Marjorie Newton’s “Tiki and Temple” Review

By July 9, 2012

Newton, Marjorie. Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854–1958. Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012. Paperback. 343 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58958-1210. $ 29.95.

Note:  The term Pakeha refers to the white settler population of New Zealand, while the Maori are the islands’ indigenous peoples.

Tucked in the back of Marjorie Newton’s Tiki and Temple is a Maori glossary.  It is possible to read and understand her work without referring to it to discover that a mihi is a greeting or welcoming ceremony or that quarterly conferences were called hui pariha in the Mormon Church in New Zealand.  The glossary’s existence, however, is evidence of Newton’s commitment to writing a history of the Mormon Church in New Zealand that recognizes the contributions of indigenous Maori culture to the church and is meticulous in its detail.  Newton also carefully reconstructs the lives of early Pakeha converts to the church.  As I read Of Tiki and Temple, I was consistently impressed with her careful research and attention-to-detail.  Newton has written the most comprehensive history of the Mormon Church in New Zealand and her work should serve as an example on how to write an engaging local history.

 

Newton begins her book with William Phelps’ description of the Maori people in The Evening and the Morning Star in which he rhapsodized about the beauty of their features and the fact that the Lord would not forget them and would eventually bring the gospel even to the islands of the sea.  Missionaries would not travel to the South Pacific for eleven years and New Zealand for twenty-one years, but Newton dates the beginning of the New Zealand mission from this date because it was the inauguration of interest in the Pacific.  She next traces the histories of families who converted to Mormonism in the 1850s and 60s when the church had difficulty maintaining a missionary presence in the islands.  Early members of the Mormon Church in New Zealand, she points out, were often Pakeha who had converted to the church in England or Germany before moving to the Pacific.  Such men and women could go years without seeing a missionary or finding a Mormon tract.  In addition to these difficulties, early Pakeha converts discovered that disaffected members of the church who had immigrated to New Zealand told their neighbors stories about the theocracy that was growing in the American West and the adoption of polygamy by many of the church’s leaders.  Stories about polygamy fueled an anti-Mormon sentiment and attracted attention to the few missionary efforts that the Mormon Church was able to produce in these years (20 – 21).  Although little attention has been paid to the conversion of Pakeha in mid-nineteenth-century New Zealand, Newton maintains that we would be remiss to ignore the conversion and faith of these men and women.

 

Of course, the far impressive story numerically is the conversion of many Maori to Mormonism.  It is a story that Newton tells well.  Mormon missionaries first began serious proselytizing among the Maori in the 1880s.  Although a few Maori Saints in Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa were quite wealthy, living on large farms with scores of horses, sheep, and cattle, most lived in poverty (44 – 45).  The expropriation of Maori land as a result of the Treaty of Waitangi and the increasing power of the settler government in areas once considered to be under indigenous control had led to a sense of dislocation among many Maori.    In the 1880s, a series of Maori prophets made predictions about the arrival of a church that would challenge the supremacy Church of England and restore the sovereignty of the Maori over New Zealand.  As Newton points out, these predictions were interpreted in a myriad of ways with many groups claiming that they legitimated their church’s authority and claim on the Maori community (41 – 43).  One of the churches who claimed these prophetic announcements as their own was the Mormon Church, which saw them as preparing the Maori for the arrival of the gospel.

 

Newton’s willingness to place these prophesies within their wider historical context and to admit that they were not universally interpreted as heralding the Mormon faith is just one instance of her sensitivity to Maori culture and belief.  She also writes sympathetically about the unwillingness of Maori converts to completely forsake their healing traditions for the administrations of white elders (106 – 107) and describes the role that Hirini Whaanga, a Maori convert who had immigrated to Utah in the 1890s before returning to New Zealand as a missionary, had played in spreading the gospel among native New Zealanders (81 – 89).  Although Newton is clearly sympathetic to the Maori people, she maintains respect and deference to church authorities throughout the book.  She offsets criticisms of the LDS Maori Agricultural College, for example, which failed to maintain academic standards and was eventually censured by the New Zealand government, with praise for the work that the college did in developing the testimonies of the young men who went there (184 – 192).

 

If I were to find fault in the book it would be here.  Newton frequently points to areas where Mormon missionaries and church authorities misunderstood Maori culture and acknowledges the difficulties Maori converts had in meeting the expectations of Maori culture while maintaining the standards of the church.  She discusses, for example, the challenge that missionaries faced in dealing with the facial tattoos, which had been an important part of Maori culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but were falling into disuse by the twentieth.  These tattoos had hereditary meaning for the Maori and signaled their rank and status within the community.  Mormon missionaries, however, believed that they violated the Word of Wisdom and sought to discipline any member who received the tattoos after baptism or augmented already existing ones.  The frequency with which such transgressions occurred, however, forced missionaries to treat the tattoos cautiously.  One woman whom a local Maori branch leader had excommunicated had her sentence remitted to a simple act of public confession (105).  Newton could have used this instance to explore the tensions within the indigenous Maori community in New Zealand over issues of tradition and faith.  Her analysis, however, refuses to push her interpretation this far.  Instead, she simply recounts the incident without engaging in any deep analysis of it.

 

Still, her book is an important one.  It is one of the few works to explore the history of the Mormon Church in New Zealand and is thoroughly researched and documented.  My desire to see her go further in exploring the meanings of the Mormon faith within Maori culture is evidence of the strength of the book rather than its weakness.  Tiki and Temple is one of the few books to take the indigenous Maori perspective seriously and as a result, gives the ability to ask such questions of Mormonism.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Thanks for the review, Amanda. I am, admittedly, woefully ignorant of Mormonism’s history in NZ, in spite of the fact that my grandfather moved his family there in the 1950s to teach at the newly-opened Church College in Hamilton (my father was ordained a deacon while living there), so I look forward to reading this one. It sounds like Newton has provided a well-written narrative and that other scholars interested in the subject can use her book as a starting point to explore other related topics of interest moving forward.

    Comment by Christopher — July 9, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  2. Excellent. Thanks, Amanda.

    Comment by Ben P — July 9, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  3. Thanks for the review.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 9, 2012 @ 9:43 am

  4. Marjorie Newton is currently revising her dissertation for publication, which focuses much more on the sociological aspects of the Mormon NZ mission.

    Comment by the narrator — July 9, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

  5. Chris, I had no idea that this was part of your family history. I was pleasantly surprised with Newton. It was much, much better than what I was expecting. It helps that she’s an Australian (I think?) writing about the Southern hemisphere, and thus, picks up on details others would miss.

    The Narrator, I look forward to her revised dissertation. The rest of her work has been great, so the diss should be, too!

    Comment by Amanda HK — July 9, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

  6. Based on your review, Amanda, my dad just bought a copy today.

    Comment by Christopher — July 9, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  7. Awww! I feel responsible now for whether or not he enjoys the book. He should, though, a good two or three chapters are on the period where your grandfather would have been in New Zealand.

    Comment by Amanda HK — July 9, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

  8. Thanks for the review, Amanda. Looking forward to reading it.

    Comment by Jared T — July 9, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

  9. Amanda, thanks for the review. What is Newton’s training in? And do you get a sense that Newton is familiar with the literature on postcolonialism/settler colonialism? My guess from your critique that she isn’t, but I figured I’d ask.

    Comment by David G. — July 10, 2012 @ 10:37 am

  10. David, I don’t for sure what field her training is in (I’ve looked) but based on the text I would guess history. She doesn’t engage in a lot of literary or anthropological analysis. I didn’t get the sense that she’s familiar with the literature on postcolonialism or settler colonialism. That said, debates over academic history and its relationship to colonialism have had a much wider resonance in Australia and NZ because of the awareness brought by debates over residential schools in the former and land tribunals in the latter. Sometimes this awareness pops up but it’s never very extensive. I’d be interested to see if she deals with this more thoroughly in the diss that the narrator mentions.

    Comment by Amanda — July 10, 2012 @ 12:28 pm


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