The arrival of the missionaries marked a time of upheaval that destroyed much of the culture of the Pacific Islands. This song was inspired by what occurred in Tokelau where people were threatened with visits by gunboats if they didn’t accept the new faith.
Old songs and old dances were labeled as "evil" by the church who therefore proceeded to suppress them. These actions were motivated greatly by each missionary’s personal prejudices and dislikes of the customs and manners of each Island. Much of the old songs and old dances were lost at that point in time.
‘Vaka atua’ describes the many conflicts that occurred trying to accept these new beliefs while throwing aside the spiritual beliefs that had been held by them and their ancestors for thousands of years. One man, Foliga’s, reply to the first missionary in his land was "No, we already have our own true god in heaven" (represented in this song by "Tagaloa" Polynesian god of the sea).
"All their lesser evil customs you will endeavour to cast down,
going in a state of nudity or nearly so, cutting or scratching
themselves in seasons of grief - tattooing their bodies. Eating
raw fish, their lewd dances etc, but the greater evils will require
your first attacks and then the smaller."
(John Williams, LMS South Sea Letters, 1823, quoted in Gunson 1978: 319)