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Unlike Bataillon on Wallis, Chanel had never made a secret of his intention to convert Futuna, but his approach had been very low-key. After twenty months he could report only four adult and sixteen infant baptisms, all in danger of death. Tales of oppresssive conduct by Protestant missionaries reached Futuna from Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii and Tahiti. As a result there was widespread distrust of the lotu papalangi (white man’s religion). Nevertheless, Chanel could write: ‘King Niuliki promised Bishop Pompallier that we would be well looked after on his island, and he has done everything to keep word. He likes us as a father’. In March 1839, an important advisor of the king said openly that this lotu would be a good thing for Futuna.

‘Because the bishop had not come after six months as he had promised, Brother Marie-Nizier and myself were considered liars, and men who had been abandoned.’ The visit of the Reine de Paix had changed their situation. ‘The arrival of our confreres has the best possible effect on all the minds’, he wrote during their presence, ‘they listen to us with pleasure, everyone wants to meet the new arrivals, and they do not stop asking for their names. When told of the interest that the people in France take in them, their eyes fill with tears. Wherever we turn up it is: marie Farani (long live the French!)’.[1]

Still, if the two missionaries had never been considered a threat in any way, they had possibly been seen as rather harmless. The visit made clear that the religious future of Futuna was at stake, that Chanel and Marie-Nizier were not there because they had been abandoned by their own. On the contrary, they were on a mission, backed by a large organization overseas.

Once Bataillon had left (3 July), the two were on their guard for signs of estrangement. On 8 September Niuliki came and asked for goat’s milk for his sick child, a week later (17 September) he visited them and prepared them a meal. On his way to Asoa Vere, on 16 October, Niuliki walked through Poi and passed the house where the two were present, without calling in. On his way back he walked past again. It was unusual enough to be noted in the diary, but as subsequent events show, relations between Chanel and Niuliki were as friendly as before.[2] On 30 September 1839 Marie-Nizier wrote to Champagnat (in an account of their first reception in 1837): ‘Since that time he has shown us every care and been more attentive to our needs than those of his own children.’[3] On 5 December Chanel ate with the King and the senior chiefs as usual.

A few days later Chanel felt free enough to argue with the king when he wanted to make an offering to the atua muri. Niuliki did not give in but he listened. On 22 December Chanel had a friendly discussion with the king on religious matters. Also in December a group of people were building a little sanctuary for an ancestral spirit to obtain rain. Peter Chanel surprised them by not going to look at them and not lending them his tools for a job he said is for the devil. People put it down to a bad mood, and let him get away with it. On 15 November a pig he had just bought was stolen while Chanel was away. The relatives of the thieves came to apologize and gave him another one.

A few people expressed a desire to become Christians. On 29 September Chanel made mention of a young catechumen who came to apologize because he had carved his face for mourning, evidently something he knew Chanel disapproved of. 14 November Chanel speaks of a real interest in religious instruction among Singave people. They now, he noted, are no longer afraid to eat fish and birds that are taboo (tapu). After a baptism in danger of death the dying young man wanted to be assured that there are coconuts in heaven and the same clean water as on Futuna! On 3 December a chief told Chanel the whole island would turn Christian if the king allowed. One Futunan kindly brought a nice piece of pork so they could offer it to the God of the papalangi.

On 18 September Chanel baptized a sick child of Musumusu (a chief close to the king), it dies a week later. On 9 November a small son of Niuliki was seriously ill, Chanel baptized it with the consent of both father and mother, in a full baptismal ceremony in their presence. On 9 December he gave a Christian burial to a grandson of the King that he had baptized. People were moved to tears by the beautiful ritual and said they too wanted to be buried that way.[4]

Chanel takes care of his correspondence

The Reine de Paix had brought a thick parcel of letters. Once the visitors were gone he had the time and the leisure to answer. He wrote a long letter to Bishop Devie, in which, with many other things, he reflected on the death of Claude Bret with the conclusion: ‘Missionaries die; the mission goes on’.[5]

He wrote a long letter to his friend Bourdin [6]. and to Antoine Séon to whom he confided that the moment of grace for Futuna was near.[7] He wrote to Bajard, the chaplain of the sisters of Fourvière through whom he sent his regards to Canon Pastre, the man who set the Marists on the way to Oceania. He wrote to a priest near Cras, where his mother lived, and to Vincent Vuillod Bolliat, the parish priest of Cras whom he thanked him for looking after his mother. He wrote to two boys at the minor seminary of Belley, Claude Buiron and Loÿs, and an open letter to all of the boys.[8] His letters show Chanel to be a warm-hearted man. With every letter he sent greetings to former colleagues and to friends, often with special mention of their mothers or sisters. He retained an interest in what happens in France, and mentioned the new steam-boats on the Rhône that the visitors must have told about and that, he added, must make travelling a lot easier for Colin.[9] He did not forget the parents of his friend Claude Bret, of whom he had heard that they had taken their loss with edifying resignation.[10]


  1. EC, doc. 56.
  2. François Roulleaux, later a missionary on Futuna interprets Niuliki walking past the missionaries’ house without calling, as a sign of his growing resistance to the lotu. Neither the letters Chanel wrote at the time, nor the diary justify this conclusion. Rozier, the editor of Chanel’s writings also disagrees with Roulleaux. Cf. EC, p. 472, n. 5 and p. 483, n. 3. More likely, as Chanel writes, it was connected with the long drought that the ancestral spirits were failing to bring to an end (09.10.39).
  3. LO, Clisby 011 [10].
  4. Marie-Nizier, in a later account,(to Colin, 06.10.44 & 11.12.44, LRO, doc. 350 [7] ) says that until the visit of Baty etc. things were alright but ‘that lasted only until the following August or September, when the King turned nasty towards us; first he left us alone, then he stopped giving us food, and forbad people to help us; in the end he told them to steal from us when they could, clothing, fruits of our garden, and that he would not take action against them’. This description does not agree with his own letter of that same September to Champagnat, nor with the overall picture that Chanel gives for this period in the diary. Marie-Nizier may have meant August or September the following year (suivant), i.e., 1840, or he telescoped later memories of different periods. He repeats the same view to Colin on 29.07.45, cf. LRO, doc. 390 [37] . The documents of the time are too detailed to be discarded in favour of Nizier’s later memories.
  5. EC, doc. 57 [3].
  6. who was to be his first biographer
  7. EC, doc. 54 [2].
  8. Resp. EC, docs 56, 53, 55, 58, 52 & 49.
  9. EC, doc. 54 [6].
  10. EC, doc. 54 [9].

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