In 1991, Robert E. Parsons, emeritus professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, presented a paper at the Sixth Annual Book of Mormon Symposium. The paper, "Hagoth and the Polynesians," is reprinted as a chapter in The Book of Mormon: Alma The Testimony of the Word, published by BYU's Religious Studies Center.
In that paper, Brother Parsons addressed the question of what happened to Hagoth and the lost ships mentioned in the 63rd chapter of Alma." . . . Only speculation and theories can be advanced, but the most common is that the ships were lost at sea. This is what the Nephites thought happened to them," Brother Parsons said.
He pointed out there are several other theories. One popular among Latter-day Saints is that the peoples of Polynesia are descendants of Hagoth and his fellow travelers.
Brother Parsons referred to statements from members of the Council of the Twelve and from presidents of the Church reiterating the belief that the Polynesians originated from Lehi's colony in the New World.
Among those statements:
- Elder Mark E. Petersen, in a 1962 general conference address: " . . . As Latter-day Saints we have always believed that the Polynesians are descendants of Lehi and blood relatives of the American Indians, despite the contrary theories of other men."
- Elder Hugh B. Brown, in the closing prayer at the cornerstone laying ceremony at the New Zealand Temple: " . . . We humbly thank Thee that this building is erected in this land, so that those faithful Maoris who came here in early days, descendants of Father Lehi, may be remembered by their descendants. . . . "
- President David O. McKay, in the dedicatory prayer at the New Zealand Temple, April 20, 1958: "We express gratitude that to these fertile islands thou dist guide descendants of Father Lehi and hast enabled them to prosper."
- Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, at the dedication of the New Zealand Temple, April 20, 1958: " . . . Here are two great strains of the house of Israel and the children of Ephraim from the isles of Britain, and the children of Lehi from the isles of the Pacific."
- President Spencer W. Kimball in a 1976 address to Samoan members: [President Kimball read the account of Hagoth in the book of Alma and then saidT: "And so it seems to me rather clear that your ancestors moved northward and crossed a part of the South Pacific. You did not bring your records with you, but you brought much food and provisions. . . ."
In that same address, President Kimball quoted President Joseph F. Smith: " `I would like to say to you brethren and sisters of New Zealand, you are some of Hagoth's people, and there is No Perhaps about it!' "
In his paper at the Book of Mormon symposium, Brother Parsons discussed comments by patriarchs, mission presidents and other General Authorities pertaining to the ancestry of the Polynesians. He then said:
"In conclusion it seems fair to state that although the Church has no official, published declaration on the origin of the Polynesians, there have been enough semi-official statements by prophets of the Lord to leave little doubt that the Church believes that the Polynesians are direct blood relatives of Lehi's colony and that Hagoth's lost ships provide at least one connection between the Americas and Polynesia. This is further supported by patriarchal blessings given to the members of the Church among these people and by oral traditions. The brief account of Hagoth recorded in the book of Alma is important to an understanding of the blessings given to the descendants of Joseph, as the inhabitants of the isles of the sea."