to the temple anymore,” she said. “I am getting old and sick, but I always want to have a current temple recommend with me.”
I could tell how much she wanted to return to the temple, and I knew that her longing was acceptable to God. Not long afterward, she left her earthly tabernacle to join those she had faithfully served in the house of the Lord. She took with her nothing but her faith, testimony, kindness, charity, and willingness to serve.
Mama Taamino was a true Polynesian pioneer whose example blessed many of her brothers and sisters—including me.