Church History

“Iosepa,” Global Histories: Hawai’i (2019)

“Iosepa,” Global Histories: Hawai’i


In April 1854 a recently orphaned 15-year-old named Joseph F. Smith (who would one day become the sixth President of the Church) was called on a mission to Hawai‘i. Before leaving, Smith was promised in a blessing that “by the gift of God as well as by study” he would learn Hawaiian. “This people are very kind,” Smith wrote after reaching Hawai‘i, “and will do all they can to assist us to learn the language.” Within three months, Smith was praying, conducting meetings, singing hymns, delivering sermons, and administering ordinances in Hawaiian.

As Smith served alongside, worshipped with, and lived among the Hawaiian Saints, he developed a deep love for them. The Saints also had a great affection for Smith, whom they called “Iosepa.” Near the end of his mission, Smith fell ill. He was taken in at the home of Ma Manuhi‘i, a 25-year-old member on Moloka‘i, who nursed him back to health and became like a mother to him.

Throughout Joseph F. Smith’s life, Saints in Hawai‘i were never far from his thoughts. In 1864 he returned to Hawai‘i to correct the problems created by Walter Murray Gibson’s negative influence and help establish a new gathering place. On another mission there from 1885 to 1887, he became particularly interested in helping the Hawaiian Saints receive temple blessings.

In 1887, with Hawai‘i’s laws restricting emigration relaxed, Smith helped some Hawaiian Saints gather to Utah. Language barriers and racial prejudice, however, made it hard for many to find work in Salt Lake City. In 1889 a committee, which included three Hawaiian brethren, selected a settlement site 75 miles away in the Skull Valley. Hawaiian Saints named their town Iosepa and did their best despite how difficult life in the desert was.

In 1915 Joseph F. Smith, now President of the Church, visited Hawai’i once again. When he arrived, an elderly woman ran to him calling, “Iosepa, Iosepa!” Turning, President Smith recognized Ma Manuhi‘i. “Mama, Mama,” he said as he embraced her. “My dear old Mama!” As he traveled the islands, he marveled at the progress of the Saints there. One evening, Smith, Apostle Reed Smoot, and Presiding Bishop Charles Nibley walked the ground of the I Hemolele chapel, a meetinghouse in Lā‘ie. As they walked, Smith felt impressed that a temple should be built where the meetinghouse stood and immediately dedicated the ground.

Joseph F. Smith with members in Lā‘ie

Photograph believed to be taken at the dedication of the Laie Hawaii Temple on November 27, 1919.

Although he died before the temple was dedicated, the Laie Hawaii Temple blessed those Smith loved. After the temple dedication in 1919, Ma Manuhi‘i was among the first Saints to receive temple ordinances. She said that as she participated in the temple ceremonies, she “heard the voice of the late Pres[ident] Smith say Aloha to her.”