From Marist Studies
Jump to: navigation, search

14 June 1845 letter of Fr Joseph Chevron to his family and friends, Tonga

Translated by Peter McConnell, June 2010

L[audetur] J[esus] C[hrist] [= Praise be Jesus Christ]

Tonga, 14 June 1845
Let me start by greeting you all beginning with my mother, then Chevron and (not to separate what God has joined together) Marcette, then his six daughters, Alphonse Joseph and their children, then Joséphine Rosalie, Saint Cyrille, Jeannette and her family.
For 19 months I have not received any news from you and those news items were ten months in coming. That does not prevent my reading and re-reading your letters with much pleasure; there are none that I have not read possibly five, six, ten times in my moments of spare time. I have the feeling that this reading brings me back into your presence; while reading them I have the impression of still being able to hear your voice. That is what still makes me from time to time read with pleasure copies of newspapers as well which Chevron has sent me.
Last week we were visited by the French corvette Le Rhin which left on Saturday for Wallis; I think that it must have arrived there today. We have been so busy in receiving visitors and in visiting, busy too with letters from Bishop Bataillon so that most regrettably I have not been been able to write you a single word. Having received this morning the visit of an Englishman who is returning to Sydney, I am using this opportunity to send you a word.
In each letter you ask again for details concerning the islands their mores and their customs. I think that I have quite often spoken to you about those different topics to inform you somewhat about the way the natives differ from the Europeans. Almost being in the antipodes diametrically opposite France, the people of this country resemble those of Europe in their mores and customs. In telling you what we see here. we would only be relating what you have every day before your eyes among the French. Here as in our country, there are stories of ghosts, of a white lady, here as among people in France, we do not throw away a tooth that comes out but we hide it not in the hole in a wall, there aren't any, but in the palm fronds of the roof. Here it is not Saint Anthony whom we ask to find what we have lost, but a kind of fairy called Hine Hina (this means “white”) who spends twelve hours on earth and twelve hours in the clouds. You frighten children here with owls, and the black sheep is changed into a black pig belonging to a god called Gaï. Here too there are certain birds which bring bad luck, the kingfisher, for example when its chirping comes from the left. Here too you think that you can see in the moon a woman who is working. Here as in France you fear traveling at night, frightened of ghosts who have as well as in Europe their gatherings and their wooden shoes.
Here you encounter a lot of games similar to those that children play in Europe. Here too a child who sneezes is greeted with a wish. May you become a beautiful fruit (seï foua)!
I would not finish if I were to relate so many customs which are quite similar to those among the French.
Making progress in the language every day and as a result in knowledge of their customs, I have the impression that I am being more and more naturalized and identifying with them. I have been working for at least four months on a dictionary that has given me incredible hard work and yet it still remains unfinished.
Since your last letter, I think it was when Bishop Douarre arrived, the devil did so much against us. Seeing the path of progress which Catholicism seemed to be taking here, the devil stirred up the zeal of the Protestant missionaries. They woke up from a kind of soporific slumber. They took their business to heart; they made an effort. A thousand slanders spread among the natives in an attempt to make us loathsome as well as being French and being Catholic missionaries. By being repeated these slanders ended up by destroying the fellow feeling which existed between the Protestants, the pagans and us. We pointed out and followed up this matter with the Protestants whom we visited and even with those who came seeking medicine from us. Some faithless chiefs showed us such hatred that their subjects too distanced themselves from us so that today there are very few pagans and Protestants who associate with us. On two occasions they tried to chase away our converts from a small Christian community, which formed near a pagan fort (that of Hologa which I spoke to you about in my previous letters) but the one who has power over the waves also knows how to stop the plots of the wicked. The first day of last May this Christian community of Hologa experienced a new assault. For the first time in a year the sister of the main chief of the neighbouring fort, a Protestant and a devotee of the English missionaries for a year, came with her husband, a Wesleyan catechist, to stay in Hologa to stop the progress being made by Catholics. By dint of commands and concerns they were successful in winning some of the natives to their cause, and then they brought some from various places to establish a small community there. Jealous in seeing that our converts were getting ready to build a chapel, this woman agitated so much with her brother that he sent orders for them to stop the construction and for us to leave and not to return to that village. I immediately went to see him; we had a long and lively discussion, but a useful one. He said merely that he did not want to be violent with us fearing that France, according to what the English missionaries had told him, had wicked designs on the island of Tonga. That is way that God knows how to make the best from calumnies the English spread against us every day. This little Christian cluster comprises about 40 or 50 natives; we intend to take it in turns to revisit them every ten or twelve days.
We have another nascent Christian cluster in the eastern part of the island. It is made up of 50 to 60 natives. From Hologa we are going to spend a day or two there almost every week. I am as yet not able to live among them; they are still weak, but god who has called them will undoubtedly strengthen them by his grace.
Despite all the pretty well innumerable contradictions which we encounter, we still hope that Catholicism will completely triumph over the heresy in this archipelago. Every day we see by its works that Providence seems to show, for our edification, how little we should count on human means and on our own work, and how much on the contrary we should lean on the all powerful grace of God who knows how to draw our good from things that we fear the most. In addition we have Immaculate Mary as the patroness of the missions; she is the one who crushed the head of the serpent with which we have to fight.
The prayers of so many good and pious people who pray every day in France to bring the blessings of heaven on our work are a great cause of consolation and trust. These prayers, which you have told me so many want to be associated with, are of particular importance to me too. Besides the holy Mass which I offer every Wednesday for them, there is not a day that I do not pray God to consent to reward the kindness with which those zealous souls for the glory of God become interested in our work. Please be so kind, as to remember me to them from time to time!
Now, a word about my health. In every letter you seem to worry about it a lot, you ask me to tell you the real truth on that matter, as if you had some suspicions. I think that you can be rest assured on that matter. I don¹t think that we could be unwell here. Between being well or dying, I can scarcely see any middle path. As far as I am concerned I can tell you what I have already told you a hundred times; I think that I am built for the life of a missionary. I see my colleagues arriving here in a robust state, sometimes not being able to endure deprivation and exhaustion which I don¹t even notice. Who would have dared hope in France that I would be able to live for two or three years in these countries having a temperament which seemed so weak especially if it had known the deprivations which we were submitted to here? Yet, six years have passed since I left France, and far from becoming weak, I am on the contrary not actually that I am becoming strong but I can increase the work load and the tiring tasks without being inconvenienced by them. I don¹t think that I have worked in my life as constantly as I have these six years and eight months. Yet I have not experienced the slightest inconvenience from them. Therefore be reassured of my good health!
You expressed to Bishop Douarre your desire to receive some souvenirs from this country. The state of destitution and the path we have taken up until now in our relations with the natives have prevented us from being able to satisfy your demands but we hope that the day will come when you will be able to receive something of that sort.
Recently I received a letter from Father Blanc and one from Father Gouchon, both dated 1842. Not being able to answer them, please remember me to them! In remembering me to Mr and Mrs Brachet, thank them for the lovely flowers that Mrs Brachet sent me. They have a lovely effect in our church; do tell her also that if I did not recognize her kindness I would be frightened in the future, namely one day seeing on the steps of our altars an emptiness which would be truly unbearable out of the habit of our seeing them decorated with the beautiful flowers of Mrs Brachet. My condolences for the priest of Nantua and my best wishes to the curates. Remember me to Aimé Baroudel, to Mrs Vaudel, his sister and her family, to Messrs Cuzin, Ravinet, Guy, etc to the clergy who know me, especially to the priest of Arloz; I would like to think of all the names; I have not forgotten any of them, but I haven¹t time. Do remember me to Misses Maissiat and Berou and to the sisters of Saint Charles and to their prayers. Don¹t forget my wet nurse, Marie Berou, Cravet and family, the people of Mintange and especially remember me to their priest. My love and respect to the relatives in Lyon, especially to Mrs Founet, to her brother Régis, to Jeanne, Alexandre, etc My respects to Messrs Humbert and Ducret; to Mr Bourlot and to Mr Chapel. Had I time, I think I would fill this page with names that I remember every day with so much pleasure. Although we are busy whether looking for ways to make the mission successful or in applying them, I always remember the friends in France.
If I were to give you an account of some of our days, you would chuckle over it. I don¹t think there is any job in the world that we aren¹t sometimes forced to put our hand to. We have to steer our brothers into making all things that are vital for us. In Europe when something becomes faulty or falls apart, you go to the merchant or the workman; it is easy to get it fixed and to get a new one, but here you have to do the repairs yourself or make another one.
I must stop this letter which is really written in haste. I can tell you that the rush which we experienced when the corvette arrived has made me make a firm decision. That is that I will put aside one day a month to write some letter or other so as not to be taken unawares. While waiting you will run a fine comb over this letter.
I greet you all with all my heart waiting for the pleasure of seeing you again soon in heaven. I have the impression that the years fly by; in a little time yet we will meet in a better world where we will be separated no more. Let¹s all walk courageously! There are crosses in France just as there are in Oceania. It¹s a tree, a cross, in all countries. Let¹s try to bear ours in patience! I have seen people frightened by the shortness of life; here that is what consoles us.
Try to write to me as much as possible! I particularly request Chevron to send me newspapers. They arrive really late, but it is still a consolation to be drawn back to one¹s country by the thought. I embrace you once more and am always devoted to you,
Joseph Chevron