October 4 – Seluvaia Ma’u

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Seluvaia Ma’u, martyr

The Methodist Church in Tonga first sent Missionaries to their South Pacific neighbours in Samoa in 1835. When the church called for Missionaries to go to Papua New Guinea, Siosaia Lavaka Ma’u from Ha’akio, Vava’u, Tonga and his wife Seluvaia were among the first four to offer to take the Gospel to Papua in 1891. They were sent to work at a place called Genaia, north of Dobu.

Siosaia and Seluvaia were students at Tupou College, the first Secondary School in the South Pacific, founded by Dr. James Egan Moulton. Both families were among those who were persecuted for supporting Wesleyans who remained loyal to the Church in Australia.

They faced many hardships at Genaia, because they were a long way from the towns, but the hardest of all for Siosaia was when his beloved wife and unborn child were murdered. His forgiving spirit is evident as he told the story in a letter to the Overseas Secretary Dr. Brown on the 26th October 1896:

“I write this letter with loving greetings to you and your wife. All our workers are well and even though I have been struck with a cruel blow, my sorrow is mixed with happiness because I know for sure that Seluvaia is in Heaven.”

Siosaia was asked to to go Samarai to mend the Church’s boat, and to wait for the steamer which brought their supplies. When he returned he found Seluvaia with horrific injuries, and as a result she had lost their unborn child. These things happened early Sunday morning 4 October.

She was able to speak a few words to her husband. “I should have died but I pleaded with the Lord to keep me alive so that the little girl I was holding would be spared. (‘Ana was their adopted daughter) I stayed alive but I fainted from my injuries”. He asked her if she wanted him to tell of these things that had happened and she said, “Yes, give my love to the church. Tell them I send much love and I have peace in my soul”.

Siosaia wrote to the overseas Secretary Dr. Brown passing on Seluvaia’s love. He said she died peacefully and as he watched he knew that she was at peace and happy to leave this world.

When the judge asked the man who did this why he did it, he said that the police had taken his wife from the island of Nivani. He made up his mind to go to Panaieti and kill the missionary’s wife, because she was a foreigner the same as the policeman.

Siosaia said he did not understand the man’s reasoning, because the police did not visit them in their home. What he knew was that the man was afraid to go and look for the police and because he knew that Siosaia was away from home, he decided to murder dear Seluvaia.

“I am not complaining because I know that many have travelled this path to eternal life, to be martyred for the Gospel. Yes, nothing will separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord“, said Siosaia in his letter to Dr. Brown.

On her simple grave read these words:


Rev. ‘Isikeli Hau’ofa (Missionary to Papua 1937-1970) visited Seluvaia’s grave in 1970. He spoke to a man who was the son of the lady who was with Seluvaia. He was still young at the time but he remembered witnessing the event. This is what he said:

“When Tonkomkom (the man who attacked Seluvaia) reached the house of the missionary, Seluvaia came out holding her adopted daughter. Tonkomkom used a club to hit Seluvaia on the back of her neck and body, and when she realized that he intended to kill her and the child, she tried to shield the child and bear the blows herself. The village people rushed to her aid and took the child from her and vowed to take revenge but Seluvaia said, “Do no such thing. This is the way for me to reach the Kingdom, and this is the reason I came here.”

Missionary’s wife Mrs. Bartholomew described Seluvaia as a beautiful person, always with a smile who captivated everyone who met her. She was a true servant of Christ, and she was a fine example of humility in the midst of the heathen people. Her home was always spotless and the women of the village were always welcome. They came to watch her sew and weave and she took this opportunity to talk to them about the Gospel. The story of Seluvaia and her courage is well known in the history of the Papuan church, and because of her death, many souls accepted the Gospel.

Written by Rev. Siupeli Taliai whose grandfather, Henry Taliai Lavaka Ma’u, was the younger brother of Rev. Siosaia Lavaka Ma’u.