From Marist Studies
Fr Michel Borjon to Fr Bernard Lagniet, Maketu, 15 May 1842
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2008
- Maketu, 16 May 1842
- Very dear confrère
- In my first visit, which was to Rotorua, a village two leagues from Maketu, I couldn’t get myself a guide. However, all the preparations having been made, I did my best to find out the direction to take, and in a word, there I was on my way with the Brother responsible for the supplies, but we didn’t get far before we went off course. Someone directed us to the right way, we strayed again, and this time met no one to redirect us. We came out onto the seashore, which we followed aimlessly, when in the distance we saw a man coming in our direction. He told us that in a short distance we would find a kainga or village, [and] that there we would get lost in the land.
- Having got to the place pointed out to us, we engaged a guide who soon got tired and wanted to return. So there we were again left to our own devices. We went on as best we could, following a tortuous little track, climbing and descending the hills, but the worst thing was that daylight had gone, and we were only groping our way along. What was to be done? There was no inn. We put the bag on the ground, lit a big fire and cooked supper in Robinson [Crusoe] style, and then, after evening prayer, we tried out for the first time, by wrapping our cloaks around ourselves, the New Zealand traveller’s bed under a beautiful starry sky, without fear of harmful creatures, under the protection of Divine providence which watches over its missionaries’ days, and sheltered by a canopy of greenery formed by the naturally interlacing branches over our heads, we went to sleep.
- Having arrived at Rotorua, the goal of our journey, we were very well received; it was like a family celebration on again seeing a long-awaited father. I spent almost a whole day baptising children. I went from house to house, and people had delight in presenting them to me.
- The next day I was invited to visit a neighbouring kainga: a fairly good number of Catholics from Rotorua wanted to accompany me there, especially those called noia, a sort of soldier. Here is the ceremonial that is followed in such circumstances.
- As soon as we are in sight of the kainga, we form ourselves into a single line. We walk in silence, those who see us coming cry out from a distance: Nau mai, nau mai; come, come. Finally we arrive. The guards of the people receiving us are standing, also in a single line; we go along in front of them giving each other a handshake and saying, in response to each greeting: Good morning. That done, the military manoeuvres of the two groups begin, and, on a signal, all the soldiers squat on their heels; they listen, armed, to the chiefs’ speeches, and then the meal is served in newly woven baskets.
- On returning home from the kainga in the evening in the moonlight, I suddenly catch sight of people armed with muskets, staffs, hatchets, and straightaway those with me say  that they are going to fight each other. They invite me to follow them to settle their differences, because they were only on the defensive; they were expecting to be attacked by another Catholic tribe. I follow them, retracing my steps. The next day goes past without the enemy appearing. Finally, two days having passed, the sound of musket shots is heard in the distance. Someone calls out: There they are! Then I suggest going myself, with some chiefs, to find them, in order to discuss conditions for peace. We go forward into the interior, and after two or three hours’ travel, having arrived on the shore of a lake, we see on the opposite bank a kainga in front of which some men are seated with muskets at their sides. People come to fetch us in canoes. I approach the warriors who make me sit down in front of them, and then, a speech by a chief having ended, I speak up and urge them to make peace, telling them that life is already short enough without their massacring each other; and that besides, they are children of the Bishop and that they ought to love each other.
- At this moment the high chief gets up: he was the one who had most to complain about. Someone had taken a slave from him, and this grievance had led him to take up arms. I begin negotiations with him and declare to him that his slave will be given back to him, or that he will be given a just recompense. He agrees to this, and the matter ends with prayer; I intone the litanies of the Blessed Virgin to thank God through the mediation of her whom I saw as the powerful conciliatress of these poor savages. I do not know what would have happened: these tribes along with those of Maketu are reputed to be the most bellicose and the most implacable in New Zealand.
- That was not the first time that a missionary here has prevented the shedding of blood. Already, quite close to there, Father Viard had stopped five or six hundred men on the point of coming back with it on their hands. It is so true that there is, in the nature of the Catholic priesthood, something divine which impresses the most barbaric peoples! What a joy for the priest to be doubly a saviour and a father for these poor tribes, by giving them life for their souls, and preserving that of their bodies!
- In this encounter I saw only warriors: they had muskets, cartridge pouches, hatchets, long Maori staffs; one of the chiefs alone was carrying a rusty old sabre. When they go into battle, they wear nothing but a belt with fringes, they utter frightful cries and their prelude, in the war dance, is really capable of arousing the courage of the fighters. According to what my people told me at the time, it would seem that these savages carry on war only by skirmishing; they shoot at their man, and straightaway flee and hide. Fortunately these people have lost a good deal of their bellicose attitude and it is to be believed that those devastating wars which usually ended with the extermination of one of the two antagonists, with the destruction of crops and dwellings, and cannibalism, will not be seen any more. It is in this way that this superb race of New Zealanders has in great measure destroyed itself.
- You now know, dear confrère, my situation and the territory which Divine providence gave me to open up. If there are difficulties, and works, there are consolations as well. Our sort of life is very varied: on journeys, you catechise and baptise; at home you study, you instruct more deeply the people where you live; and there, you are a bit like a parish priest in his parish, like a religious in his community. In this way the days and months go past with rapidity and contentment. Please pray for me and my people, because I pray for you and for yours.
- I am etc.
- Borjon, missionary apostolic
- rector of the minor seminary at Belley
- about 10 km. Possibly Father wrote deux – two, instead of dix – ten, which would be more accurate - translator’s note
- Brother Justin Perret – C Girard footnote
- que là nous enfoncerons dans les terres – possibly implying that where we were, we were getting lost - translator’s note
- could he mean hoia – usual word for a soldier - translator’s note
- eux de me dire
- taiaha, perhaps - translator’s note