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16 July 1842 – Father Antoine Séon to Father Garin, Gisborne

APM 1670-24764 Nouvelle Zélande Lettres 1842

Biography and letters of Antoine Séon

Tauranga, July 16, 1842

My Most Reverend Father,
Upon my return from a tour of the Matamata station, I was informed of the reflections of the assembled fathers on the various matters proposed by Father Epalle. We believe them to be well-suited to our needs. If the Matamata station has been retained, it was decided based on the favorable disposition of the Waikato people. They are always zealous for prayer. There is talk of building houses of prayer at Raroera, Ngahuruhuru, Piripiri near Teparipari, and they all ardently desire for a priest to settle among them. At Teteko, the priest has a carefully built house where he can lodge and gather children for catechism.
This time, I visited the son of a Epikopo [Catholic] chief, Te Atua, one of the great chiefs of Mokau. He resides at Pa Niangaru, three days from Taranaki on the west coast. Many Epikopo [Catholics] gather for prayer there every Sunday; many other kainga also pray without ever having seen a priest.
It seems to me that faith is working among these people. Here are some of the religious practices I observed during my last journey:
For the sick: At Raroera, the sick are taken to the house of prayer, and there, prayers are offered for a longer or shorter time depending on the seriousness of the illness. All prayer books are placed as remedies on the afflicted parts of the patient; I found English dictionaries there, an English lavator[?]. Certain days are chosen for quicker healing; this is called "wiki turoro."
2. When they visit each other, those from the kainga (settlement) stand in one line, and those arriving stand in another. Both groups make the sign of the cross and greet each other by touching hands, sometimes saying, "This fire is tapu (sacred); make the sign of the cross." (A great chief has built a pakia house for his use and adorned it with a beautiful cross; he wanted to put two.)
What the Epikopo [Catholics] hold is that their church is the mother church, which is their strong argument against the [Protestant] missionaries. They need instruction.
All these people are terribly tormented by Maori [Catechists] and foreign missionaries. "Where is your book? Your church is a pukapuka koru (empty book)." They hide the books we write for them; they are ashamed, they say. They buy English Epikopo books or sometimes missionary books, reserving the right to show them to the priest and return them if they are not Catholic. I had to give my Novium (a Catholic guide or companion) to a great chief. He will show it to the foreign missionary and say, "Here is my prayer." They loudly demand books to educate themselves and as remedies for their illnesses. I made the imprudent promise to provide them with books by the end of July. Based on Father Epalle's letter, I won't know when I will receive them. The good Lord will do as He pleases. This promise had pacified them. I fear their desire for books may be rekindled, and they may come to me with joined hands, saying, "Where are our books, the ones you promised us?"
It is very possible that this may turn them away. Some have already done so. Others have become Epikopo [Catholic], and we have no books to replace the ones they have left? The rest remain indifferent. It's not surprising that they are still buried in their superstitions. Most of their religious practices are an imitation of their old customs. During one tour, a man afflicted by a curse came to be healed by the wife of a great chief, an Epikopo. They prayed to the god Kikokiko and chose a day of prayer. However, they did not succeed, and they say that since this woman prays to Jesus Christ, she is no longer powerful to heal the sick.
This is an overview of the Waikato people. These are the obstacles to good: 1. European missionaries are furious in this country. I must join Father Pezant in confronting them. I still do not speak Maori well enough to avoid this burden for the father. Secondly, we try to be together as often as we can. 2. My residence is quite far from the center of the mission. It is a two-day journey with rivers and dreadful marshes. 3. We do not have books. The pango [page 3] that Father Pezant mentioned will be very useful given the current needs and the lack of printed books. 4. I lack a brother for household chores and my sustenance. We cannot rely on a Maori for what we need. While we will try to be together with Father Pezant, we foresee that we will often be separated.
1. Can we purchase some sugar for the sick?
2. My Holy Oils that I brought from London are almost depleted. How can I renew and increase them?
3. I received a letter at Pumangaru from a Catholic Englishman who is seeking assistance from the bishop to transport him and his family from Taranaki on the west coast to Auckland. The letter was addressed to the priest of Mokau. I promised that I would write to his replacement.
4. I have reserved approximately 100 figs of tobacco and a 16-shilling blanket as payment for the land I occupy at Matamata. Should I give them?
5. The people of this pa, with the exception of two families, are entirely indifferent to prayer, and even less inclined towards the priest. The good ones are thinking of building another pa in another location. It is they who are due the payment; if it is not made, we may be insulted by the wicked. Even the good ones desire payment.
Here are some issues that have troubled us in the administration of the sacraments:
1. When a man converts, which wife can or should he choose?
2. If the second wife has children and the first one does not, can he choose the second, even if both consent to convert?
3. If he has strong affection for the second or third, can he prefer one over the other and leave the first?
4. When a man leaves one of his wives, can the abandoned wife live as a sister in the same house? The danger has led to a decision in the negative.
5. Can a woman belonging to a man who has several wives and never comes to prayer be baptized?
6. Can young men who are not of marriageable age but appear to have good disposition be baptized?
My Reverend Father, I ask your pardon for this letter. I do not have the leisure to rewrite it. Please accept my respect and the sentiments of one who has the honoUr of being your very humble servant,
A Seon
[Page 4]
Excerpt from a letter from Father Seon to Father Garin