Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz / Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
530-898-6220 [Office]; 530-898-6192 [Dept.] FAX: 530-898-6824
e-mail: / home page:

2 February 1998 [1]

[NOTE: This page was printed from]

© This paper was originally was originally published on July 15, 1976 in The Tonga Chronicle (Nuku'alofa, Tonga, page 7) and was placed on the WWW in 1998 without any changes from the original.)

"The spot on which we are about to live is called Amelica, for America."

With these words, the Reverend John Thomas established his mission station on Tongatapu on 27 July 1826. I have been researching "things Tongan" since 1970, and late in that year I discovered these intriguiging words in a microfilm copy of the Journal of John Thomas, located in the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia.

The Reverend John Thomas set sail from England on April 27, 1825 and after sailing to Australia, he and his small (but determined party) eventually sailed to Tonga. The missionaries on the Elizabeth, the Reverend John Thomas and John Hutchinson and their families, sighted the islands of 'Eua and 'Eueiki on June 23, 1826. After eventually landing at Nuku'alofa and meeting with Aleamotu'a, Thomas and Hutchinson decided to establish their mission station in Hihifo, under Ata.

Much has been written about various Europeans and their influence in introducing Christianity to Tonga, but it should be pointed out that an incident took place on Tongatapu in April 1826 which might have been something which made the way easier for Thomas and Hutchinson. In April 1826 two Tahitian teachers of the London Missionary Society stopped at Tongatapu en route to Fiji. The two Tahitians, Hape and Tafeta, were accompanied by a Fijian who had been converted to the LMS Christianity in Tahiti, and one Tongan who had also been converted in Tahiti. The Tongan also had his Tahitian wife with him.

This small group of LMS converts was persuaded to stay in Nuku'alofa by Aleamotu'a and, what is more important, they received his protection. Settled in the area, Hape and Tafeta began to teach the Tongans using a Tahitian translation of the Bible. The two Tahitians, with the assistance of the Tongans, constructed the first church in Tonga and opened the first school. One 20th Century Wesleyan Missionary to Tonga, the Reverend E. E. V. Collocott, once wrote that "these two Pacific Islanders, Hape and Tafeta, are the real founders of the Christian Church in Tonga." (In his unpublished manuscript entitled The Chalice of Life which is available in the Mitchell Library: B1450.)

Islanders have always been important in the Christianization of the Pacific. After the Reverend Walter Lawry arrived on Tongatapu in 1822 he sent two Tongans back to Sydney on the St. Michael. The Tongans served as representatives of Tonga and when the St. Michael made its return trip to Tonga in 1823, the prestigious Sydney Gazette reported in its issue of April 24, 1823, that "Tahtah and Footahcava, the two natives of Tonga, had returned by the St. Michael. These fine men had gone home laden with presents from some of the most distinguished personages in the colony."

When the Reverend Lawry left Tongatapu in 1823 he took two others Tongans away with him: one stayed in Sydney and one, Watson Nau, went on with him to England. Watson Nau, or Tammy Now, as John Thomas wrote of him, was of tremendous importance to the missionaries--on the lengthy voyage from England to Tongatapu, Tammy Now helped John Thomas to learn the Tongan language. When they arrived at Tongatapu, Tammy Now helped the missionaries get established.

The evidence is quite clear that if Tongans had not assisted the various European missionaries who landed in Tonga, the missions would never have been firmly established. This should be of interest to all who have an abiding interest in Tongan history and culture.

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[1] © [All Rights Reserved.] This document was created by Urbanowicz on 2 February 1998; for a 1993 item dealing with "Peoples and Cultures of the Pacific" (including various links) please click here. "Traditional" Urbanowicz publications dealing with Tonga which might be of interest to readers include:

1972 Tongan Culture: The Methodology of an Ethnographic Reconstruction. Copyrighted Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon; also available from Ann Arbor, University Microfilms 73-7972).

1973 Tongan Adoption Before The Constitution of 1875. Ethnohistory, Vol. 20, No. 2: 109-123.

1975a Change in Rank and Status in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga. Psychological Anthropology, edited by T. R. Williams (Mouton), pp..559-75 [identical to 1979a].

1975b Drinking in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga. Ethnohistory, Vol. 22, No. 1: 33-50.

1977a Integrating Tourism With Other Industries in Tonga. The Social and Economic Impact of Tourism on Pacific Communities, edited by B. H. Farrell (Center for South Pacific Studies, UC Santa Cruz), pp. 88-94.

1977b Tourism in Tonga: Troubled Times. Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, edited by V. Smith (University of Pennsylvania), pp. 83-92.

1977c Motives and Methods: Missionaries in Tonga in the Early 19th Century. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 86, No. 2: 245-263.

1978 Brève note sur l'inflation, le tourisme et le Pétrole au Royaume polynésien des Iles Tonga. Journal de la Sociétédes Océanistes, Vol. 36, No. 60:137-138.

1979a Change in Rank and Status in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga. Political Anthropology: The State of the Art, edited by S. L. Seaton and J. M. Claessen (Mouton: The Hague), pp. 225-242 [identical to 1975a].

1979b Comments on Tongan Commerce, With Reference to Tourism and Traditional Life. Pacific Viewpoint, Vol. 20, No. 2: 179-184.

1989 Tourism in Tonga Revisited: Continued Troubled Times? Hosts And Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, edited by V. Smith, 2nd Edition(University of Pennsylvania), pp. 105-117.

1991 Tonga. Encyclopedia of World Cultures, edited by D. Levinson (Boston: Hall-Macmillan), pp. 336-339.

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