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Br Paschase to Br Francois, Wallis, 30 September 1847

CSG 1 464-7


Paschase arrived in Wallis towards the end of October 1846 on the “Arche d’Alliance” and found himself appointed to that mission. He did not make a good impression at first, being somewhat outspoken. His city and army background (he was from Toulouse and had been stationed in Paris) probably has something to do with this. In August 1847 he was appointed to Matautu to take over the printery from Isidore Grezel whom Bataillon was now ready to ordain. Grezel (1816-1884) had not been attached to the Society when he came out to Oceania as a seminarian in 1843, and although ordained in 1848, did not make profession as a Marist until 1859, 16 years after arriving in the Pacific.

War had broken out in late 1844 between Tungahala and Pooi. Despite its religious colouring, with Tungahala leading the Catholic faction against his Wesleyan rival, it was essentially a contest for power between two ambitious young chiefs. Pooi had the help of about 100 Tongans but after a truce enforced by the captain of the “Rhin” in June 1845, the Tongans returned to Vava’u. The truce ended at the end of the year and the war continued, a sporadic affair, and with no further reinforcements coming from Tonga, Pooi was eventually forced to sue for peace.

Although Paschase is the first Brother to list the curios he is sending back to France [5], he was not the first to send some (cf eg. L 57 {1}). Those he sent by the “Arche” would not have reached their destination until almost two years later. Where they would have been displayed at the Hermitage we do not know; probably at the entrance to the Superior’s office, if subsequent practice is anything to go by. The first reference to a museum there does not appear until 10 years later (in Francois’ letter of January 1857). Colin would also have received various curios and gifts from various parts of the Pacific by this time. The Kivalu, Menuti, Lavelua’s prime minister, had died in 1845. A fierce warrior and implacable enemy of the mission in the early days, his appearance had earned him the French nickname, the “old tiger”. But he ended his days as a devout Catholic. [1]

Bataillon had just recently had news from New Caledonia and the Solomons of the disasters to the missions in those islands, and Marceau was setting off for Woodlark where the survivors of the latter had re-established themselves. Bataillon, Grezel, and Joseph-Xavier were to accompany him as far as Futuna. The bishop’s own schooner, the “Clara”, purchased in 1846, had been damaged in the storm earlier in the year (rf preceding letter) and it was on its way to Tahiti to complete repairs.

This letter, recorded in the Cahier pp 219-223, is No 66 in the collection “Lettres d’Oceanie” in the AFM.

Text of the Letter

Dear and very honourable Brother Francois,
Blessed be God forever! I am writing these few lines to being you up to date on my situation and tell you about the kinds of occupation confided to me. Since my arrival I have been stationed with Fr Mathieu, Monsignor Bataillon’s vicar general. There I made a beginning of getting to know these good savages buried in their pagan superstitions. Despite the loneliness I am happy because I have made my choice for God. He it is who gives me the courage and strength to support the little trials that go with a position that is lowly and would be quite repugnant to worldly people. Now his Lordship has transferred me to Matautu, to the press to replace M. Grezel who is going to Futuna.
Dear Brother, you see I have not forgotten the promise you made me give you on leaving, any more than the proofs of your kindness in wanting to anticipate all my needs, and having received me into the Society of Mary our Mother. Here I am, then, six thousand leagues from our beautiful homeland. My eyes frequently turn in the direction of all the Brothers I have left there, and not without emotion, for in the last resort the heart is at home where it recognises a semblance of ideas, character, conduct, etc. There is none of that here. They are good people, it’s true, but still savages, and among savages there is little of the refinement of spirit and sentiment which is one of the attractions of our society. For us the life of the savage is repulsive, except for a certain simplicity or (moral) earthiness which does not permit the concealment of either vice or virtue. It’s true that there are fewer obstacles to conversion because it is obvious there is nothing here to keep one attached to this world. Wallis, situated sixty leagues from the Navigators’ group, is a little island 10 leagues around and five leagues long by three wide; just a dot for the people of a country as extensive as France. The banana tree produces branches of a fruit which tastes a little like the pear. The coconut provides food and drink, and its fibres are very good for cord. The yam, the taro, a kind of turnip much bigger than ordinary turnips, and the sweet potato, which is nothing more than a sugary potato, make up the total food resources of this country. There are also several kinds of wood which are as durable and as good as the oak in our country. Their canoes are roughly the shape of a fish, formed from the trunk of a tree to which some smaller branches are attached. They are nothing out of the ordinary, though their bindings have something of merit. Their houses are circular, supported on a number of wooden pillars, and very low. The family sleep there, all crowded together, on mats. The women spend their time pounding a fabric made from the bark of the fau tree to make their clothes. The men are occupied in farming, fishing, and cooking their food, often leaving their women seated around their tapa (the name of the material they make) hungry. In general, the inhabitants are good, but proud and very suspicious of strangers. We enjoy a perpetual spring but the monotony makes us long for the lovely succession of the seasons. The war raging here a little before my arrival has brought the inhabitants together in three big principal villages, and this makes our ministry much easier.
Just recently the corvette, “La Brillante”, called in to leave Monsignor whom it had conveyed from Amoa (the Navigators), and we had the consolation of seeing a number of sailors receive the sacraments at the hands of the Bishop of Enos.
The Catholic religion seems pretty well established here but there is a little nest of protestants and they have caused all the disturbance and the war which has broken out. This war, like the one in Taiti, is one of skirmishes in the bush. They are careful to keep at a distance so there is not much bloodshed, for it is a case of relatives fighting one another, and since they are all daubed in red and black they find it hard to recognise one another. They are afraid of killing someone related to them. Recently with Monsignor’s servant on our way to Matautu, I was caught in an exchange of fire. There were 2 dead, a protestant and one of ours.
I am sending you some curios which will please you, my dear Brother: two finished mats, three clubs, one from Fiji, two ipu or coconut cups, some shells from the Strait of Magellan, a garland of combs used to decorate the altar on Holy Thursday, two shell necklaces, some tapa, the local fabric, a kupesi, the pattern used for printing the fabric,[2] and a bowl for the Father superior which belonged to the old Ekivalu (the old tiger) of the island, who died recently, a basket, and two mollek. [3]
I am sorry to have to inform you of the death of our good Brother Gerard. He died on Holy Thursday pronouncing the names of Jesus and Mary over and over. And Brother Attale died the 5th of August in Tonga, probably so that he could be transfigured with Jesus Christ the day after.
On the 21st the “Arche d’Alliance” arrived from Taiti and is due to leave soon for the Solomon Islands via Futuna, Rotuma and Fiji. Mgr Bataillon will travel on her with M. Grezel. He is going to found a college on Futuna.
I have given the chest to the captain of the “Arche” who will see you receive it, and my letters to M. Ronieux captain of His Lordship’s schooner, who is leaving for Taiti and then for France.
Pray to the good God for me, my dear Brother, and I for my part will do the same. At the same time, pass on to the other Brothers the assurance of the charity and union which binds us.
I am forever in Jesus and Mary,
Your very humble and respectful Brother,
Br Paschase.


  1. Mangaret, Mgr Batallion et les Missions de l’Oceanie Centrale, T IIe, Paris 1884, p 125.
  2. This word, the same in Tongan, refers to a stencil-like contrivance used in making patterns on tapa cloth. It is placed under the cloth and the colouring matter is rubbed or dabbed on top, on the same principle as in making a rubbing of a coin. Rf Churchward, Tongan Dictionary, 1959, p 276.
  3. I have been unable to identify this term or find one with similar spelling.

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