If you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say Iosepa in Utah, don’t worry. I didn’t know about it either. Iosepa is a ghost town located in Skull Valley, which is northwest of Salt Lake City. With a hot, dry wind and a flat, marshy landscape, it’s the least-expected place for a group of Hawaiians to settle. Natives to Laie, Hawaii, many families took the voyage across the Pacific Ocean to live in Utah. But why?
These people were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as Mormons. They wanted to join with other Latter-Day saints in the Salt Lake Valley and were instead relocated to Skull Valley. But they were strong, and they were valiant. Even though they only inhabited Iosepa for a short period of time, they left behind a legacy and example of faith, perseverance, and strength. Here are a few things that you probably didn’t know about the Hawaiians and Iosepa.
1. It was a lot greener than the rest of the desert
Ok, it was not even half as lush as Hawaii, but they built a reservoir, and the rest of the land looks like swamp or marshland. When you stand on the top of the hill and look down, you can see the remains of the large reservoir. The Hawaiians used to swim and have picnics by it. They tried to make Iosepa feel as close to home as possible, and I can just imagine that Kanaka lake was food for the soul.
2. The people mostly migrated to Utah for the temple
The Salt Lake City temple was finished, and the saints were eager to enter and receive their own ordinances. It’s really cool because when they went back home to the islands, they had just a little more knowledge on LDS temples, and guess what? The LDS Laie Hawaii temple was the fifth temple in the world to be built.
3. It’s named after Joseph F. Smith
I like to hear stories about Joseph F. Smith, just because he’s so close to and admired by the Hawaiian people. It’s appropriate that they named the town Iosepa, which means “Joseph.”
4. It was a means of inspiration for the movie Moana
I actually learned this in a news video I watched. One of the Polynesian researchers, David Derrick, who was a part of the “Oceanic Brain Trust,” went to Iosepa to gain inspiration for his part in the filmmaking. It was there that he felt a connection to one of his ancestors and that inspired him as he worked on the Disney film. (I recommend you watch the video about it here!)
5. It has a special feeling
Even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, when you stand at the memorial and burial grounds, you can almost see the people working hard. You can feel the mana of the people: they worked hard, they grew, they learned, and they returned home to share their knowledge and experiences.
I’m sure there are many untold stories and interesting facts about Iosepa, but suffice to say the least, Iosepa is a really special place. The only remains of the town lie on the top of the hill, in the form of a memorial and cemetery. However unsung their songs and tales, their legacy lives on. I’m excited to go this weekend and be a part of the celebration, and see where my own ancestors were buried. And, hopefully, like David Derrick, I can gain inspiration and strength from my ancestors.
Is there a place that your ancestors moved to or something they did that has inspired you?