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Peter Chanel stayed about a month with Bataillon on Wallis[2] and returned to Futuna on 27 April 1838. Warfare was gradually abating (28-04) although there still were occasional threats of violence (30.04). The Futunans had evidently become used to the presence of Peter Chanel and Marie Nizier Delorme on their island. They were not the only Europeans. Thomas Boag lived mostly with the missionaries and there was an Englishman, Mr. Jones who had a small schooner and employed an English sailor, Georges. The schooner made occasional trips to Wallis, which allowed Bataillon and Chanel to exchange letters (30.08). It even went as far as Fiji (30.08). Sometimes other Europeans are mentioned without further information as to who they were (e.g. 24.06).

After the cyclone of February a new house had been built for the missionaries, but due to the fighting in March it took a long time to finish. In May they moved in, but it was not completed until late June (23.06). Chanel then asked and got permission to build a second house on the other side of the island, among the Singave people (13.08). Most of the time the missionaries got plenty of food from Niuliki, or other islanders, often the nicest fish, and the choices bits of pork (25.07).

Futuna alofi 02.jpg

Even when they still lived in a corner of Niuliki’s house, the two used to get up very early to say their prayers and celebrate Mass before people came in to chew the kava roots. Everyone apparently felt free to move in and out of the missionaries’ house at any time (13.07). On their walks over the island Chanel and Nizier often stayed the night in people’s houses. Chanel notes he sometimes had to listen to coarse or obscene stories, which means he understood more of the language than he admitted (31.07)!

He soon had a place built on the Singave side of the island to say Mass and when the first Mass was said in Poi, on the North coast, Niuliki told the people of the area to attend. He gave the good example and Chanel was edified by their respectful behaviour (06.05). They obviously understood that whatever the missionaries were doing somehow connected up with their own feelings for the sacred. The silence was broken only by a few crying babies whom Chanel called his choir (mes servant chantres 06-04). People loved to assist at ceremonies, listen to Chanel and Nizier singing, and gaze with admiration at the colourful pictures with which the little chapels were decorated. Seeing the missionaries make the sign of the cross, some imitated them. One woman took the initiative of décorating the picture of Our Lady with flowers (18.07).

The two missionaries had soon taken to the local kava culture. They took it first thing in the morning with the King or with the neighbours (11.06) and on every thinkable occasion, several times a day. Like the Futunans, they received and donated kava roots whenever custom demanded it (e.g. 22.06), and accepted an offering of kava in honour of their God (09.08). They often were present and enjoyed the dances, that could go on for a good part of the night (30.06;13.09).

Especially during the Southern winter, whaling ships frequently called or came in view. Every time they caused great excitement with people rushing to possible landing sites to sell food, fruit or pigs. Sometimes the two missionaries too bought things. Chanel shows his anger at the unfair trading that sometimes went on, sailors paying with worthless trinkets for valuable food, and obtaining girls for guns and powder. One girl that the sailors got onto their ship did not like their behaviour and jumped overboard (21.05). Chanel was frustrated at not knowing enough English or Futunan to tell them what he thought of it all. When Marie Nizier heard that the whaler John Adams of Nantucket was on the way to New Zealand, Chanel tried to send a letter or a message to Pompallier in case he was there (31.08), but nothing came of it.

Life on Futuna had its charms. After a trip with Jones’ schooner around the island Peter wrote with admiration of the beauty of Futuna and walking across the island he admired the carefully tended taro plantations (09.06). He enjoyed taking part in extended picnics on the uninhabited island Alofi, admiring the luxuriant vegetation, and looking at the remnants of earlier occupation. He enjoyed the plentiful fruits and foods as well as the crayfish, the crab and fish they caught (25.07). He tried his hand at catching eel, but dropped his keys in the process. Once the two lost count of the days and ate meat on a Friday (20.07).

Later in the year Jones came back with the news that a French warship had bombarded villages in Fiji in reprisal for the murder of a French captain. Chanel regretted the use of violence, but also considered it a useful lesson that would bear its fruit on all the islands. He hoped the ships would call at Futuna but they did not (12.12).[3]

The two missionaries quickly got into the habit of constantly giving presents, a custom at the heart of Oceanic cultures (24.11). Pieces of cloth were always welcome, and once he made Niuliki happy with a pair of underpants (30.60). Marie-Nizier was liked and sought for the many useful services he rendered. He regularly shaved the King and members of the royal family (21.06), being grumbled at when the King’s brother-in-law found the knife not sharp enough (21.07). He discovered how to turn nails into iron fish-hooks that were very popular (11.10; 04.11). His talent for tailoring came in very useful when he made a dress for the King’s granddaughter (08.08). The American James, who had managed to get himself a Futunan wife, brought her along for Nizier to cut her a dress, which he did (10.11).

They got into trouble when they broke a taboo by putting up a latrine behind their new house in Singave: a threat to the countless streamlets of drinking water running down the hills of Futuna (04.01.39). After all, what are beaches for!

Chanel expressed grief when people were sad and lived so close to them that he was liked and respected by many. One grandmother showed him her granddaughter and said she would not want her to marry anyone but a French nobleman, but the only French nobleman present told her kindly to teach her granddaughter to be a good girl (04.07).

Both were often called to visit the sick. Occasionally Chanel could secretly baptize a dying child or adult, but he was aware of the danger of being accused of sorcery and would not go to the funeral of a person he had baptized (22.08). Nizier too did baptisms (20. 01.39). Although there was interest among the people to know more of the lotu (i.e. the religion 28.08) and adults at times asked for instruction or baptism, it was clear that Niuliki would not hear of Futuna becoming Christian. Chanel bided his time (21.08; 16.09). The growing sympathy for Chanel did not stop someone from stealing a precious bottle of eau des Carmes (26.09).[4]

Their health held out reasonably well. Nizier badly hurt his arm, and Chanel, when climbing over the hill in the dark, hurt his back as he slipped three times ‘sur mon derrière’ (15.12). When the kava had been too strong his stomach could be upset, sometimes leading to serious vomiting (05.10). He had fever at times (06.05), but his sense of humour survived the miseries. Some nights an itch kept him from sleeping, but, ‘the local lice came and comforted me’ (06.12).


  1. Information in the following two paragraphs, on Futuna and Wallis, is taken mostly from the diary of Peter Chanel for 1838, EC, pp 318 – 403. The dates refer to the diary. Many items occur more than once in the diary.
  2. Cf. above, p. 73f.
  3. Captain Bureau, of the Aimable Joséphine was killed in 1834 on the small Fijian island of Viwa, the islanders massacred his crew and pillaged the ship. Four years later Dumont d’Urville on the Astrolabe, bombarded Viwa. Although Jore does not mention a second ship, we can guess from the rumour that Jones picked up, that the Astrolabe was assisted by the Zélée, the other ship under the command of Dumont d’Urville. Chanel did not know that the captain in question was Dumont d’Urville, whose book he happened to be reading at the time (22.07; 09.12; most likely Voyage pittoresque autour du monde: Résumé general des voyages de découvertes, Paris, L. Tenré, 1835; cf. LRO, doc. 28 [3], n. 3). Cf. Jore, op. cit., I, p. 100 & II, p. 163. Jore puts the reprisal in 1839, but in the light of Chanel’s diary this must be corrected to read 1838.
  4. A medicinal liqueur they used for all sorts of ills.

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