Nowadays the name Tahiti conjures up images of the ultimate tropical paradise--perhaps even of the paintings of Paul Gauguin. This was not always so. Although the beauty of the islands was admired by the first European explorers to visit them, the savagery of the people was almost without limit.
The Tahitians murdered at the slightest provocation. In the eighteenth century, wars and venereal disease decimated their population. The survivors of wars wore the skins of enemies as trophies. When a temple was built, its roof-stakes were driven through living human sacrifices. Tahitians sacrificed children to volcano gods, water gods and sharks. The old and infirm were buried alive in holes dug to receive them. No girl over twelve remained a virgin. King Pomare I killed an estimated 2,000 men himself. Many of the sorry trends of our own civilization were established reality among that unhappy people.
This was the situation that Henry Nott confronted when he reached Tahiti on this day, March 5, 1797. A bricklayer by trade, he had left his lucrative trade to bring the gospel to those who had never heard it. More than any of the early missionaries to the islands, he was responsible for the conversion of Tahiti. His task proved a long and lonely one.
At first, the missionary had to use a wicked sailor as his translator. The man's godless behavior proved an obstacle to communicating the Word of truth. Henry Nott learned the native language as quickly as he could so he could translate the Bible. The first verse he turned into the Tahitian tongue was John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believed in Him might have eternal life."
God might love the Tahitians, but they neither loved God nor his representatives. They killed some of Nott's companions. Other missionaries fled to another island. A couple became merchants, abandoning mission work altogether. One wed a heathen woman and soon died. By contrast, although Henry Nott's clothes wore out, food was scarce, and he was constantly threatened, he stuck to his task.
Twenty-two years after coming to Tahiti, Nott rejoiced in his first convert, violent king Pomare II, son of Pomare I. The king soon adopted a Christian law code, drawn up by the bricklayer. Henry Nott's God had triumphed. Thanks to John Nott and the workers who joined him, Tahiti was no longer a savage nightmare (although it still had serious problems) when the French impressionist painter Paul Gauguin abandoned Europe under the illusion he was retreating to an unspoiled island paradise.
- Abrams, Cooper. "The Great Commission." http://www.bible-truth.org/msg13.html.
- Harrison, Eugene Myers. "Henry Nott (1774 - 1844) Herald of the Love of God in Tahiti." Giants of the Missionary Trail. http://www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/bionott.html.
- Haweis, Rev. H. R. Travel and talk, 1885-93-95. My hundred thousand miles of travel through America, Australia, Tasmania, Canada, New Zealand, Ceylon, and the paradises of the Pacific. New York, Dodd, Mead, & co., 1896; especially .p 263ff.
- Maugham, W. Somerset. The Moon and Sixpence. Various editions. Although not recommended, this fiction about Charles Strickland was derived from the life of Paul Gauguin and captures the flavor of his illusion.
Last updated May, 2007.