Mua, Tongatapu, Tonga
The first Latter-day Saint missionaries to Tonga arrived in July 1891, according to historians familiar with LDS Church’s history in the country. Elders Brigham Smoot and Alva John Butler sailed from their mission in Samoa to open the work in Tonga as a district of the Samoan Mission.
After searching for a place to have a mission home, the decision was made to establish the mission headquarters at Mua, a village on the island of Tongatapu, some 20 miles from the capital of Nuku’alofa. There they able to lease a nice piece of land from Prime Minister Tukuaho for an annual rental of $20. They had to send to New Zealand to purchase 5,000 feet of lumber to construct a mission home.
Because of the small number of converts, the Tongan District was closed in April 1897. Missionaries serving in Tonga were sent back to continue their missionary labors in Samoa. In 1907, the Tongan Islands were again opened as a district of the Samoan Mission. Nine years later, on May 10, 1916, the Tongan Mission was opened independent of the Samoan Mission. Willard L. Smith served as the first mission president. After 50 years of significant struggles, the next 50 years have seen remarkable growth of the LDS Church in the Kingdom of Tonga. The year 2016 marked the centennial of when Tonga became its own mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In addition to activities from parades and marches, dances, feasts, firesides and cultural celebrations for the youths, the Tonga Mission Centennial Celebration was the Aug. 8 unveiling and dedication of a monument commemorating the first century of the Tongan Mission. Funded by descendants of early Tongan missionaries and the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, the monument was placed at Mua, the site where the first mission home was constructed in the early 1890s. This symbolic piece was created by LDS sculptor Viliami Toluta’u, who was born and raised in Tonga and now teaches sculpting at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. The wooden piece on the top of the monument represents different types of support in different stages of life. The monument was dedicated by Elder Aisake Tukuafu, Area Seventy.
His Majesty King Tupou VI and Her Majesty Queen Nanasipau’u attended the dedication of the monument as did their son, Prince Ata and their nephew, Prince Tungi Mailefihi Tukuaho, who owns the land where the monument is located. Presently, Tonga has the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints of any nation on earth. A drive through any of the three major island groups, Tongatapu, Ha’api and Vava’u, shows village after village with well-maintained LDS chapels. There are 166 congregations in this island nation of approximately 106,000 people.
Map & Directions
From the center of the capital city, Nuku’alofa, take Taufa’ahau Road heading southwest for about 19 kilometers (12 miles) to Mua. The site of that first mission home and the new monument will be on the left side of the road. The gps coordinates are: 21°11’10.66″ S; 175°07’27.38″ W.
The land on which the centennial monument of the Tongan Mission is located is owned by a member of the royal family. Presently (2016), it is open to the public. There is no charge to stop and view the site. The monument and well are situated close to a private dwelling so consideration with regard to their privacy is expected.
Articles & Resources
Historical information provided by Fred Woods of Brigham Young University, Viliami Toluta’u and Riley Moffat of Brigham Young University-Hawaii; Lei Tupou, a former mission president; and Eric B. Shumway, Tongan Saints: A Legacy of Faith.