Br Marie-Nizier (Jean-Marie Delorme) to Fr Colin, Futuna, 18 August 1845
D’après l’expédition, APM OW 208 Delorme, Marie-Nizier.
Clisby Letter 56. Girard doc. 393
Introduction and translation by Br Edward Clisby FMS
Marie-Nizier was with Favier at the time this letter was written. He had been helping with the preparation of a number of children, youth, and men for their first Communion (thus discounting his own claim  that he was rather an "obstacle" to the conversion of Futuna - but this modesty was a trait he shared with Chanel (rf L 26 )). Favier, writing to Colin about the same time, also mentions some of the older men had been cannibals (AM 379-382). In the long letter he wrote to Colin from Sydney in October 1867, after reading Bourdin's Life of Chanel, Marie-Nizier explains that cannibalism had never been a common practice on Futuna, although Niuliki's immediate predecessor as king had made it a conspicuous feature of his reign. Niuliki had banned it on his accession, to the relief of almost all the islanders. That was at least 20 years before the Marists arrived. During Chanel's time one old man did approach the king, claiming he had dreamt it would be a good thing to reintroduce the practice of eating the "food of the gods." Niuliki's response was a brief one: "If anyone is going to be cooked, you will be the first" (PC 187).
Servant was keen to collect all the information he could about the traditional culture and beliefs of Futuna, as he had earlier done with the Maori in New Zealand, a project in which the brother was an invaluable assistant . But he had not yet sent this material to France. Although he informed Colin in a letter of 8 February 1846 he was going to send him a History of the Mission of Futuna, notes on Futuna, and information on the life and death of Chanel, he had in the meantime seen Marie-Nizier and therefore held back the notebook containing notes on the customs, beliefs, divinities, etc. of Futuna so the necessary corrections could be made (PC 155 - but this reference has been edited out of Marie Nizier's letter of May 1846 in AM 374-9).
This letter was completed with the postscripts on 9 October. A typescript copy is among the collection of photocopies in the AFM. The list of requests , written on a separate piece of paper, has not survived.
Text of the Letter
- Very Reverend Father,
- I thought I should write this little letter to express my sincere thanks and give you a little personal news.
- I get fresh satisfaction and new advantages for myself every time I read the letter you have been good enough to send me, and I read and reread it almost every day. It is a great comfort and solid support for me in times of trial, temporal and spiritual. But alas! at the same time I tremble when I see you placing me in the ranks of the apostles. Ha! On the contrary, haven't I been, because of my iniquities, the reason why the conversion of this poor island has taken so long! God grant that I may no longer be an obstacle to the abundant graces he is accustomed to pour out on newly converted souls.
- I am afraid, Very Reverend Father, you may find what I am going to tell you wearisome, although I am not at all complaining. I will tell you anyway. A few days after my last letter to you last December, I was struck down by an illness which did not last long, but which was very painful. The days I suffered most I was in the village where we were living at the time of Fr Chanel's death. Two converts had accompanied me from the other side of the island and they were with me. One of them was the one who had looked after me so devotedly during my first illness. The other had been good to me, but not so often. The affection they felt for me led them to press Fr Servant to let me go to the other side of the island where Fr Favier was. They would find it easier there, they said, to provide all the care needed to hasten my recovery, since it was their home ground. They pleaded so well that they won Father's consent and he came himself to tell me I should get ready to leave the next day. A stretcher was immediately constructed of rough tree branches bound with twine to carry me on. The following day my portable bed was carried by about 15 men or youths, taking turns, along frightful tracks. A number of times I was almost thrown on to the rocks by the bouncing I was subjected to by my bearers as they crossed the very rough terrain. On our arrival on the other side of the island, some people who had heard my illness had taken a serious turn were expecting to see only a corpse when I was put down on the ground. News of my arrival spread through the two valleys in the twinkling of an eye, and about 50 or 60 people of all ages from round about came in turns to visit me. Some simply greeted me, while others told me how afraid they had felt on learning my illness had taken a turn for the worse, and how overjoyed they were to see me alive ...
- A ceremony the islanders found very fascinating took place for the first time on the feast of Pentecost this year. It was first communion, with the usual preparations as in France. (There had already been a great number of first communions but without any solemnity). During the week's retreat for the children chosen to make their first communion, a certain number of old men and youths also prepared themselves for the great event, and followed the exercises of the retreat. I was responsible for instructing them and asking them the necessary questions. The generous fervour this impressive and novel ceremony inspired in them is still in evidence. There are old men who have spent more than two months staying in the vicinity of the presbytery in order to receive instruction so they can make their first communion. Those whose memory is not so reliable complain about the long delay this means for them. How touching it is to see these heads which have grown white under Satan's yoke, these people of both sexes who fed on human flesh, come and sit now at the holy table to taste of the bread of Angels!... Isn't it consoling, too, to hear the praises of God (for so long disowned on Futuna) on lips which previously uttered only obscenities, blasphemies, etc. It's true these poor unfortunates didn't know then what they were doing. Now that they are instructed, their dispositions improve day by day, and the behaviour of a large number is cause for edification. The limits I set myself in this letter don't allow me to give you a detailed account of anything. Anyway, nothing out of the ordinary has happened since my last letters.
- Very Reverend Father, I don't think I need to repeat what I have already told you elsewhere. My enemies continue to wage a fearful and unending war on me. Almost every moment is a struggle, night and day. The unclean spirit prowls constantly around my poor soul seeking to gain mastery of it. I certainly hope that, by God's mercy, he will fail, but I am letting you know this so you will condescend to help me by your prayers and advice to win an eternal victory. In this way, I can one day receive that great reward that you promise, heaven, and I will not prove unworthy of the crosses the good God sends me.
- I dare once more, Very Reverend Father, to renew the request I have made already in other letters, that you condescend to sacrifice a few of your precious moments to send me a reply to the different requests I have presumed to ask of you. The day I receive it will be a very happy day for me.
- Accept, my Very Reverend Father, the assurance of profound respect and entire submission with which I have the honour of being,
- My Very Reverend Father,
- Your very humble and unworthy son in Jesus and Mary,
- Br Marie Nizier. cat(echist).
- Your very humble and unworthy son in Jesus and Mary,
- My Very Reverend Father,
- I have enclosed this list so that if you consider it alright to have me sent the things I am asking for, it would be much easier (to read them) than if they were written in the body of the letter. This is independently of what I am also requesting in another letter.
- I recall that Fr Servant and I collected some information only from a young man; he completely misled us about most of the things. I have since been able to get the correct information, it is not yet two weeks ago today, the 9 October, from one of the old men most knowledgeable in this field, who had himself been the tabernacle of one of those so-called divinities. I have not seen Fr Servant since to mention this to him. I think then, Reverend father, I should let you know in case Fr Servant has sent you the notes on the above, so that we do not become subject later to contradiction for having had errors published unknowingly. I am informing you of this, seeing that a ship has just appeared today and we are thinking of confiding our letters to it.
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