Learning the Samoan Language
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I (Joseph Harris) was serving as a missionary in Samoa and went to Siupapa at the east end of the island, where I studied the language with five other elders. I could understand some of the language, but could speak very little of it. I fasted and prayed that I would be able to learn the language--but I was often discouraged. I was then appointed to labor on the Island of Savaii with Elder Edward J. Wood, who was president of the Conference. We were to complete a meeting house while there. When it was finished, Elder Wood was released and I went back to the mission headquarters with him. On the way, he asked if there was anything he could do for me. I told him I wished he could leave his language with me, because he spoke it so fluently and wouldn't need it back home. He said he wished he could and would do it if it were possible. I thought no more about it, but traveled to my assignment.
On my way, I stopped to spend the night with Chief Tuala in the village of Saipipi. He wanted to talk about the gospel. I could understand him but couldn't answer. He seemed quite disgusted with me, and after a time just sat there quiet as he worked on his fish line. I sat and watched and felt as though I would give anything in the world if I could just converse with that man. His wife had piled up 16 mats for me to sleep on and fixed a mosquito net around the bed. I was weary but could not tell them that I would like to retire. So I sat deep in thought and praying that I would be able to answer his questions about the gospel. After what seemed like hours, a feeling came over me and I was no longer tired. He looked up and said, "Shall we talk or shall we sleep?" I understood him and answered in Samoan, "We'll talk." We talked until daybreak, then slept while breakfast was prepared. That evening I was able to pray and preach a good long gospel sermon.
The next day I went on my way. As I neared my home village I met a group of children that I had been trying to teach, and I spoke to them in Samoan. They looked at me, grabbed their breech cloths and scampered away. I was amazed but traveled on home. Brother Carpenter met me and I asked him where the children were and what was wrong. He told me they had run to tell their parents that I was back and that I spoke just like Brother Wood.
Taken from "Joseph Harris Merrill & Grace Emma Hale Merrill: Their autobiographies, Descendant & Pioneer Ancestors" by Katie M. Olsen and Ann M Jones. pg 28-30.
Joseph Harris Merrill's Samoan Translation of the Book of Mormon
Colaborador: kblack Created: 1 year ago Updated: 1 year ago
from a research paper by Ann M. Jones
There have been two translations of the Book of Mormon into Samoan. According to the records of the Office of the Church Historian, the second translation was begun on November 9, 1900, by Elders Sears and Smart. A month before this, September 26, 1900, Elder Sears sought and received the approval of the First Presidency in this undertaking. The translation was later published in 1903 and is presently being used in the Islands.
In 1892-93, J. Hatten Carpenter and Joseph H. Merrill worked on the first translation. This translation was never completed, though only two and a half books needed to be translated to complete the work. Elder Merrill's translation is no longer available, and his diary is the only source of information on his part in the translation of the Book of Mormon.
J. Hatten Carpenter, Elder Merrill's new companion, on June 17, 1892, began the translation of the Book of Mormon. No preliminary discussion occurred in either of their diaries concerning why they began this project or whether they planned in the beginning to complete it.
But Elder Carpenter, (who was 101 years old in 1962, at the time he wrote this) stated in a letter:
Regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, we took different parts , much of it was from the Bible which had been translated into Samoan by the London Mission Society. We had no idea of translating the whole Book of Mormon.
Elder Carpenter, after completing two chapters of I Nephi, translated the frontispiece and the Testimonies of the Three and Eight Witnesses before he continued with I Nephi.
When he came to the chapters in I and II Nephi which quote Isaiah, he compared his translation to the translation of corresponding chapters of Isaiah and found many discrepancies. He stated in his diary that he translated these chapters, yet this is contrary to the letter already quoted above. Whether he finally accepted their translation of these chapters instead of his own or whether in his old age he has become confused on this detail, it is impossible to decide, but according to his diary, he found many discrepancies between the two translations.
In two months Elder Carpenter had completed I Nephi and thereafter completed in rapid succession all the books up to the Book of Mosiah. The Book of Omni was finished on October 11, 1892. During this time, Elder Merrill had been translating the Words of Mormon which he had begun on July 23, 1892, and by September 30 had completed the Book of Mosiah. In October he began work on the Book of Alma, finishing only the first chapter before he was interrupted, being transferred to another area.
When Elder Carpenter completed the Book of Omni, he wrote:
The Words of Mormon, Book of Mosiah, and part of Alma to page 238 is translated by Elder Joseph Harris Merrill up to this date, Oct. 11, 1892. I therefore leave these and go to Book of Helaman p. 428.
Apparently they had decided that Elder Merrill should translate the Books of Mosiah, Alma, and Helaman because in the preface of his translation, Elder Carpenter stated:
Elder Joseph H. Merrill translated Alma, Helaman, and Mosiah at the same time with me.
But when Elder Carpenter had completed the Book of Omni, Elder Merrill had finished the Book of Mosiah and had just begun the Book of Alma, so Elder Carpenter began the Book of Helaman and continued translating until he had completed the Book of Mormon leaving only the Book of Ether and Moroni to be translated.
On December 28, 1892, he entered in his diary:
I finished translating Book of Mormon as far as Book of Ether and now I will rest for a while. I have thus translated some 300 pages of the Book of Mormon during the last six months and it has indeed been a pleasant task for me.
However, for an unknown reason, Elder Carpenter never returned to the translation of his remaining two books before the completion of his mission.
Soon after Elder Merrill had begun his work in Alma, he was transferred to another area, and this interrupted his work. In November of 1892, he copied his translation from his scrapbook into a book of good paper, but he didn't return to his translation of Alma until July 26, 1893, when he began the second chapter of Alma. He worked sporadically on this until December 5, 1893. This was the date of his last entry in the diary concerning his translation; he was working at that time on the twelfth chapter of Alma.
Little information was given in the diaries concerning any problems that they had confronted, but several comments were made of spending the day fasting, praying, and translating the Book of Mormon.
One especially inspirational account was related by Elder Merrill in his diary:
Sat. Sept. 2, 1893 We arose at 6:30 A.M. and had our usual prayers. I concluded to fast and went back in the forest where in secret prayer I poured out my soul to God asking for those things which I need. Returning I wrote my journal and then resumed translating till noon.
There were days also when a "cloud of heaviness" prevented him from translating:
Tues, July 4, 1893 We taught school in the morning and evening. I read a short time in the "Voice of Warning" and spent some time trying to translate but there seemed to be a cloud of heaviness I have never before experienced on my mission. I could not translate neither could I study. I had no love for anybody and felt that no one cared for me. To live a week feeling that way would be worse than death. I spent the afternoon in fasting and prayer and taking up my pen tried a few verses on "the Fourth of July" for the amusement of my folks at home.
Elder Carpenter used his translation of the Book of Mormon in talks and gospel discussions which he presented, and was gratified to see the Saints and investigators understanding and accepting what he was preaching.
Realizing that he would need additional help in the translation, Elder Carpenter called on a friend two weeks after he had begun the translation, and asked if he could bring chapters of his translation for proofreading and correction. This man, Mr. William Crichton, was a non-member, but played an important role in the translation. Mr. Crichton was an elderly, blind man and "was suffering with a sort of gathering in his ear." Almost once a week, usually on Fridays, Elder Carpenter would spend the morning reading the translation to him for correction.
Gospel discussions concerning the chapters occurred almost every week. After several months, Mr. Crichton mentioned that he had "begun to look forward for Fridays to come so that we could talk together."
Elder Carpenter would bring the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price with him and explain the plan of salvation and other doctrines. Finally after six months of once a week discussions, Mr. Crichton expressed his desire to be baptized. He was baptized soon after by an Elder Poole because Elder Carpenter was transferred.
Elder Carpenter's translations are now on microfilm in the Brigham Young University Library with his diary and his Samoan hymn book. The whereabouts of the translations of Joseph H. Merrill are unknown. They were not among his belongings when he died, September 19, 1961.