More than a century ago—on the same plot of ground where the Apia Samoa Temple now stands—a large, wood-frame house bustled with activity. Missionaries came and went; Church leaders and members attended meetings or socials there. It was the home of Ah Mu, a native of China whose story is largely unknown by most Church members outside of Samoa. Indeed, while references to him are sprinkled throughout historical texts and missionary journals, little substantial information is available due to Samoa’s largely oral historical tradition. Yet Ah Mu’s generosity played an important part in helping the Church establish a firm foothold in Samoa, where now about one out of every four citizens is a Latter-day Saint.
Little is known of Ah Mu’s childhood, and minor details vary in the accounts of his arrival to Western Samoa. But the basic story is this:
Befriended by Sailors
In approximately 1857, not far from where a British merchant marine ship was docked, a group of children played along the banks of a river in China. The children’s carefree laughter must have caught the attention of the ship’s captain and his crew, who were on shore leave, and they joined the children in their play. Soon, however, it was time for the sailors to return to their ship. Perhaps they were particularly drawn to the engaging manner of one little boy, or perhaps they somehow learned he was an orphan. Regardless, what is known is that when the sailors reboarded the ship, the little boy, approximately three years old, was with them.
Soon the boy became known as Ah Mu, which may have been an adaptation of the name of the river by which he had been found. Ah Mu spent most of his youth at sea on ships overseen by the captain who had befriended him. He was never formally educated, but as he toiled among the sea-weathered sailors he learned the value of hard work—a trait that would prove beneficial, particularly as he grew older.
Settling in Samoa
When Ah Mu was in his 20s, his ship docked at Western Samoa. His eyes had beheld many exotic lands in his lifetime, but this green, fragrant country must have seemed to him a paradise. It was here he decided to put his seaman’s life behind him and build a home. Over the years he had accumulated a small amount of money, and with it he acquired a swampy parcel of land in Vaimoso. Unlike most other Asians in the area, Ah Mu was not an indentured servant but a British subject and was more or less free to do as he pleased. He built a two-story frame house on his property; his family would later live in the top story, while he would maintain a wagon-repair business below. 1
Eventually Ah Mu married a Samoan woman named Maumau Moia, and the couple had three children, including twins who died in infancy. Maumau later decided to return to her family and home village, and Ah Mu decided to marry Tale’esea Lesa, with whom he had nine children. After she passed away, Ah Mu married Mele Moe, and they had three children. 2
Always industrious, Ah Mu took on several business endeavors. His primary business was hauling freight with horses and wagons and transporting people on two-wheeled carts, similar to a modern-day taxi service. According to his grandson Percy Rivers, his business acumen “was legendary, reminding him exactly what people owed his company, even though he kept no records.” 3
Interested in Christianity
Christian missionaries from Tonga had first entered Samoa in 1828, about 50 years before Ah Mu settled in Vaimoso. Intrigued by Christianity, at some point Ah Mu began associating with members of the London Missionary Society (LMS).
Because it was customary for LMS members to provide food for their pastors, one Saturday Ah Mu told his oldest son, John, to take a basket of food to the local pastor and his family. John complied, riding his horse to the pastor’s fale—a traditional rounded, thatch-roofed home. When John presented the pastor with the basket, the man peered inside and then threw down the basket in disgust. “You go and tell your parents,” he said to John, “that I will not accept their offering. What do they mean by coming just on Saturday to give me food? What about Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday?”
John picked up the basket, got back on his horse, and returned home. When he informed his father of the pastor’s reaction, Ah Mu said, “Oh, he can’t be a man of God to do a thing like that.” Not long afterward Ah Mu decided to investigate a church that was fairly new to the area: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 4
The Samoan Mission had been officially organized in June 1888. It is not known how long it took Ah Mu to discover the Church, but he and his wife, Tale’esea, and at least two of their children were baptized on 21 February 1897. 5
One of Ah Mu’s most lasting contributions to the Church was his donation of land. In February 1902 a group of individuals who were not members of the Church asked the mission president to build a school in Vaimoso, on land which had come to be called Pesega—or “place of singing”—by Church members. Three years earlier Ah Mu had offered to donate land in the area to the Church. In October 1898 he sold it to the Church for the token price of one dollar; it was the second piece of property acquired by the Church in Samoa. 6
Church leaders soon decided to construct a building on the property that would serve as both a meetinghouse and a school. As the work continued, it became apparent that Pesega also was an ideal location in which to establish the mission headquarters. More members lived near Pesega than in Fagalii, the previous location, and the surroundings seemed more conducive to Church growth. Consequently, in 1902 the mission headquarters was moved to Pesega, where it has remained ever since. 7
Ah Mu later sold more land to the Church on which were built a larger meetinghouse, Church administration offices, another school, and eventually the Apia Samoa Temple. Because Ah Mu’s home was so close to mission headquarters, he and his family were at the center of much of the Church’s activity in the area, often hosting Church meetings and social gatherings at their home and providing lodging and transportation for missionaries.
Ah Mu’s generosity was revealed in many other ways. Edward J. Wood, president of the Samoan Mission from 1896 to 1899, referred to Ah Mu as “one of the most important members of the Church” in Pesega. He told of an experience involving Ah Mu and a couple from Manti, Utah, who came to Samoa in response to a missionary call. In a blessing the wife was told she would have a child while in Samoa. Incredulous, she later told President Wood that she and her husband had been married nine years and had been told by various doctors she would never bear children.
The couple were sent to Pesega, where they were offered accommodations at Ah Mu’s home. Soon the wife learned that she was expecting. However, her health became so poor that she feared for her life.
President Wood reported: “This good man, Ah Mu, had quite a large plantation and a good many employees working on it. He had four of his natives make a large hammock, and they carried that sister in the hammock from the house where they lived down to the seacoast about a mile and a half every day so that she could sit there in a comfortable chair and receive the ocean breezes, which the doctor recommended to make her strong enough to give birth to her child.” In time the woman did give birth, apparently to a healthy baby boy. 8
A Heritage of Faith
On 5 August 1910 Ah Mu died at approximately 56 years of age. The mission record states that Ah Mu “was faithful to his testimony to the end. He was good, kind and loving to his family as well as to all with whom he was acquainted. He did much to aid the work, always ready to receive the missionaries and help them in many ways.” 9
Many of Ah Mu’s posterity, which numbers in the hundreds, have been influential in the Church. Olsen Ahmu, his youngest son and only surviving child, lives in Alpine, Utah, and was a member of the original high council of the Auckland (New Zealand) Stake—the first stake created outside of North America. His grandson Percy Rivers was the first stake president in Samoa and was a regional representative. Other relatives have served in bishoprics, stake presidencies, auxiliary presidencies, and numerous other offices.
Today there are more than 56,370 Church members in Western Samoa and more than 12,350 in American Samoa. 10 On 5 August 1983 the Apia Samoa Temple was dedicated on the land where Ah Mu first embraced the restored gospel. Though all who faithfully attend the temple there may not be familiar with Ah Mu’s story, his roots stretch deep beneath the soil on which the temple stands, and his life exemplifies the influence of one individual in helping the kingdom of God roll forth upon the earth.
See R. Carl Harris, “Ah Mu: Was He a Pioneer in the Pacific in Samoa?” (paper presented at the “Pioneers in the Pacific” sesquicentennial, Laie, Hawaii, Oct. 1997), 3–4; Percy John Rivers, Autobiography of Percy John Rivers, ed. Jennie Hart (1992), 1–2; Olsen Ahmu and D. Margie Pururi, interview by author, 16 Sept. 1998.
See Harris, “Ah Mu,” 4, 6; Rivers, Autobiography, 1–2.
Rivers, Autobiography, 2.
Rivers, Autobiography, 12; see also Harris, “Ah Mu,” 4.
Samoa Mission History, Historical Department, Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 21 Feb. 1897.
See R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea (1986), 372–73; Harris, “Ah Mu,” 4–5.
Britsch, Unto the Islands, 373.
Quoted in Olive Wood Nielson, A Treasury of Edward J. Wood (1983), 270.
Samoa Mission Historical Records and Minutes, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 5, 21 Aug. 1910.
Finance and Records Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.