Service had just begun on this day, November 12, 1815, in Tahiti, when musket shots rang out. Christian worshippers saw an armed throng advancing, bearing aloft their pagan god, Oro. "It is war--it is war!" they shouted.
The eight hundred Christians were not taken completely by surprise. Warned secretly by someone from the enemy camp, King Pomare II had posted guards outside the church at Bundahia.
As a Christian (in name at least), Pomare faced rebellion, fomented by heathen priests who saw their power slipping away. The strength of the heathen had been so great that, for a time, Pomare and his followers had to flee to Eimeo, a smaller island. But fighting among those who rejected Christianity and the death of one of their leaders had cleared the way for Pomare to return to the main island. But now, under the leadership of Umpufara, the pagan rebels once again determined to overthrow their Christian king.
Directed by a calm King Pomare, the Christians gathered to face their foes on the sands of the shore. With them were also some heathen who remained faithful to their king. Christians, at their own request, set themselves in the forefront of the battle line, so that they could shield their heathen allies with their bodies and give them another chance to seek salvation--that is how confident the Christians were of their heavenly destination.
The heathen charged with furious yells. Pomare shot with unerring aim. Here and there Christians knelt briefly to pray before leaping into battle. The queen's sister, Vahine, dressed in an armor of cords, fought boldly beside the men.
Umpufara went down, shot through the body. When he fell, the rebels broke and fled, with the Christians in hot pursuit. That is when Pomare and his followers showed that the gospel had made a strong impression on them. Always in the past, the victors showed no mercy to the vanquished. But Pomare shouted "A ti ra!"--It is enough. The victorious Christians knelt on the seashore and gave thanks. Instead of gloating over the fallen dead, they buried them. The idol Oro was stripped of all its trappings which the Christians burned. Pomare would use the god as a clothes tree!
Other idols were also consigned to the flames. The beaten pagans, hiding in the woods and hills saw the smoke and thought their homes were being burned. That was the traditional behavior of victors in Tahiti's civil wars. Past practice also told them that their wives and children had been slaughtered.
Imagine their surprise when they crept down from the hills to find their houses still standing, their wives and children alive. Not only so, but they learned that Pomare had promised free pardon to all who laid down their weapons.
"The whole of the Gospel of Jesus Christ seemed to go forth to the poor heathen in this one splendid action of love and mercy," wrote H. R. Haweis. "The contrast of this campaign with every other campaign was too dramatic; it overwhelmed them; it melted them; it did more to convert the island than all the sermons in all the chapels in Eimeo and Tahiti; but was it not the fruit of these sermons?"
Pomare II regained control of his original island and an era of peace dawned there, although he used the new religion as a tool in an effort to gain dominance over other local islands.
- Davies, John. The History of the Tahitian Mission, 1799-1830. Cambridge [Eng.] Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1961.
- Haweis, H. R. Travel and Talk, 1885-93-95. (1896).
- Various encyclopedia articles on Tahiti.
Last updated June, 2007