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31 August 1848 — Father Louis Padel to Father Victor Poupinel, Upolu, Samoa

Translated by Mary Williamson, June 2018

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

Sheet of paper forming four written pages, the fourth also having the address.

[p.4] [Address]
To the Reverend Father Poupinel, / Lyon.
Jesus Mary Joseph

Mission of Our Lady of Victories, island of Upolu,
Archipelago of Samoa or the Navigators, 31st August 1848.

To the Reverend Father Poupinel in Lyon.

My Reverend Father,
I thank you very much for your kindness in writing to me; I assure that I have not yet forgotten the wonderful voyage that we made together as far as Bourges in France, passing by Moulins in Moulinais. At that time I laughed a lot, because it was easy to find the opportunity, but now I am much more grave and the reason is that opportunities to laugh do not present themselves very often in Samoa. Here it is good form to be serious; when someone addresses you, it is in respectful terms; so you must have a serious demeanour. When someone wishes to inform you of something very-interesting and which in the end means nothing, a fine circumlocution is employed, to request that you lend an attentive ear to whatever is being said to you. This formula is so much the done thing, that its omission is sufficient to prevent someone listening to you. The second or third time that I preached, I forgot to begin my discourse with this indispensable formula. Immediately after the mass two of the principal chiefs came to find me, to reproach me for having failed in this essential formula and, even more, they had me give advice on this matter to Father Vachon. Pride must certainly be well rooted in the heart of man, for us to be spoken to in such a manner by our trouser-less Samoans.
But, what am I saying, trouser-less. They all have one pair, of which they are very proud; a trouser that, once made, never wears out, a trouser that never leaves them and that they even take with them to the grave, this trouser that is always decorated with the same designs pleases them so much that they cannot understand how Europeans can do without them. Thus it is a great pleasure for them to have it seen in its entirety, but it is not a great pleasure for delicate eyes to behold such a pair of trousers. I would almost wager that you would be quite happy to do without such a spectacle. Especially at the moment when warriors gather at the place of combat. You would then see the trouser resplendent in all the impact of which it is capable, for it is well bathed in oil; you would see or rather you would smell the warrior with this disgusting oil; you would see his face all rubbed with coal; his head is covered with a piece of red cloth or with red feathers; but in spite of the trouser the rest of the costume resembles perfectly that which Adam hastened to embrace immediately after his sin. There is a sort of small belt of leaves about the size of this letter; that is all. About a month ago, out walking, I met a crowd of these warriors thus attired. I had to shake hands with most of them. When all this was finished, my right hand was dripping with oil. But to return to the Samoan trouser, which is the same as that of Tonga and which is also that of the old people of Uvea, what is it then, this trouser? It is simply a tattoo which for all of them is the same, which begins at the waist and goes down to the knees. In the archipelago there are a certain number of individuals whose job is to create this form of covering which is always much the same. These men travel round the country: they arrive in a village. They begin first by preparing the dye; it is the fruit of a tree that resembles the coconut and which is called Tama in the language of the country: they burn it and after having reduced it to a powder it is mixed with water. The next day the chief has the children of about fifteen years old and even some younger brought, whether they like it or not, to have the operation. This operation is very painful. The instrument used resembles a comb for carding hemp; it is made of the bones of men killed during warfare, some shark’s teeth and some bones from pigs. The patient having been brought, he is stretched out naked on the ground and he is held down in this position; the operator dips his instrument in the dye and applies it, or rather sinks it into the flesh with little hammer blows. Meanwhile, those who are present and there are always large numbers, men, women and children, all clap their hands and utter cries so that those of the patient, whose blood flows freely, cannot be heard and he is often unwell for several days. I am even assured that several have died; and it is not astonishing, as they are tattooed in even the most sensitive areas. This custom is rather barbaric and I believe even superstitious. I have told you here something of which I am not sure; That is why I have effaced it, as many natives have told me that it is not true. The Protestant ministers have said so much against it that we others mock them and the Europeans who are established here in large numbers have proven to them that all that they imagined has not much significance. Now that is enough of the story of the Samoan trousers, let’s move on to other things.
The news that you have given me, in your welcome letter, about the Roman liturgy gave me great pleasure; It was very pleasing to me to learn that several dioceses have just come out in favour of it. Although I have bid permanent farewell to my country, I would nevertheless be very pleased to learn that as previously Gaudeamus omnes was sung. [1] Personally I have worked for this cause. When we arrived, the appropriate offices of the Society were not carried out in Oceania. I argued for it, I showed the decrees of Rome and they saw that they should be followed. The Bishop consequently gave me the task of the drafting of the liturgic calendar. I wanted to have song books made, you might continue to send some similar to those that you have given to the Fathers who were the last to leave. That edition is very good; I have perused it and have only found three or four places with mistakes and yet that is not very important.
I would ask you, since we are on the subject of rubrics, to ask Rome to give us permission to use candles of tallow [2] and candles of “spermaceti” [3] in the celebration of mass when we have no wax. Here are the reasons for why I believe that we can make this request. It is true that you send us quite nice lamps; but we have only coconut oil, which is very corrosive, so that these lamps can only serve for us for 4 or 5 months. We would be able, in truth, to procure whale oil, but apart from the fact that it costs half as much again as coconut oil, it seems to me it is about the same as for tallow, which we do not have permission to use. As well, the final reason that I would suggest, would be the question of cleanliness, for with the lamps no matter what we do, they spill varying amounts of oil. In the case where we are not granted our request fully, I would ask that we be permitted to use only one wax candle and the others be of purified tallow or spermaceti.
You can be assured that you are not forgotten in Samoa; Brother Jacques, who is with me often speaks of you; he loves you very much. The letter that he has just received from you gave him much pleasure; he has written to you recently via an American ship and his letter will interest you greatly; [4] he asks me to send you his respects. He is an excellent Brother; he is virtuous in all circumstances; there is only one thing that he could be reproached for, that he works too much.
I will not say anything to about the famous Pritchard who is now my parishioner and does not cause me much trouble, it is true, but does not miss any occasion to harass me. Other letters will bring you news of it.
The Bishop has this year founded two colleges, one on Wallis, the other on Futuna. Father Mériais is the Superior at the one on Wallis and Mr Grézel, who has been made a priest, last January, is the one on Futuna.
Two Brothers have died this year, Brother Attale in Tonga and Brother Annet in Fiji. [5]
The Bishop has visited Futuna, Tonga and Fiji this year; he is now back on Wallis. It seems that he intends to come and establish himself in Samoa; it is in fact the most important part of his curacy and the one where one has the most contact with Europe.
I end, my Reverend Father, by commending myself to your prayers and asking that you will not forget, in the Holy Sacrifice of Mass,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Apostolic Missionary, Society of Mary.


  1. Antiphonal chant common to masses for the Virgin Mary: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore beatae Mariae Virginis de cujus solemnitate gaudent angeli et collandant Filium Dei (cf. Graduale sacrosanctae romanae ecclesiae de tempore et de sanctis (Tournai: Desclee, 1979), p.405-406). It is possible but not probable that it is a question of the chant of the mass of the Toussaint, which begins with the same words but continues: .. sub honore sanctorum omnium
  2. that is to say stearin or tallow
  3. white fatty substance from whales
  4. Cf. doc. 71d1, letter of 12th June 1848.
  5. Brothers Attale (Jean-Baptiste Grimaud) and Annet (Pérol).

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