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Pacific Ponderings

Building Roads of the Loving Heart

Dear Ohana:

Had the PCC not been shut down, we would have been celebrating “We Are Samoa” festivities today. I was looking forward to this event more than ever this year because I have been reading my grandfather’s missionary journals to learn about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon in Samoan. As a young mission president in his late 20’s and already serving his second mission to Samoa, my grandfather was asked by the First Presidency to translate the Book of Mormon into Samoan. His journal describes the work of translation in detail, telling how much he and the other missionaries who assisted him translated each day, how he corrected the manuscript with the help of native speakers, brought it to Utah, and oversaw its publication.

My grandfather, who died long before I was born, served three missions in Samoa. I had grown up hearing about his love for Samoa, so I always wanted to visit there. I finally did so in 2017. On my first night in Samoa, I gave a formal talk at the Robert Louis Stevenson home, which I called “Building Roads of the Loving Heart.” I spoke in praise of all those who have tried to build roads of opportunity for the people of Samoa. I include the PCC, BYU–Hawaii, and many of you on the list of road builders for Samoans.

I am sharing a copy of this talk to celebrate Samoa this weekend when we should have been watching fire-knife contests and eating fa’apapa. So a special shout out to Samoa! Fa'afetai!

President John S. Tanner

Building Roads of the Loving Heart

This address was written and delivered by John S. Tanner, president of Brigham Young University–Hawaii, at the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Garden Party on August 17, 2017, at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in Vailima, ‘Upolu, Samoa.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Talofa! It is with great emotion that I greet you today—my first day in Samoa. For reasons that I shall explain more fully later, I have long dreamed of coming to Samoa, a land loved by my grandfather who served three missions here. I feel his presence with me tonight.

We are met this evening to celebrate Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived the last four years of his life here in Vailima, Samoa. He loved Samoa, and the Samoans loved him. They called him Tusitala, meaning writer of books. He died here on December 4, 1894, and, at his request, was buried up on top of Mt. Vaea in a grave that bears this epitaph he wrote:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

This is surely among the loveliest epitaphs ever penned. These lines are well known, as are his classic novels Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Less well known is a speech Tusitala gave to Samoan chiefs at a dinner here in October 1894, about two months before he died. The occasion was a dinner, much like this, given to thank the chiefs for building a road to Vailima, named “The Road of the Loving Heart.” I shall use his speech to the chiefs to frame my remarks in praise of Stevenson and other palagi who have collaborated with native Samoans to build roads of loving hearts here in this beautiful land.

“The Road of the Loving Heart” (or, in a looser translation, “The Road of Gratitude”) was built by the chiefs to acknowledge the kindness and loyalty that had been shown toward them by their friend Tusitala when they were in prison. To express their love and gratitude they built “The Road of the Loving Heart.” To celebrate its completion, Stevenson gave a dinner to honor the chiefs. At the dinner he used the idea of road building as a metaphor for working together for the good of Samoa. He urged the chiefs to continue to be road builders by occupying and using their country before others exploit or extort it from them.

He said to the chiefs,

“I thought the lesson of that road might be more useful to Samoa than a thousand breadfruit trees.”

“I will tell you, Chiefs, that, when I saw you working on that road, my heart grew warm; not with gratitude only, but with hope. It seemed to me that I read the promise of something good for Samoa.”

“There is but one way to defend Samoa,” he continued, “Hear it before it is too late. It is to make roads.”

“I do not speak of this lightly, because I love Samoa and her people. I love the land, I have chosen it to be my home while I live, and my grave after I am dead; and I love the people, and have chosen them to be my people to live and die with.”

“And who is the true champion of Samoa? It is not the man who blackens his face . . . and kills pigs and wounded men. It is the man who makes roads.”

“I wish every chief in these islands would . . . build roads, and sow fields, and plant food trees, and educate his children and improve his talents—not for love of Tusitala, but for the love of his brothers, and his children, and the whole body of generations yet unborn.”

Tusitala himself was such a road builder. His fiction builds roads that carry us imaginatively into realms of high adventures and memorable characters. Similarly, his writing about the South Pacific provided the Western world inroads into the mind and culture and real conditions of life here in the South Pacific. Today, he is increasingly admired for this later work, which challenges imperialist perspectives on indigenous people of the Pacific. He spoke for the people he loved.

Another such road builder is Rex Maughan, who came to love Samoa as a Mormon missionary to Samoa in the late 1950s. Like Stevenson and thousands of other Mormon missionaries, Rex Maughan came to love the Samoan people, culture, and language. He has returned here often to build and bless this country in many ways. In the 1990s, he collaborated with the BYU ethnobotonist Paul Cox to save a rainforest in Savai’i. Paul received the Samoan name of the Warrior Princess Nafanua for his work. Rex would eventually receive the chiefly title of Tiafaiga for this and other projects, such as restoring the Stevenson vila here at Vailima.The museum serves as a tourist attraction that enables others to come to this place and learn about Tusitala and Samoa. Rex has also received the Samoan Order of Merit for his service to Samoa, the highest honor given by the Government. I honor Tusitala and Tiafaiga, as well as Nafanua—all palagi who have worked with native Samoans to build roads of loving hearts.

I also want to honor my grandfather, William Gailey Sears, who served three missions to Samoa. He arrived in Samoa as a 20-year-old missionary in 1893. Thus the first year of his life here in Samoa overlapped the last year of Stevenson’s life. My grandfather returned again as mission president from 1899–1902 and again from 1934–36. Like Tusitala, my grandfather came to love Samoa—its land, culture, language, and people. He, too, was given a Samoan name, Misi Alisa. He gave the name Alisa to Alisa Fanene, who was given the chiefly name Toelupe. We feel honored to be associated with the name Alisa.

Like Tusitala, my grandfather was also a book writer here in Samoa. Not only did he write a detailed journal of his early missions to Samoa, running into hundreds of pages, he also translated and published the Book of Mormon into the Samoan language. His translation was a road of a loving heart on which many Samoans have traveled to taste the fruit that makes one eternally happy. Translating it made my grandfather very happy. His missionary journal concludes: “This work of translating and printing has been the most satisfying labor in which I have ever engaged. May the Lord make this joy everlasting.”

My grandfather also taught school here in Samoa in his early missions. We have pictures of him with several groups of proud students in the 1890s, only a few years after Tusitala told the chiefs that educating their people and helping them improve their talents would bless “generations yet unborn.”

This is still true. Education is a road provided by loving hearts that leads to opportunity for those who receive it and for generations yet unborn.

When I was given my current assignment to serve as President of BYU–Hawaii two years ago, I felt called to be a road builder for Samoans, like my grandfather. I was grateful to be part of a university that has helped and is helping educate hundreds of Samoa’s sons and daughters. BYU–Hawaii is building loving roads to the future.

As president, I have a deep desire to expand its outreach to Samoans here and in the Polynesia diaspora. I am constantly trying to raise money to provide more opportunities for Samoans and other students from Polynesia to study at BYU–Hawaii. Through the generous contributions of people like Tiafiaga [Rex Maughan] and Sita and Todd Jasper, who are with us tonight, BYU–Hawaii provides scholarships and loans to Samoans here and abroad. Those who return home to build Samoa have their loans forgiven! Imagine: they receive an American college education and are able to return home debt free if they stay to build Samoa!

So tonight I honor Tusitala [Robert Louis Stevenson], Tiafaiga [Rex Maughan], Nafanua [Paul Cox], Misi Alisa [William Gailey Sears], Sita and Todd Jasper, and all those who build roads of loving hearts here in Samoa. May you and I also be road builders for “generations yet unborn.”