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10 October 1850 — Father Delphin-Victor Moreau to his anonymous cousin, Tauranga

Translated by Peter McConnell, March 2011

[p. 1]
[in the hand of Poupinel] p(ère) Moreau Nouvelle Zélande – Baie de Tauranga 10 8bre 1850

A un cousin germain Cher N.....,

Dear N--,
No doubt you think that I am dead or perhaps some other member of the family imagines that I have been munched up by the teeth of the savages. Be reassured all of you that nothing of the case has happened. There are no longer any cannibals here; religion and its maxims have taken the upper hand; today we have nothing to fear from the natives of this island. As far as sickness is concerned, thanks be to God, I have not stopped a single day not slowed down in the course of my work. I can hear you from here saying: Why so lazy in writing letters and leaving us all worried about you? Laziness, to use that word, is certainly the case for many. Yet I can say that ever since I have been in New Zealand, being among the natives, I have never seen any European ships, and I have never known hat they were here until after they have left for Europe. So don’t attribute this lack of letters from me by putting it down to chagrin and rancour. In all honesty I can say that that I have never had any chagrin no hate against any member other member of my dear family although I have not written you were and will always be present in my thoughts. Furthermore on arriving here, I wrote some letters to Europe; I think I had to wait for an answer; but unfortunately that answer is still being waited for because it never came to me. Add to that, dear cousin, that my continual chores and the carrying out of the holy ministry take all my time. Yet I will never be long without giving you news of what I’m doing. I feel I am lacking in that field; but you who have more leisure time than a poor missionary, write to me all of you, especially you my cousin. Inform me about everything concerning the family. Speak to me about my father, how is he? About each of my brothers in particular, about heir families, their children, my uncle, my aunt, your sister whom I am going to write to, because today I have a little more respite than I have had before. Well, don’t think that I am not interested in you and everything that concerns you. No, love of God does not kill love of one’s own. On the contrary, it reinforces he bonds; and piety which unites man with God, unites man also to those who is related to by blood.
So don’t be worried about me! I have nothing to fear from the natives; we go safely into their villages; we go right into the gorges of the mountains without worrying and into the endless forests; we sleep beside them in their huts and that is done without taking any precautions; we are not even frightened about our gear, our things, not only us but every European.
Those famous man eaters are now the most placid of human beings; that is the fruit of religion that is what religion has produced in his race. Religion has changed the face of this island and has made different men of hem. Today they are as good, gentle, ordinary, docile whereas before they were wicked, shocking, fierce, treacherous and untameable. They love the opportunity and have a definite preference for Whites; they offer them their homes freely, share with hem their food graciously, ready to oblige in anything we want, and willingly become your servants to do everything you want of them. They love the Whites, to an excessive degree if you like. they give them the place of honour and treat them with marked deference. Although the native here is full of life, he knows that the White man is better than him in all things. Everything I am telling you can be taken literally. When there is a river, a stream, a difficult path to cross, he willingly offers you his shoulders and offers himself most graciously to get you to the other side. When there is a burden, a parcel to carry, for a negligible price, he will be pleased to carry it and take it where you want. Today we are far less afraid of trusting things, money, a watch to our converts than to Whites. You see then, dear N--- that we have not come in vain to this place, and that it is to reduce the savage through religion, in a word to submit him to all the laws of equity; religion itself can make these changes and make him enter a perfect civlisation. What is admirable is that religion needs neither swords nor rifles to achieve that; faith, religion, and the support of an invincible patience found in missionaries, perform all miracles because the finger of God is there. Digitus Dei est hic = The finger of God is here. The work of God is here, as everywhere else, marked in his corner and sealed with his seal.
Of course you want to know everything that concerns me, how I am sheltered, how I am fed.
At the centre of the mission station I have a pretty comfortable house made of wooden planks, a garden, an adequately formed settlement but in my travels I don’t have a tent and wary of the cost of transport, I share the mats of my converts and their houses, still full of fleas and lice, but in a word I am their father; I have to share the bedding, the home of my natives in order to have the chance of instructing them while talking to them part of the night, because these poor people keen to be instructed and in everything about religion and faith, overwhelm us with questions until we drop off to sleep; they always complain hat we go to sleep too soon. Only two weeks ago it was two in the morning and yet the conversation hadn’t stopped. I had to say that that was enough and that it was time to go to sleep.
Sometimes I sleep outdoors and if it is threatening to rain, and if I can’t reach a village before nightfall, then I build not a house, not a roof as a rule but only a shelter, as you sometimes see in the case of labourers who work on the roads in France who put up a shelter against a shower. Sometimes it rains inside scarcely less it does outside and one is not spared either rain or wind. But generally we have the advantage of having a fire to warm ourselves up. Sometimes it happens that we don’t have all the things we need. At least on one occasion it happened to me that I was overtaken by nightfall and had to stop; we couldn’t make a fire or erect any shelter. It was in the middle of winter; we had strayed a few metres from the path and we curled up in a field of ferns. I don’t need to tell you that although I rolled myself up in a ball, I couldn’t get warm and in the morning we were quite white with frost. Normally I carry one or two blankets; that is all I have for my bed.
As far as food is concerned, I am quite well off at he house. I have bread, salted pork, vegetables, sometimes poultry from my chicken run; being in an English country, I sometimes take tea for a drink, wine being out of reach of my financial resources. I use some only for Mass. When I am journeying, I am less well fed, because I share the food of my natives, that is potatoes, their kumaras, their clams, etc The hangi consists of digging a hole in the ground where they heat stones. As soon as the stones are hot, they throw in potatoes, and the kumara; then they put in some water to create steam; then they cover everything as quickly as possible. potato is not as good as when boiled in a pot but the clam, and the kumara are better when cooked in a hangi. When the food is cooked, they bring it to me in a basket, at other times they put some for me on the grass or on a type of stand in front of me. Normally they don’t forget the kinaki. What is kinaki then? My dear cousin, don’t imagine that it is something succulent, prepared as in the restaurants of Paris. No, because the natives don’t have any use for butter, salt pepper in fact no seasoning whatever, absolutely nothing. On that count they have made no progress as yet. But you are asking me what kinaki is. On the seashore it is quite often to have fish cooked quite simply in a hangi without any seasoning; sometimes it is a fish dried in the sun and which is as hard as my boot. They put it for a moment on the embers then you break it up by striking it with a piece of wood. Sometimes it is a piece of whale or dried shark; the latter does not need to be seasoned. it is really piquant enough by itself. In the mountains there are sometimes wild pigeons, parrots and small birds which they snare. The natives in the mountains are skilled bird catchers. If I had time, I would tell you astonishing things about their skill in that matter.
When the corn is tender enough, hey give me some cobs. Squash seems to be plentiful ; cabbage and turnips too. In the mountains you eat puha after you have beaten it in fresh water to get rid of the milky sap. They have a very healthy food; It is corn which has rotted for months in water; yet they eat it with real pleasure and make a king of soup whose smell strikes you several feet away. They still eat a rotten potato which they call kotero. I think it is because of these unhealthy foods that they have scrofula, a terrible sickness here and which kills many people. Sometimes they offer to kill a pig for you, but I have second thoughts about that. My allowance does not allow me often to undertake that type of expense. You see, dear N. that the Catholic missionary doesn’t spend up with the natives. But what is good is that the appetite is generally not lacking. Sometimes I carry some pieces of salted pork to make some soup. My journeys take a fortnight, three weeks, sometimes longer; then I return to the centre of my mission station where I recover a little because I will tell you that it has happened t me more than once to have a stomach so upset by that weak food that when I return to base a more substantial meal makes me ill and I have to put it aside.
A further word concerning the path ways and the country hat I have to travel through. New Zealand is a mountainous country; here are few plains, few bare countryside; the mountains are rather steep. It takes several hours to climb up some of them. In my mission area there is Mount Maungapohatu. It is the second highest in the North Island. I have never scaled it. It is a famous block of stone rising above many other mountains which it surpasses in height and volume; but it is not crowned with forests like the mountains that surround it. It seems that there is a lake on the summit of that mountain. I won’t tell you the stupid stories that the natives make of a Maori god who lived in that lake and drowned in its waters then devoured those who were rash enough to scramble up to the summit. Several times I have wanted to visit that lake but the weather and he opportunity have always been lacking. Many rivers flow down the slopes of that mountain; at the delta they carry along small skiffs and little boats belonging to the natives because the New Zealander has today not only oxen and horses to use but also ships of 15 to 30 tons which he pilots himself and with which he transports his produce to the towns.
Here a pig weighing 300 kg sells for at least 60 francs; a basket of potatoes weighing 30 kg sells for three francs. The natives make money.
I don’t know how to describe better the surroundings of Maungapohatu which take several days to cover. It is like a room full of sugar loaves of all sizes and I compared to an ant having to cross this house. If at least the tracks are beautiful resembling in some way our roads in Europe, although they are not laid out by the government at least what we call our bad roads; but here it is always a track where you have to go single file never two abreast; if at least this track is pretty rough, but if not a tree has fallen across it, it will stay there until it rots. Here, it’s a long swamp which you have to cross. There is mud everywhere up to your waist. Here streams, rivers are numerous as what happens in mountainous countries, covered in huge forests, or rather New Zealand is nothing else but an enormous forest. Well, not a bridge. The native is not troubles by these bad pathways, these rivers. He crosses them without worrying about getting his socks, trousers sometimes all his clothing wet. Because he wears little clothing, our natives don’t worry about these difficulties, but the European is stopped each time and he needs all the time constantly a native to carry him across the stream or river. Fortunately I don’t weigh much and I am not heavy. This makes carrying me possible without too many accidents to the other bank. Sometimes I even cross on top of the parcels carried by the natives; on other occasions I sit on the shoulders of my native like a colossus. I chuckle to myself about the contrast of the two men one on top of the other; one is yellow and gentle and quite childlike itself, the other well built and heavily tattooed. I cling on to his thick hair which is black and curly while he squeezes my legs against his body with a nervous arm; as soon as the bad section is crossed , he is delighted with my light weight, he runs off with me laughing and shouting out: He tamaiti, he tamaiti= He’s a child, he’s a child!
My dear cousin, I will end my letter by begging you to arrange everything as a good family man and to write to me lengthily about what you are doing and about my family.
I think that you have no trouble with my address. Put your letters in an envelope marked with the address: To the Reverend father Colin, superior of the Marists in Lyon; they will come to me for sure unless the ships are shipwrecked. Tell my family about this letter while I am waiting for an opportunity to carry out my filial obligation in writing to members of my family; do assure them of my devotion; hug my father, my brothers and all who are dear to me on my behalf. With very sincere love and affection, I am your friends and cousin, Signed: Delphin Moreau SM
+J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph) The Hospital of St Joseph of Beaugé
18 April 1852 Father Superior
If this copy of a letter from one of your flock seems appropriate to be publicized, I would be very much obliged to have it included in your annals; you will oblige too the religious who have been waiting for so long to hear from you about its being printed.
Do accept, Father superior, the homage and deep respect of
your very humble servant, Sister Lamare
Religious hospitaller of St Joseph’s.