French Polynesia Case Study

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The following case study was written by a former volunteer at the Family History Library discussing how she learned about her French Polynesian ancestry:

1. The first thing I did was to talk to my mother and ask what information she had.

My mother kept her genealogy in a book. It was legal size, like the archive binders. She would read to me out of it, but would not let me borrow it to copy it down in writing. She wanted me to memorize it. There were 7 of these books. My mother gave them to some missionaries to bring to Headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have them input for the IGI and Ancestral file. They were supposed to have been taken here. I have not seen them since. But, the information for my ancestors is in the IGI, so I am assuming the information got there.

2. I copied the information from the IGI and put in on a pedigree chart.

3. I looked on the Internet on and got a lot of information.

One line goes back to 1513. The Internet makes it possible. I copied that information onto the pedigree chart.

4. I remembered the stories my mother told me about my ancestors .

This way, I could put them together with other information I got as clues to lead me to more information. I saw that my cousins had researched the same people, but listed different dates and sometimes different spellings of the names.

5. I’m writing the stories that go along with the names, dates, and places so other people can understand why my ancestors lived where they did, and what the sacrifices were that the ones who were early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made for their faith.

The following story is what I remember of what my mother told me.

"My great grandfather was born in France ( See pedigree chart which records him as Pierre Jules Buchin, born in 1833. below).

Tehaavi pedigree.png

He married a woman whose father was English. (The pedigree chart shows her as Elizabeth Moehauti P. Gibson, whose father is Andrew Gibson, born in Liverpool England in 1813 and her mother as Vahinerii Moehauti Pupa).

My mother’s people were born in Taega (pronounced Taenga), which is in the western part of the Tuamotu Islandsto the east of the island of Anaa.

Historical background

A powerful sect which combined Tahitian traditions with Christian ideas called the Mamaia rose up in the island of Tahiti in about 1827. They were rebelling against the teachings and power of the Christian missionaries. They had Mana, or power. This sect did not keep the ways of Mana according to the Tup`una, who are our ancestors. Mana is like the priesthood, and they did not keep the rules of it. To gain more power, the Mamaia told people they had to join them or be killed. The other choice was to flee. This sect and others, along with drought and over-population and seeking for freedom caused many of the people to migrate to other islands.

The Sacred Land of Hawaiki” which some Maoris refer to as the place where their ancestors came from is Raiatea, in the Leeward Islands. They call it “Hawaiki Nui” and it has a place on it called “Taputaputea,” which is a holy place. It is a small triangle of land and it contains a wooden platform which is built high and has three levels. The levels represent to the islanders what we think of as Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial glories. (There is a picture of one of these “prayer platforms” in Cole and Jensen’s Israel in the Pacific, Page 146.) 

Each island had a Taputaputea, which would face either north, south, east, or west. At the time when the Mamaia were in power, they destroyed many of these Taputaputeas in order to bring down the power of the priests.

Queen Pomare fought against the Mamaia chiefs. They finally all died out.

My mother’s father’s family lived on the island of Anaain the Tuamotos. In 1845, the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Benjamin Grouard and Addison Pratt were having great success on the island of Anaa. They baptized almost every inhabitant of the island, and there were 3,500 members and 7 branches of the Church in the late 1840's. The members were strong and faithful, and by 1852, the Church had spread, scattered on 20 islands.

The Catholic Church, being the national church of the French Protectorate which was in power at the time, became concerned and started to persecute the Latter-day Saints. They passed a law against Latter-day Saints meeting together, even in family homes. They were forbidden to read, sing, and pray, and were continually watched.

At this time, Church brethren were imprisoned in Tahiti and in Anaa. My ancestors hid in caves under the reef by day and got their food by night. They built canoes and provided them with food. The men worked on the canoes while the women got food and clothing ready and put water into gourds for drinking. Some gourds were several feet tall. They only grow on volcanic islands, so families had to trade for them.

They hid the canoe while they built it, and then they finally fled at night. There were two weeks when the sea was calm enough. They had to time their departure so as to not all leave at once. They could guide their canoes at night by looking at the stars. My mother could find places at night by doing the same thing, although I never learned the skill.

The missionaries (Pratt and Grouard) were deported by the government in 1852, and the members were forced to attend the Catholic Church at bayonet point. Six of the native brethren were killed by bayonet, rather than attend the Catholic Church. Finally, the imprisoned native brethren were allowed to return to their homes. But, no other church besides the Catholic Church can have meetings on the island of Anaa, even now.*1

The Church members populated the islands of Taenga, Fakaava, Faaite, Katiu, Makemo, Marutea, Hikuereu, Marokau, and Hao. They lived on their home islands for six months of the year, and then would travel to Hikueru to dive to get pearls and mother of pearl. This is why I was born in Hikueru rather than Taenga.

The members would travel and work together, keeping their organization as branches. They would meet once a month in a church house, and have regular gatherings more often. This kept them from the evils of gambling, drinking alcohol, smoking, etc. that were around them. There is no school during the diving.

The fathers and the oldest boys go diving. The men would dive down, sometimes as deep as 30 yards, holding their breath from 3 to 5 minutes. My grandfather (Kaheke Mariteragi or Fakapeka) was one of the best divers. He could hold his breath for 5 minutes. He made 50 dives a day at the height of his manhood. There are sharks around, and they have to come up gradually after a dive so they won’t get the “bends” from the change in pressure. They have to stop diving at age 55 because it is so hard on them.

The women would make dresses, shirts, and bread to sell. They would dry the abalone meat and get the pearls and prepare the mother-of-pearl in the shells. They would sell the dried abalone meat, the pearls, and the mother of pearl to a Chinese owner. This owner would lend them the money to equip them for the diving voyage. They would dive for 3 weeks to earn the money to repay him. He would pay them for the rest of the things they had gotten from their labors. They lived for the rest of the year on this money, and would go to Tahiti to get the supplies they needed for the rest of the year. My Grandfather was Branch President at Faaite. When children are 8 years old they go to Makemo.

My husband is Emile Auguste Tehaavi. His parents are from the Leeward Islands, Huahine. His family now lives in New Zealand. People of the Tehaavi family are in the Cook Islands also. And in the Mangaia Islands near Rarotonga. It took a fisherman 6 months to sail to Rarotonga from Tahiti a few years ago when he got lost. The winds and currents led him from Tahiti toRarotonga.
My mother’s name was Teuruhei Kokura Mariteragi. I was born on Hikueru. Some of the people there have red hair. Some Stories about Hikueru are that the 5th king went to Bora Bora on his canoe to get his wife. It took him 5 months. The people had to prepare for long voyages, and had to navigate well to reach their destinations.
Tumukiva, the 7th king, also went to Raiatea (near Bora Bora) to get his wife.

Instead of using a canoe, Tumukiva is said to have walked underground through a lava tube. His wife, Tiai Tau (which means Always Waiting), lived by a well. He saw her there. Her husband was always gone a lot on voyages, so he had a bird watching over her. Because Tumukiva came up through a well, the bird didn’t see him. He took her home to be his wife. She had red hair. The people on Hikueru who are of his family have red hair. Tumukiva said “Maehara, taku hinganaui” means “My wish has been fulfilled.”

My ancestors who built the chapel in Takaroa came from Mangareva. They learned to build gothic style churches using crushed coral. The Takaroa chapel was rebuilt, but in the same style as the original one. It is the pride and joy of the Members there. My Great Grandfather, Kaheka Mariteragi, took up the chapel the members of the Church had built in Fakareva and towed it to Takaroa on a platform between 2 canoes. There were no members in Fakareva any more, so he wanted it where the members would be. President Caumet published some pictures of the chapel in a book. He was one of the temple presidents in Tahiti.

There is also a picture of the Mission Schooner. It was in use from 1950 to 1956. I sailed to all of the islands with the mission president when I was a member of the Church Band. He organized it and I was in it for 3 years. I later became a teacher in the elementary schools of our Church. Our home is now in Moorea, Tahiti.