This two-part episode features a fascinating, dynamic, and soaring discussion that takes us into the experiences, cultures, and elements of the worldviews of Latter-day Saints from Pacific Island nations. We learn pieces of the history of two of these nations as it relates to the LDS Church taking hold there, what elements resonate with those who are from the “islands of the sea” (D&C 1:1; 2 Nephi 29:11), and the ways that Mormonism integrates into the daily lives of, especially, Maori and Tongan Saints–including places where Polynesian culture does not allow white Mormon practices and ways of seeing to penetrate, such as with the ceremonial use of kava, notions of family and various power dynamics within families, and funeral practices. In letting us into their lives and perspectives, the panelists also take us deep into the experience of forming identities shaped by both Polynesian and white cultures, which also allows us to see very clearly how there truly are no “neutral” spaces–how “whiteness” carries values and perspectives that are often invisible if not explored through the comparative process. In this Mormon Matters episode, we are privileged to have powerful and open yet charitable guides into these (often wonderfully evocative) tensions.
Some of the specific topics discussed in this episode: Polynesian views of passages in the Book of Mormon that seem to tie darker skin with unrighteousness; the Church-run Polynesian Cultural Center, “performing indigenity,” and both the difficult tensions some experience related to different modesty standards as well as the positive ways that performing culture for entertainment purposes can lead to increased opportunities for people from these island nations; mixed views among Tongan Mormons about the film The Other Side of Heaven; the hyper-sexualization and sometimes infantilizing of Polynesian peoples; how gender roles often play out in much more balanced ways in Maori and Tongan cultures than they do in typical U.S. Mormonism; grieving styles; and some of the consequences for Polynesian youth in Utah and the U.S. of identity diminishment from language loss and separation from one’s family’s roots and cultural history. Then in the podcast’s transcendent final twenty-five minutes, we are privileged to hear firsthand from our panelists telling about their lives and work exactly what it means to claim an identity and embrace the responsibilities that come with that choice.
This episode features panelists Gina Colvin, a Maori Latter-day Saint living and teaching in New Zealand, and Anapesi Ka’ili and Luana Uluave, two Tongans with strong roots in both Tongan families and Utah Mormonism who share a great love for the gospel and each part of their identity but also have wonderful independent perspectives. Mormon Matters friend Joanna Brooks and host Dan Wotherspoon facilitate the discussion, but they are mostly simply thrilled to play a small part in bringing this discusion to listeners. One of the best Mormon Matters episodes of all time–informative, humbling, inspiring!
Please listen and join the conversation in the comments section below!
Link to Gina Colvin’s blog, KiwiMormon