News Release

Community Remembers Maupiti Shipwreck Victims in Solemn Ceremony

An historical marker was dedicated in French Polynesia, in memory of Latter-day Saints and others who died in a 1963 shipwreck

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in French Polynesia held a ceremony on Saturday 1 May to unveil an historical marker and to pay tribute to the victims of a tragedy that occurred nearly 60 years ago. The event took place in Maupiti, an island located about 300 kilometres northwest of Pape’ete.

The story of the tragedy begins on 22 May 1963, when a new chapel on the nearby island of Huahine was dedicated. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time and who later became president of the Church, presided at that daylong ceremony and returned to Pape’ete after the services.

That evening, a boat called the Manuia carried Church members from Huahine back to Maupiti. The next morning, as it attempted to cross through the pass in the coral reef that surrounds the island, the boat capsized in the strong currents. Fifteen people were drowned and the Maupiti branch lost fourteen of its members, including ten mothers and four children.

In Pape’ete, Elder Hinckley was told of the disaster and immediately left for Manupiti traveling through the night by boat. The next morning he arrived, embracing and shedding tears with the families as they mourned.

The event on Saturday 1 May 2021 was attended by over 150 people including Church leaders, branch members, survivors and family members of those lost in the disaster. Each victim was represented by one or more descendants. Emotions were intense at every moment of the ceremony, especially the reading of the names of the victims. Everyone shared how they felt their presence at the ceremony.

Spiritual music was provided by the Maupiti Choir who sang in French and Tahitian.

Speakers included Holly Hinckley Lesan, granddaughter of President Hinckley, who addressed the meeting with a pre-recorded message in French. She recounted how much the experience of Maupiti had meant to her grandfather.

“I think if my grandfather were speaking today instead of me, he would express his deep love for the Saints of the isles of the sea. He would bear testimony of the reality of the resurrection of our Saviour, of the sure knowledge that those who lost their lives that terrible day in Maupiti will live again, and that we will be with them again someday. The tragedies of mortality cannot frustrate the magnificence of our eternal journey.”

The Maupiti story was covered by Tahitian TV with this story in the Tahitian language. Story begins at 15:17. Video courtesy of TNTV. 

A second story was in French beginning at 20:24.

The services were concluded with a pre-recorded video presentation in French and Tahitian from Elder Ian S. Ardern, president of the Pacific Area of the Church, who spoke from his office in Auckland.

He said, “When tragedy comes, and it will come to each of us, we find comfort in the Doctrine of Christ. That doctrine assures us that there will be a resurrection and that we will live again. We also know that all our ancestors are important to us. Most do not have a monument raised in their honour and nor would they expect one but surely, we honour them by the way we live our lives. I know that the people of Tahiti are not forgotten by the Lord.”

After the program, the congregation gathered on the grounds outside the Maupiti chapel. Moana Teriipaia, President of the Bora Bora Stake, and Mark Banner, President of the French Polynesia Mission, joined with Alice Atuahiva, Deputy Mayor of Maupiti, and assisted Elder Sinjoux to unveil the historical marker. Then Elder Sinjoux, the Area Seventy for French Polynesia, offered a heartfelt, emotional prayer of remembrance. The marker tells the story in both French and Tahitian and sits on the grounds facing the sea surrounded by rugged, green hillsides and a beautiful white chapel.

The Mayor of Maupiti, Woullingson Raufauore, welcomed the delegation of Church leaders led by Elder Sinjoux upon their arrival. “I thank The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for doing this commemoration. To do it is extraordinary because at one time or another, we all have a duty to remember the people who have served with us.”

Mihimana Pahuiri lost his wife and toddler in the tragedy. “This event was a real test, and the growth of the Church in Maupiti could have stopped. But it was the faith of the members that made it possible to continue to bring the gospel to life. I was not a member of any church at the time of the tragedy, but my wife was a member. I decided to get baptized so that I could go to the temple and be sealed with my wife and child.”

Elder Sinjoux recalled the words of the visiting Apostle in 1963. “Elder Hinckley said, ‘I will never forget Maupiti.’ In the same way, our Heavenly Father and His Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will never forget us. Their greatest desire is to invite us to return to Their presence after this life.

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