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26 April 1848 — Father Louis-Théodore Violette to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Samoa

Based on the document sent, APM ON 208 (Samoa) Violette.

Translated by Mary Williamson, September 2016

Sheet of paper forming four pages, three of which are written on, the fourth having only the address and an annotation in an unknown handwriting.

Mr, / Father Colin (Claude) / Saint Barthélemy Rise no 4 / Lyon
[Post marks]
HONG-KONG 23 JUNE 1848 — LYON 10 AUGUST 48 (68)
[in an unknown handwriting]
Father Violette 26th April 48

Jesus Mary Joseph,
Lealatele (Island of Savai’i), 26th April 1848.

My Very Reverend Father,
The Count of Escare [1] was kind enough to come from Upolu to Savai’i to give us unequivocal proof of his enthusiasm for the advancement of the work of God and his affection for the missionaries. Considering the pressure of time (he spent only one night with us) and the journeys he has to undertake, he has committed himself to a demanding schedule: our catechists seemed very touched. Certainly, such visits are a great help to us and are to be greatly desired.
I am once again obliged, my Very Reverend Father, to beg your indulgence, as this time my details are not yet written up, as, being alone in the midst of a child-like people, I have very little spare time; up till now I have spent it almost entirely on translations of hymns, prayers, catechisms and, above all, the compiling of vocabularies to assist my colleagues. It is a huge obstacle to the progress of the work we are charged with, to have to be bogged down for two or three years by our ignorance of the language, despite huge efforts and this is because one is alone, without help, without consolation in this matter as with many other things.
I do not doubt, my Reverend Father, the anxieties that your dedication to the well-being of the holy church and the progress of your children causes you, when you see a state of affairs that could be harmful to both of these things and which, unfortunately, does not seem to have an end in view in the near future, unless a salutary crisis puts an end to it. I am confident, my Very Reverend Father, that you will receive from Mr Marceau and Mr d’Escare some factual and impartial information concerning the true state of the missionaries and the missions.
As for the islands of Samoa, I cannot help but assure you that the isolated state of the missionaries is a bad situation for these people, considering their makeup. There are perhaps one hundred chiefs who each wish to have their own missionary, and as the great problem with these people is vanity and jealousy, it only takes one chief to have his own missionary to make another no longer wish to be connected with him, as this would be to lower himself in front of his equal. The only way to remove this obstacle, which seems insurmountable, would be, as seems sensible to some informed people, to establish stations with two or three missionaries for each district, independent of a single chief; and they would then be ministers of religion and not, as they are today, missionaries to such and such a chief. Everyone would gain, both in health and godliness. It seems to me very difficult otherwise, to train well taught catechists and even harder to think of a native clergy. All the time of an isolated missionary is taken up with a mass of unimportant tasks, for, of the four who work in Samoa, three have only natives to help them; they understand very little of our European usages. They are generally lazy and their lack of dependability does not allow us to rely on them to regularly fulfil the most minor tasks; the missionary must keep a watchful eye on everything and almost everything must pass through his hands. Hardly anyone has an iron constitution in this climate; the letters that will have touched your paternal heart whilst reaffirming your faith will have given proof of this. Nevertheless, we here are all in fairly good health.
As for the state of the catholic religion in Samoa, it is certain that powerful blessings were needed to lift the morale to where it is now — for the forces of evil, so firmly led in this country for about ten years by the power of heresy, were an obstacle that our human resources could not overcome. Our adversaries have damaged themselves; nevertheless it is to be greatly desired that the damage that they have caused in the area of fathers of families will disappear completely in the near future. The number of our catechists is growing daily and many who wish to come to us are held back by the vanity and jealousy of their chiefs. We are going to have a new church built for us at Lealatele, which will be bigger than the first and built of wood from the breadfruit tree, wood that is the king of timbers in this country. Heresy, so triumphant and shameless in the past, with its false accusations, now remains silent and keeps more or less on the defensive. The Count of Escare informs us that an English warship is coming to finally achieve what its predecessors attempted and take possession of Samoa. If England wants to do this, I do not see that this would be impossible; as for the consequences where religion is concerned, we would certainly hope for divine goodness for these people.
I hope that our colleagues in France will find here, in the sincere compliments that I send them, a small compensation for the lack of interesting details that they might expect from me; I have limited myself today to quickly copying the account written in my journal touching on the structure of the terrain here in Samoa, their chiefs, their spirits etc.
I do not think it unhelpful to inform the Reverend Father Poupinel that the pictures representing life-sized busts are those that make the most impression here.
I am, with the deepest respect and the warmest affection,
My Very Reverend Father,
your most dutiful son,
apostolic missionary, Society of Mary.


  1. Jean des Cars (cf. Montalembert, p.7; and below, doc. 687, introduction).

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