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November 1848 — Father François Palazy to Father Victor Poupinel, Futuna

Translated by Mary Williamson, October 2018

Based on the document sent, APM OW 208 Palazy.

Three sheets of paper forming twelve written pages; Poupinel’s annotation is on the twelfth page. Letter edited in Annals of the missions of Oceania, t.1 [special edition] (1895), p. 388-395.

[p.12] [in Poupinel’s handwriting]
Futuna, November 1848 / The Reverend Father Palazy to Father Poupinel

Futuna, November 1848.

My Reverend Father,
The schooner of Bishop Bataillon, the Clara (leased 9 months of the year to the Society of Oceania) is going to set sail with 8 to 10 bulls after having left provisions on Wallis, Futuna, Rotuma, Fiji and Tonga. I am profiting from this precious occasion to send you this letter, especially as it will be able to be delivered to you by a young man of very good family who is returning to France after having spent several years on Wallis. He is a very thoughtful young man and very pious.
I will not bother you with any details of my passage from France to Samoa, as you will no doubt know about it from letters from my colleagues or from those that I wrote in succession from Valparaiso, Tahiti, Samoa, and even from Futuna. When I arrived at the home of our colleagues in Samoa, my heart felt a little pained on seeing them reduced to a few taros and yams for food, even these taken in moderation and living from day to day being cared for by some natives who were their guardian angels. To this modest nourishment were added some rare morsels of salted pork, eaten even more sparingly and certainly not every day. Add to that the rough huts to live in, open to all weathers and all comers, as well as the isolation. Father Mugnéry, the worst endowed of all, was on the island of Savai’i, ten leagues from the Reverend Father Violette, with reciprocal visits every month via a terrible route, where Commander Descarres wore out a pair of shoes after coming and going. Father Padel and Father Vachon are on the island of Upolu at about two leagues distant, living with different tribes. They had begun to have a certain number of novices; but since then, I have heard that the most violent of wars has broken out on Upolu and despite the fury with which the natives waged and perhaps still wage war, they have fully respected the missionaries, their church and their dwelling.
At the beginning of the war, I have been told that, not long after our departure from Samoa, a chief, on an impulse, burnt down the house of a white man and then sought refuge with the Fathers gathered in Mulinu’u, to escape no doubt from being pursued by Pritchard and the other white men who wanted to make him pay for the house. The English consul Pritchard wrote to the Fathers, wanting them to make the chief pay for the house and not keep him protected and threatening that, if they did not do so, he would have Mulinu’u bombarded by an English corvette, the Calypso, that was in the harbour at Apia. Our Fathers did not wish in any way to get involved in worldly affairs and their work was not to act as bailiff for a poor native who had done them no harm and perhaps had nothing; they replied to the consul with a letter stating that they could not chase away from their home a person who had not done them any harm and for an affair that they were not acquainted with and for which they were not responsible and that, if any harm befell them on this occasion, from the actions of the Englishmen, it would be from England that France would demand satisfaction. However, some time after this response, a canon shot was heard from the harbour. They thought that the bombardment had begun and everyone prepared to flee. However the good Brother Jacques said that it was only to frighten them and that the last thing they would do would be to bombard a simple hut for such a small thing; and in the meantime he did not wish to flee. And he was right, for the canon shot from the Calypso was simply to call back on board a canon that had been taken ashore, I do not know for what reason, as the Calypso’s mission was to establish an English protectorate in the Samoan islands; but they would not be able to succeed, it was said, because the chiefs refused their consent.
Our departure from Samoa with Brother Sauveur was so hurried that we did not have the time to say goodbye to our dear colleagues who we would perhaps never see again. I had hardly finished my morning prayer after the mass when I was told that the schooner that should transport me to Futuna was leaving the port and I was twenty minutes away; I ran at full speed and indeed saw the schooner slowly reaching the open sea with sails set. Not knowing how to explain this sudden departure, I put all my anxieties in the hands of divine providence and continued my path as far as the port where I saw the captain, who had come back ashore in a rowboat to collect the dispatches of the agent for the Society of Oceania and which were not yet finished. Thus I was fully reassured. The captain had wished to profit from a morning breeze to get out of the port, as they had been waiting for wind for several days.
Having arrived on board, we had no more than a very feeble breeze that left us all day out from Upolu; the following day we had scarcely reached the Western end of Savai’i, the most Western of the islands of Samoa. On the third day we could still see the peaks of her mountains, that then began to blend in with the misty horizon. On the following days our progress was so slow that we took 6 days to arrive in Futuna, a distance of 120 leagues from Apia. We had left on 5th May, on the 10th in the morning we could see to the West, on the horizon, the peaks of two stretches of land which seemed to rise up from the water and raise themselves higher, becoming larger the nearer we approached. It was Futuna, with her companion, the small island of Arofi [1] to the South-east. The wind was favourable and by the evening we were viewing from very close the high, verdant mountains of the two islands; we could already see the waves breaking in white foam against the rocks and reefs of the shore. My heart was beating with joy at the thought that we would be able to enter the port this very day. But the winds became variable and contrary and we were not able to enter the strait between the two islands. It would not be till the following day that the schooner would be able to moor and whilst waiting we would have to return to the open sea and tack all night.
The following day I was shown, on the Eastern coast, a newly built church in a clearing of coconut palms. It is Our Lady of the Martyrs, it is the tomb of the Reverend Father Chanel. But here is a canoe of natives coming out to us, before we have arrived in the strait; it is soon followed by several others who attach themselves to the ship and slow her progress, which is already not very rapid. These are men of varied colour, height and countenance, with long hair tied on top of the head, which gives them a wild and hostile look, but today they are no longer anything but timid lambs. A long belt of grasses or leaves, or fabric comprises almost all of their clothing. They climb aboard one by one, respectfully untying their bundles of hair and come to give me their alofa (their greeting) whilst touching my hand in the English fashion. As I did not know their language, our conversation was neither long nor noisy. In their canoes, I can only see men, for now the women no longer go aboard the ships. After having passed the strait, I was shown, to the South of the large island along the sea front, on a rounded plateau and bordered by two deep streams, a raised area of about 150 feet above sea level, named Kolopelu or round fort, for it was a former fort of the natives, with very difficult access. We could see on this fine site the roofs of two houses; it is, we were told, the chapel and the lodgings of the college that his Lordship Bishop Bataillon had founded on Futuna, six months ago. Whilst I am contemplating the beautiful site of this establishment and the fine aspect of the sea front, I see a craft crewed by several natives leaving the coast; as it approached I seemed to see on board someone dressed in black. It is a priest, barefooted; he comes aboard, we embrace. It is not Father Servant? No, it is the abbot Grézel, sent by His Lordship, who was impatiently awaiting news and who did not suspect my presence there. We take the dispatches and go straight to shore in the canoe; leaving the schooner to take care to reach the port a bit further on.
Arriving at the base of the fort, we climb the steep slope at an oblique angle by quite a steep recently formed footpath to the Southwest. Reaching a slightly rounded plateau, surrounded by trees and bordered by a precipice, I see two separate houses, built from rushes and covered with pandanus leaves. To the South is the chapel and a little more to the North is the dwelling for the students, near to which I can see Bishop Bataillon who has just finished his manual labours and was waiting for me in the company of the Reverend Father Servant. With Brother Sauveur, we throw ourselves at his feet to receive, for the first time, his blessing and to put ourselves at his disposal. He embraces us and a moment later leads us in the holy sacrament to give thanks to God for our arrival and to maintain his concern and his love for us in the midst of the dangers and difficulties that accompany the apostolic life.
According the calendar as it is in Samoa, I conducted the Friday service; whilst on Futuna it was still only Thursday, conforming to the arrangement of days that we had when coming from France via Cape Horn.
Kolopelu is a charming site with its view and its airiness. About six months before my arrival, it was just a desert, covered with trees and brush. Today it is a magnificent enclosed area and is very fertile. It is true that water is not very plentiful there. But divine providence, which has given fertility to this land built on rock, has also taken care to bathe it, as well as the high mountains and the green rocky areas of the island with frequent and plentiful rains, which do not last long, but which maintain a continual freshness for the soil of Futuna. The land for the college, as well as its vast outbuildings, was given by a chief; and at the invitation of the Bishop who led by example and regular effort every day, this area was cleared and planted by the natives from various valleys on Futuna, who came turn about to help with the task and bring their banana palms, breadfruit trees, yams and taro. It is in this place, both pleasant, healthy, fertile and solitary, that his Lordship intends to found a retreat for unwell priests from his vast curacy. I believe that Futuna is an island with great possibilities, for both the temporal and spiritual life. It only needs advances to be made and things to be put on a firm footing, as the island of Futuna is extremely fertile and produces a variety of products. It could feed a population at least ten times larger. If these mountains and valleys lie fallow and covered with trees, it is because, thanks to the ancient cannibalism there is a lack of manpower to cultivate them and European industries are almost entirely unknown; the natives do everything according to their old customs.
Cotton grows very well here, but it is necessary to teach the natives to cut it, spin it and weave it to make garments out of it; and it is also necessary to acquire the machines and experts for that. Here we could have three fine harvests of corn each year; but where are the mills to grind it. Beans do marvellously well as do squash and watermelons. Cucumbers grow too as do aubergines, tomatoes, small onions, sweet potatoes, orange trees, lemon trees and different varieties of bananas. Pineapples produce well. Vines grow very quickly, but they just spread and I do not find, as in France, vigorous, thick shoots. Nevertheless, they sometimes produce some grapes; and I am led to believe that if one could find the right way of pruning them and cultivating them in these hot countries, they would produce a harvest as in France, for not long ago I pruned the vine at the college, which has only been growing for a year and already it has three beautiful bunches. I do not know whether they will be a success. I took the opportunity of pruning it when the sap was not rising. Instead of cutting the shoots short as they do in Europe, I think that it is necessary to leave them a little longer so as not to cut off the buds, which should produce fruit and which are further from the stem than in France. Then I must take great care to often prune the false buds that grow beside the large buds and which often prevent them from growing, as I have observed. As well, one must keep the vine elevated on stakes and keep the base well cleared so that it will not be overrun by grass.
We have sown sesame which seems to be doing very well; but there is no machine to make oil. Our wheat has grown, it has produced a mass of shoots but remains in the blade. The beans have grown but have not produced any pods. The radishes have grown very well and even rounded out; but they finish by rotting at ground level without giving any produce; they have the same taste as French radishes. I have had a harvest of melons which were very small but very good, the natives were enchanted by their lovely perfumed odour. I had sown them towards the month of June at daybreak and had a great deal of trouble in protecting them from a host of red hemisphere-shaped beetles who came to devour them when they were still small. Then, when they began to carry a quantity of fruit, they were half burned by the heat of the sun and the lack of rain, which prevented them from growing. I wanted to try a second sowing towards the end of September, but the red insects or the more fiery sun killed them. I believe that the most favourable time to sow melons in the tropics would be the month of May, a time when the days are shorter, the sun less fiery and rains more frequent. The potatoes were productive a first time but I do not know if their next sowing will produce again. The chickpeas have not grown, nor have the lentils. The onions from France sown on the shortest days are growing quite well, but do not fatten out and produce no seed. I think that the sorrel will grow from the seed that I brought from Valparaiso. Only two shoots have grown; they are looking quite healthy and I take care of them as I would my two eyes to prevent them from being burnt by the sun. The spinach sprouted but did not survive. The plum, peach and apricot pips that we planted have not grown nor the almonds or walnuts. The flax has not grown either. I do not know whether the hemp will succeed. The Futunians replace it with the bark of several trees or shrubs, but the hemp seems stronger to me and is more resistant to water. The natives grow two sorts of tobacco, for from childhood to old age, they are all great smokers even the women.
We have just received some cabbage plants from Wallis which have not produced any hearts nor any seeds, but they come from cuttings and we eat the leaves. We have here some trees called kafika [2] that have the exterior appearance of a pear tree and that produce excellent white or violet fruits with a soft nut in the centre, without pips. The yams are very big. The taro, which everywhere else is only grown in water, grows here either water or dry, in the mountains and in the valleys. This is our daily bread, along with the spherical, starchy fruit of the breadfruit tree. I can verify that taro and breadfruit seem to me to be of a preferable taste to bread when they are well cooked and of good quality. One can have two harvests per year of yams and taro. The fruit of the breadfruit tree is more or less available in all seasons, but much more abundant at certain times. The natives have the art of preserving this fruit for years at a time, by burying it in leaves in deep holes in the ground to serve as a provision in case of famine. The breadfruit thus prepared is called masi. [3] It has the fetid appearance, taste and smell of a rotted cheese which is half dried out.
The island of Futuna has at great variety of very tall trees suitable for construction and for producing fine planks; but where are the pit sawyers? Where are the sawmills? It would not be flowing water that would be lacking, as the island is criss-crossed with numerous streams fed by large springs.
On Futuna we have four cows or bulls, two donkeys and one she-ass, 10 to 12 sheep and several goats (the pest of the plantations). Some domestic ducks who do not reproduce much, about thirty geese either at the mission or wild, many hens, large numbers of which are running wild, many pigs, crayfish on the trees and in the sea, many wild pigeons, beautiful green doves; little parrots of the same colour, many quail with tails, large flying foxes, very small swallows and a host of varieties of fish of all sizes and shapes that can sometimes be caught in large numbers either in a net or on a hook. The earth on Futuna is very clayish and often iron-bearing, of a rusty colour; I believe that one could easily make pottery or bricks from it. Large rocks would also be fairly numerous but perhaps rather difficult to exploit. A large part of the two islands is covered with a sort of lava or charred limestone, much more terrible than a blacksmith’s cinders; there are sharp cutting points that tear the feet and shoes. The natives themselves avoid passing over it. Also they know how to plait sandals with the fibrous bark of a sort of large hibiscus called fau. [4]
The day after my arrival on Futuna, (Friday evening) His Lordship, profiting from the low tide, wanted me to accompany him to Saint Joseph, which he has served since the departure of Father Favier for Rotuma. We had two hours of travel to cover, in the moonlight and walking for about one hour on sharp reefs, in bare feet and often having water right up to our knees. It was a fine foot bath in salt water that I took for the first time, especially when I stepped, without knowing it, into a hole right up to the top of my legs. His Lordship had no trouble in carrying his shoes in his hands and walking thus with his cassock tucked up; For myself whose feet still felt too soft, I was not brave enough to do the same and I preferred to bathe in my shoes. Half way there, we reached the home of King Pierre who thanked the Good Lord for having sent me to his country. We had to waste about half an hour there partaking of kava in the moonlight and then we continued our route along the coast, through the coconut palms on a smooth easy route as far as the parish of Saint Joseph where I embraced the good Brother Marie Nizier, companion in work and in trials of the Reverend Father Chanel. I was already late and I went to take my rest on a bed of rushes covered with mats. The bed was not very soft; but I slept all the same and very willingly.
The next day as the first bird song greeted the dawn, I was awoken by the loud sound of the Chinese bell hung in the gallery of the church, which was very similar to a large copper screen but not pierced with holes and a large wooden club, in the hands of the bellringer, served as a clapper. It was followed by an enormous bell or wooden drum, hollowed out in a deep u-shape, with a narrow opening. It is what is called a lali [5] in Futunian language. These two huge and awkward drums were followed by another, much smaller one, which I brought from France with me; the large one was kept for Tonga. The first bell, ringing in the morning at dawn, is for the angelus, the second, towards sunrise, is for the daily common prayer at the church and it is followed by mass, during which the natives almost continually sing hymns in the language of their country. At midday the bell is also rung for the angelus and in the evening after sunset with the song of the cicada to join with the evening’s common prayer in the church; and we finish with the angelus. On Sunday the same thing happens about half an hour after sunrise, to allow time for the distant villagers to arrive. After 11.30 one rings for the general rosary followed by the catechism and the angelus. On Sunday evening, just before sunset, one rings for prayer so that the people from far away can arrive at their homes before dark. On the days of great feasts, the church is decorated with bouquets of flowers, garlands and many lamps placed all around a vast enclosure with three naves, the lamps to be lit for mass and in the evening for the benediction and the holy sacrament. The men and women sing together in delightful harmony and taking over from each other at each verse. A good number know how to read and several know how to write in their own language. In the church a great feeling of reverence reigns.
The church of Saint Joseph is a vast enclosure, with two rows of columns in hard wood that support the structure and form three naves of a sort. The walls are made of larges rushes joined upright to each other and leaving spaces for the doors and windows; the roof is of pandanus leaves which act as tiles and last 4 to 5 years. The enclosure ( not including the sacristy behind the altar) is 25 meters long and 12 metres wide; however the columns are too low. A peristyle or gallery goes all round to protect the rushes or bamboos from the rain and prevent them from rotting. Our houses are also surrounded by such galleries as is the church of Our Lady of the Martyrs which is about the same dimensions as that of Saint Joseph, but better proportioned as far as the elevation of the interior columns. Bishop Bataillon has recently had this church reconstructed in the space of eight days, which completely astonished the natives, who had taken more than a month to construct the previous one.
It only remains for me to say a word about the configuration of the island. To the North and North-East there are high mountains rising precipitously, that leave only a narrow shore between them and the sea; there, there is very little water. On the coast to the South West the slope is much longer and more gentle and descends little by little as far as the sea. The whole country is divided up by streams and deep ravines that form difficult precipices; it is this that makes communications difficult and trying between the diverse areas of the island. Nevertheless, one finds here and there, towards the South, vast and beautiful plateaus, raised and fertile, but as yet not often cultivated. Four months ago communication between Notre Dame and the college was very trying and difficult because of one very long slope that had to be climbed up or down. After having carefully studied the countryside, I found a place where one could form a route that was more beautiful, shorter and more manageable. At once, I set to work; but I had not yet done a half of marking it out when I I received a scrape with a bad bruise on my right foot. Soon I was reduced to walking with crutches for almost two months. Meanwhile the damage had almost entirely healed when a new accident reopened the wound that I had suffered from since 5th August, so I did not know when my suffering would end. May God’s will be done. The route had not been left undone; nearly 200 natives had worked on it and the work had been finished in 5 days even though it was 2 leagues long. There could be another very important route to form, from the college to the port; but the Good Lord does not want me to occupy myself with it yet, as he holds me back by the foot. If I wish to solve the problems of these routes, it is up to me, as the Good Lord does not wish me to be without a cross of some sort to bear.
Another thing, more important and more difficult than the paths, is also occupying me and that is studying the language and I can assure you that it is neither easy nor agreeable to study such a strange language without books or rules and also with a poor memory; so I move at the pace of a tortoise. In the meantime, the Reverend Father Servant is obliged to serve the two parishes, spending three weeks in one place and two weeks in the other, up until I am able to serve the parish of Saint Joseph which the bishop has assigned to me. If, when I arrived, there had been another priest with me, the wider Fijian mission would have been my burden; but the Good Lord, who knew that I was incapable and unworthy of that mission, held back my two colleagues en route [6] leaving me to go alone to do battle at a time of peace, amongst the peaceful people of Futuna. In the meantime, pray for me, my Reverend Father, so that the Good Lord might watch, with me, over his flock and, in blessing my feeble efforts, render me capable of soon carrying out my ministry. The Reverend Father Servant, our apostolic principal the abbot Grézel, charged with the direction of the college with the help of Brother Joseph, Brother Marie Nizier and I, we are all well.
On 10th October last the Arabian, an English whaler, coming from Sydney, gave us some newspapers that had come London, from the month of April, to read and they informed us of the changes that happened in France last February. [7] Since then, I have prayed for the church in France and in particular for our very dear colleagues who are in France or elsewhere so that the Good Lord might protect them if in danger or keep them safe in peace. I also admired the unfathomable plan of divine providence in this sudden event and I thanked him for having managing our departure so suitably.
Please be kind enough, my dear colleague, to give my regards to our Very Reverend Father Superior, as well as to the good Father who is director and to Father Maîtrepierre and may the Good Lord preserve them for a long time yet, for his greater glory and for the spiritual wellbeing of the Society. Kindly also do not forget the Reverend Father Cholleton, Father Teraillon, Father Eimar [8] Father Mulsant and Father Dumont. My respects and commendations to the other Fathers I have not mentioned and who will want to know my news. May all our Fathers and colleagues in France and Oceania enjoy the peace and tranquility that we are enjoying here on Futuna. And may this peace and tranquillity be the foretaste of the eternal happiness that we all hope for.
Believe me to be for life,
My Reverend Father,
Your very humble and obedient servant,
François Palazy, apostolic missionary.


  1. Read: Alofi, but Chanel writes it Arofi (cf. Rozier, Chanel writings, doc. 40, p. 207-08).
  2. Futunian word, kafika = name of a fruit tree and it’s fruit.
  3. Futunian word, masi, fermented breadfruit or bananas.
  4. Futunian word, fau = the name of the hibiscus; its second bark is used in the making of kava and straining it. It is also used to make a small, long and narrow plait, called fau, which the natives use as a press to extract liquid from grated substances.
  5. Futunian word, lali = wooden drum (hollowed out wood).
  6. Hippolyte Mondon and Charles Nivelleau. In November 1847, the first named was left, unwell, at Funchal on the island of Madeira, with Nivelleau to care for him. These two continued their journey after a delay of almost two months and arrived on 23rd April 1848 in Apia, in Samoa and finally on Wallis on 2nd May of the same year ( cf. APM OG 031, 13th departure, letters unpublished: in November 1847 from Chatelut to Colin, on 15th November and on 30th December 1847, from Nivelleau to Colin, on 15th November and 30th December 1847 from Nivelleau to Colin, on 29th January 1848 from Chatelut to Colin, on 30th January 1848 from Ducrettet to Germain; doc. 886, § 2; 902, § 26-27).
  7. On 24th February 1848, the fall of Louis-Philippe, king of the French; on 25th February, the proclamation of the French Republic.
  8. Julian Eymard.

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