Glorifying Jehovah’s Name in the Isles of the Sea
IMAGINE the surprise of an explorer who when he sets foot on an “unknown” island finds his country’s flag there right out in the open. Early in the 19th century, John Williams, a member of the London Missionary Society, experienced a similar surprise upon his arrival in Rarotonga, a small island in the Cook Islands, in the south of the Pacific. On this island where he thought himself to be Christendom’s first representative, he discovered an altar in honor of Jehovah and Jesus Christ. The account of his missionary voyages gives the following explanation:
Some years before Williams’ arrival, a woman had come from Tahiti and had spoken to the inhabitants about the wonders she had seen in her native land. She told of the existence of white men called Cookees (after Captain Cook). She described metal tools that they used instead of bones to cut down trees and to make canoes with great ease and speed. But she also told them that the white men worshiped the God Jehovah and Jesus Christ. Thus inspired, the uncle of the king of the island decided to build an altar and a marae dedicated to them.a In this way, God’s personal name preceded Christendom’s missionaries to the Polynesian Islands.
Jehovah—A Name Well Known in the Beginning
When they started to teach their religion to the peoples of Polynesia, the missionaries of Christendom discovered that many gods were worshiped in those islands. To avoid any confusion with these gods, they started referring to the Supreme God by his name rather than by a title such as Lord, the Eternal, or even Atua, the word for “God” in most of the Polynesian languages. Thus the inhabitants of these islands learned to pray to Jehovah, using his personal name.
Later, the first translations of the Bible appeared in the local languages. Logically enough, they used the personal name of God: Iehova in Hawaiian, Rarotongan, Tahitian, and Niuean; Ieova in Samoan; and Ihowa in Maori. More noteworthy still, in many translations the name even appeared in the Christian Greek Scriptures (New Testament).
The older generation of Maori in New Zealand can still remember when Jehovah’s name was in common use—especially on the marae. On official occasions, quotations such as “the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom” were part of the opening speech welcoming visiting dignitaries. Throughout Polynesia, the name was freely used at church services. To this day, older ones are familiar with God’s name in their local language. However, this is not true of many of the younger generation, who have drifted away from the traditional way of life.
Attempts to Suppress the Name
In time, a number of the Polynesian translations were revised. Just as has taken place with different revisions made in Europe and North America, one of the principal changes was the elimination of the name Jehovah (or some of its very close equivalents). Thus, it was replaced by Alii (Lord) in the revised edition of the Samoan Bible that appeared in 1969, and a similar revision was planned in Niuean.
True, the inhabitants of Polynesia no longer worship their gods or idols as in the past, not even Io of the Hidden Face, the former supreme god of the Maori. But does that in any way authorize Bible translators to relegate the God of the Bible to anonymity by replacing his name with a mere title? Does this name have less importance today? Certainly not, since Jesus himself, in the model prayer, taught his disciples to pray first of all for the sanctification of that name.b
Defender of the Name
Despite these recent developments, the name Jehovah is not about to disappear in Polynesia. Why not? Because, just as in all other lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly visit the inhabitants of these islands in order to make that name known to them. Right now more than 16,000 Witnesses in this part of the world are participating in this important work, and they are demonstrating to their fellowman the importance of having an accurate knowledge of God’s Word and putting that knowledge into practice. That is what it means to worship God and sanctify his name.—John 4:21-24.
a The marae was originally a sacred enclosure used for religious and social purposes. Today it generally refers to a tribal meeting place.
[Map on page 14]
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[Pictures on page 15]
Tutuila, American Samoa
Lake Gunn, New Zealand
Savaii, Western Samoa
Avatele Beach on Niue