Church History

“Himene,” Global Histories: French Polynesia (2018)

“Himene,” Global Histories: French Polynesia


Pupu Mama Ruau performing

Pupu Mama Ruau performing, circa 1966.

Before the arrival of European missionaries in the South Pacific, singing was a powerful method for transmitting knowledge throughout the islands. As Christianity spread into the region, many popular Christian hymns were adapted to the traditional polyphonic styles. Telii, one of the first converts from Tubuai in 1844, would share the gospel by gathering groups together at dusk to “sing a new tune over and over, till midnight.” Caroline Barnes Crosby, an early missionary, was deeply impressed by the members’ singing. “Such perfect harmony I never heard before,” she said.

In the 20th century, Saints in French Polynesia worked to preserve traditional singing. During the 1950s, older members taught youth Himene Tarava—a Tahitian choral style that frequently features retellings of Bible stories. The Barcolles, a Latter-day Saint youth choir, soon toured the country performing Himene Tarava in Tahitian, English, French, and Chinese. The Barcolles frequently provided the music during the mission’s weekly broadcast on Radio Tahiti.

Many branches organized choirs and other musical groups. Beginning in 1954, the mission organized annual Soirées Musicales, where many of the branch music groups performed for large audiences. The Pupu Mama Ruau (Grandmothers’ Choir) became popular for their singing and dancing and performed throughout the country, including for French President Charles de Gaulle in 1966.