Biographical entry: Nau, Semisi (1866 - 1921)



Semisi Nau was born in 1866 and was the first Tongan to work for the Methodist Mission in the Solomon Islands. His father was Sioeli, a Tongan missionary in Fiji where he met and married Semisi's mother 'Akosai. Two of Semisi's brothers were also missionaries. In 1886, Semisi was attending Tupou College in Tonga when he was caught up in a schism in the church there and was imprisoned, and then went into exile. He returned to Tupou College in 1890 for two years before leaving to become a missionary teacher on Niuafo'ou, where his father was a minister. Semisi wanted to become a missionary in New Guinea but was turned down because he was unmarried. He then married Matelita Tuliakiono and held two appointments on Tongatapu, where three of their four children died in infancy. Rev. George Brown selected Semisi as a missionary in 1902, although he did not leave for the Solomons until 1905, when he began work at Kokeqolo. The Methodists wanted to extend their activities to Ontong Java and in 1906 Semisi and his Samoan colleague Polanga moved there. For the first three months they were forced to live in a whaleboat in the lagoon because of the opposition of Chief Keapea of Luangiua and his people. Eventually they were allowed to land at the northern village of Pelau, and were able to visit Luangiua. One year later, three churches had been built. In 1909 Rev. John Goldie (q.v.) replaced Semisi with Ernest Shackell, an inexperienced Australian, and moved Simisi to Vona Vona, and then to Mundi Mundi and Dovele on Vella Lavella in the Western Solomons. Shackell was confrontational and after Resident Commissioner Woodford received complaints about him, he removed him. Semisi Nau returned to Ontong Java in 1911, still facing opposition from the Luangiua community, and also from the Catholics who were now there, as was a European trader.

Between August 1912 and February 1914 Semisi returned to Tonga to recruit more missionaries and was ordained a minister. When he went back to Ontong Java, troubles continued, and both Polonga and the European trader were removed. Semisi retired in 1919, returned to Tonga, and undertook appointments at Nuku'alofa, Niuafo'ou and 'Utalau. The Methodists did not replace him and Ontong Java became Anglican. In 1933, the Melanesian Brotherhood (Q.V.) began work there. Semisi died in 1921. (Davidson 1997, 2002)

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Davidson, Allan K., 'Semisi Nau: Pioneer Tongan Missionary', in Alan Leadley (ed.), Ever Widening Circles: Stories of Some Influential Methodist Leaders in Solomon Islands and Bougainville/Buka, Wesley Historical Society (New Zealand), Auckland, 2002, pp. 44-47. Details

Edited Books

  • Davidson, Allan K. (ed.), Semisi Nau: The Story of My Life: The Autobiography of a Tongan Methodist Missionary who Worked at Ontong Java in the Solomon Islands, Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific, Suva, 1997. Details