Kupuna tales: Tautua Tuala Tanoa’i

Tautua Tanoa'i, 1950[By the late Vaita’i Tanoa’i Reed…about her father, originally published in Kaleo, December 17, 1998: He is pictured at right at the Mormon Hukilau in Laie in 1950]

When Tautua Tanoa’i and his wife, Felita Savea Satele, were Mormon missionaries in Samoa, they traveled with four other missionaries along with their five small children who were carried on the shoulders of the men in coconut baskets, with a pole in between the baskets. There were no paved roads back then, only narrow trails. Sometimes they would travel by canoe from island to island across rough seas with very high waves. They would usually be soaking wet when they got to an island.

They visited a village in Western Samoa where the chief did not allow them to come to shore. He would only let them teach the gospel if Tautua could heal his wife who was sick (mental). Tautua told the chief that only God could heal his wife, and that he was only a servant of the Lord. He gave the chief’s wife a blessing, after which the chief’s wife went into a coma. He then had Tautua tied to a rock in the ocean, planning to drown him when the tide rose.

Fighting the heat and the rising tide, Tautua prayed while the villagers sang, chanted and beat drums as they waited for him to drown.

Tautua’s 11-year-old son, in frustration, threw a rock at the chief which split open his head. The chief ordered the boy to be drowned, too. Tautua’s wife, pleading with the chief to have mercy, was hanging on to his lavalava which came off, leaving the chief covered with nothing on his body except his pe’a (tattoo).

During all this commotion the chief’s wife woke up. Though still a little off, she was healed. She recognized her husband who was so happy that he let Tautua go.

* * * * * * * * *

There was a big celebration where Tautua preached and bore testimony. Many villagers were baptized including the chief and his family who had a large canoe made for Tautua so he could continue his missionary work.

On the way to American Samoa, two of the oarsmen were arguing and one hit the other, causing him to fall overboard. The water was rough and the man in the water called out, “Mormon, save me.” Tautua stood up and said a prayer. The sea was calmed and they rescued the man who later joined the church.

* * * * * * * * *

In 1925 Tautua’s cousin, Kipeni Su’a (Harvey Alapa‘s grandfather), wrote and told him to bring his family to Hawai’i to the LDS temple where they could be “sealed.” While staying in Laie, Tautua placed his oldest son in charge of running the household. He told me [Vaita’i] to go to the taro patch after school and pick some taro for dinner that night. My brothers were involved in the church basketball league and could not help me after school.

I took the wheelbarrow to the taro patch after school. The patch was located where the Polynesian Cultural Center now is. However, I met some of my girlfriends and stopped on the way to swim at Beauty Hole, which was located across the street from Foodland. We swam until evening. When my brother, Joe, came looking for me, I saw him first, jumped off Laie Point and swam far out to sea. Joe then started to worry about me and called for me to come back but I would not listen. When Joe left, I swam back to shore.

When I got home, Joe was cooking the taro outside by the umu. He threw a taro at my head and I spun around like an airplane propeller. When I woke up, Joe was crying, saying, “My sister is dead.” He didn’t realize I was just pretending.

* * * * * * * * *

Back in those days there were only about six Samoan families in Laie, 20 Hawaiian families, some Filipino families who worked in the cane fields and lived in the camps where the university is now located, two Japanese families, six white families and a few missionaries who lived in the mission home. Laie had only one LDS church house, near the temple, that burnt down. The engineer on the train rang his bell to alert everyone in Laie that the chapel was burning.

The LDS bishop of the Laie Ward was Robert Plunkett, with Tautua and Brother Forsythe as his counselors. Bishop Plunkett had been using a fire torch to burn off the old paint on the chapel and it caught on fire. Church meetings were then held in the Laie social hall. For conferences everyone would go to Kalihi or the tabernacle in town.

The people in Laie started the hukilau to raise money to build a new chapel. Everyone in Laie would walk to church every Sunday morning. There were not many cars then and those who drove on Sundays had a difficult time getting past all of the people walking to church. Those where the days when we had meetings in the morning, afternoon, and evening. A chapel was also built in Hauula on Kamehameha Hwy. next to the beach.

* * * * * * * * *

About 1935 there was a huge flood in Laie. People travelled by canoe to go to the plantation store or the pake store. In 1946 a tidal wave hit Laie but, luckily, no one died. Again people had to travel by canoe. There were fish everywhere and even squid caught in the trees. Laie did not smell too good after a few days.

The pioneers of Laie are long gone except for their descendants. Back in those days all that you needed to bury someone in the Laie grave yard was a shovel.

* * * * * * * * *

In 1969 I took my father to a hospital in Honolulu. On the way our car had a flat tire. Tautua told me that this was going to be his last trip and that he would not come back. He died at the hospital on the fourth of July and is buried in Laie with his wife and four sons. I am Tautua’s only living child. I have nine children, 35 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.

* * * * * * * * *

50-year-old Laie photo resurfaces

[This follow-up story originally appeared in Kaleo, February 11, 1999]

Vaita’i Reed’s story on her late father, Tautua Tanoa’i, that appeared in the Dec. 17, 1998, issue of Kaleo generated an interesting letter-to-the-editor — including a 50-year-old photo — from far-off Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.

Sister Gladys Ahuna, who receives Kaleo by special subscription while serving an Latter-day Saint mission in the Cook Islands, wrote to say she met a woman who, when she found out the Ahunas were from Hawaii, told them she grew up in a town called Laie.

“I began to question her and asked where about she lived. She replied next to the Enos’. I said that’s my father. I asked her first name, and she said Loretta Lyman.

“The name did not quite register, but she looked familiar,” Sister Ahuna continued. “Then Elder [Joseph] Ahuna said, ‘Loretta, I’m Tarzan’ [that was his boyhood nickname]. She immediately knew him. Then all the questions and answers flew.

“She lived next door to us with Vaita’i and Tautua, her grandmother’s family. Her close friends were Edna Anae and my sister, JoJo [Au]. She left Laie in ’49, so it’s been 50 years.” Sister Ahuna wrote that “it’s hard to believe that after 50 years we’ve run into her this far away from home.”

In this retouched photo from the Cook Islands, Vaita’i Reed is in the center
holding baby Dewey; Tautua and Felita are on the right, former Laie resident
Loretta Lyman Rere is on the left, and Leo Reed, the small boy in the center
who now lives in California, remembers that Loleka — as they called
her — used to babysit him and take him for train rides. 

Sister Ahuna also wrote about an interesting family connection her husband discovered while home-teaching a woman: “When she found out he was from Hawaii she began to unfold a story of her husband’s family from Aitutaki. His father, Varu, was married to Mahina, who is a descendant of the Kanaka’ole family from Hawaii, who is also related to Elder Ahuna’s mother.

“She got out an old, folded piece of parchment paper, very creased and faded…[with] the genealogy of Mahina going back to Kanaka’ole and the ali’i families of Hawaii. Her children do not know that they are Hawaiian.”

Sister Ahuna also mentioned their association with former Laie residents, Sam and Momi Ezekiela, who now live in the Cook Islands: “Anything we need or need to know, Sam’s the man.”



  1. tai taratoa says:

    kia orana, i’am the 5th generation down from kanaka’ole, my great grandmother mahina had 13 children which 10 survived and 3 died as infants…grandma is the 5th of mahina’s children and her name was ngametua, my grandma had 11 children and was married twice, she had 4 children to her first husband and 7 to the second. my mum maria is from grandma’s first husband, maria had 8 children and i am the 3rd oldest, i come from such a mighty line of ali’i from maui hawaii and from the line of chiefs makea pini and from a great worrior taratoa. i would appreciate it if you have any other details of my family line as i have names but not dates of births and who was kanaka’ole’s husband… thankyou…

  2. connie mah says:

    Do you know any of the Ahuna family ? Is this family related to yours. I am very interested in this same information. . Would love to find out . Have a beautiful day!

  3. Loretta Lyman Rere is my mum, i remember when growing up, we had this picture in our album and mum told us about it and our family in Hawaii and Samoa. Sadly my mum passed away on the 1st of June this year 2015.

  4. Olsen Rere says:

    Kiaorana and hello.
    Loretta is my Grandmother.
    My name is Olsen, named after her favourite uncle Olsen and late son Olsen too.
    She brought me and my sister up in Aitutaki with our grandad Ta Teutai Rere.

    Nana passed away recently and we miss her heaps.
    Thanks for this story and I hope to know more about her in her Hawaii and Samoa days.
    Also I’d love to meet her side of the family one day.

    Kia manuia.

Speak Your Mind