Girard0135

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Second half of February 1842 -- Report of Marquis Eugene du Bouzet on the recovery of the body of Father Chanel

Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, February – March 2008


[1]
On the 18th of January his Majesty's corvette L’Allier, which had left the Wallis Islands on the 6th, appeared off Futuna after having struggled, with difficulty, against stormy north-westerly winds which often prevail in these seas at this time of the year. A young chief from that island called Samu Keletaona, gifted with honour, thoughtfulness and integrity, and driven by a keen desire to restore peace and unity to his island by bringing to it the Catholic religion which he had embraced, had presented himself at Wallis as an interpreter and had come on the corvette. His family and many other natives from his tribe, whom the strife had forced to flee their homeland, had taken passage on the mission schooner. When the corvette stood off Sigave, a village inhabited by the tribe friendly to Father Chanel, to which Brother Marie-Nizier had owed his safety, we heard of the deaths of King Niuliki[1] and of a powerful chief among his party who was still opposed to the mission. The commanding officer of the corvette, realising that the death of the main culprit made the return of the priest's remains easier, immediately sent a messenger to ask for them from the chiefs on Niuliki’s side, making clear to them that he intended to keep the peace on their island, and urging them to weigh the consequences that would come on them for such a blameful murder. But those poor savages, seeing a vessel as powerful as the L’Allier armed with so many men and guns, were incapable of understanding that such moderation could be supported by so much strength. Terror had seized them on seeing the corvette and already the idea of abandoning the villages and seeking refuge in the forests had been bruited, when the messenger arrived. The latter skilfully persuaded them how harmful this way of acting could be to them, and that it was in their interests to go along with the propositions made in this way by someone who could insist on everything. Then they all expressed the desire they had to give back the mortal remains of Father Chanel, but none of them dared to be responsible for coming and bringing them on board the corvette for fear of risking death. However one of them called Mapigi,[2] former prime minister under King Niuliki, one of those who had never approved of the murder of Father Chanel, for seeing the misfortunes which could fall on his island as a result, offered to carry out this task and undertook to go himself and disinter Father Chanel and bring him the following day. Everyone made efforts to turn him back from such an intention by getting him to consider the death which was awaiting him, but, trusting the words of the messenger and those of the French commander, he showed himself to be determined and left immediately for the village of Pononi[3] where the priest’s tomb was located.
[2]
The corvette stood out at sea during the night. The whole population of Futuna passed it in anguish, expecting to be attacked at any moment. The women and children uttered cries of grief; all these unhappy people, judging the French by their own standards, had trouble in understanding that a vessel which could destroy everything, was off their island only to teach them the power of the nation, one of whose members they had done to death; and the use it was making of it, by being associated with the spirit of peace and love which animated the mission, and by acceding to the request made by Bishop Pompallier to forgive the murderers and to take no revenge for Father Chanel's death.
[3]
On the 19th January at four o'clock in the afternoon, the chief Mapigi, faithful to his promise, brought the precious remains to Sigave. They were accompanied by about thirty natives among whom were many of Father Chanel's former catechumens, who still had a strong attachment and great respect for his memory, and by the chief Matale, protector of Brother Nizier. Sam Keletoné and all the tribespeople bowed respectfully before the remains. They were wrapped in tapa cloth to which had been added a great number of pieces of the same cloth, unused, as a sign of honour according to the custom of the country. They were straightaway put on a boat from the corvette which was waiting for them. When he came on board, the chief Mapigi, bearing an enormous kava root, presented it to the commanding officer to ask for peace for his island. The latter made him very welcome, and thanked him for what he had done to remove the vestiges of a murder which had soiled his island and for the confidence he had shown.
[4]
While taking on board the glorious martyr's body, it was honoured by displaying the national flag and accompanied by a cannon shot. That was the first time it was unfurled in the sight of these natives; without resorting to force, it inspired in them great respect, and it had just gained what was demanded by the dignity of France where so many religiously minded people were concerned for the success of the Catholic missions, without doing anything which, while satisfying what French justice could demand, could compromise their future.
[5]
The commanding officer had the corvette’s doctor, Doctor Rault, examine Father Chanel's remains. The latter recognised in the skull an abnormal fracture which was consistent with the sharp instrument which, according to Brother Nizier’s story, had brought about the death. The state of putrefaction of the body, which was hardly beginning to be consumed, didn't allow extending the examination as far as his dedication would have wanted. He took it on himself to prepare the remains in such a way that they could be preserved without any danger of spreading the infection on board the ship[4] and they were given into the care of Father Viard who was on board the schooner, to be taken to the Bay of Islands.
[6]
The commanding officer, having shown the chief Mapigi how horrible was the murder of Father Chanel, to whom King Nuliki had opened his island, made him responsible for collecting what was left in Futuna of Father Chanel's property, in particular the sacred liturgical things, and to send him the following day all the chiefs, to whom he wanted to speak himself. Mapigi promised to do all he could to fulfil his desires and left the corvette very happy with the little gifts he had received, and truly impressed with French power.
[7]
On the morning of the 20th of January all the principal chiefs on Nuliki’s side came on board and brought with them the chalice, the soutane, a crucifix and various holy pictures they had got together on the island; expressed their sorrow at the fact that Nuliki had had Father Chanel killed, and replied to the commanding officer who, in order to find just what reason Nuliki had for having him killed, asked them if they had anything to complain of about him. They said that far from that, the Father had done only good in the island and had always shown utmost goodness towards them, begging to him to forget everything, thanked him for having preserved peace with them, declared their desire to always treat well the white people who would come among them, and to bring to an end all the strife which for so long had stained their island with blood. The chiefs of the tribes who had so long been enemies were gathered there and all their animosity seemed forgotten, and the same spirit of harmony seemed to animate them. All gave a very fine welcome to Brother Nizier and begged him to stay among them. The young catechist, full of devotion for religion, could ask for nothing more, but unfortunately his bishop was not there. The time could not have been more propitious for starting again the work of the mission, but all the witnesses of this scene agreed in thinking that the presence of young Sam Keletona, and the appearance of the corvette L’Allier would bring about the happiest results for the future; that the mission would gather their fruit, and that the blood of one of its members which had been shed in the cause of religion would assist in the triumph of its cause in that island and in the neighbouring island. The corvette's commanding officer, as soon as he had dismissed the chiefs, immediately left Futuna and set out for New Zealand with the mission schooner, happy at the success which had just been gained but regretting only Bishop Pompallier's absence did not allow the mission to immediately take advantage of it.
[In Father Poupinel’s hand]
His Honour the Marquis Du Bouzey [sic] - on the return of Father Chanel's body
[In Father Comte’s hand]
– copy of M de Bouzey which he gave me.

Notes

  1. who was, at least indirectly, responsible for Chanel's death – C Girard footnote
  2. most likely Maligi, Niuliki’s prime minister – C Girard footnote
  3. Pelenoa, former name of the village of Poi, where Chanel was buried near the house in which he had lived most of the time – C Girard footnote
  4. the translator understands that the remains were placed in a sealed barrel