From Marist Studies
15 December 1841 — Father Pierre Bataillon to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Uvea
APM OC 418.1.
Translated by Fr Brian Quin SM, September 2014
- Father Colin junior, Superior of the College at Belley, Ain, Belley, France; entrusted to Father Doumer, Superior of the French priests in Valparaiso
- Entrusted to the care of Reverend Father Mathias
- J(esus) M(ary) J(oseph)
- Island of Uvea (also called Wallis)
- Oceania 15 December 1841
- To Reverend Father Superior Colin
- I am taking advantage of an American whaling ship having called here to get fresh supplies to give you some news of us; this ship, according to its captain, is going directly to the South American coast, to go from there to the United States, and he has promised me to get this letter to Valparaiso, from where it will have many opportunities to get to you. You must have received several of my letters, and among others two contained great details about our mission. I am preparing for you a 3rd which will be not less detailed and which will follow on from the others, but I am waiting for an opportunity from New Zealand itself, to get it to you more surely. In the meantime I am entrusting to this fairly uncertain opportunity some brief details about our situation. May the Blessed Virgin see that you get them.
- 4 years have passed while we have been in Uvea. The Bishop, when he left me here with Brother Joseph, promised to come back to visit us after 4 months, and we have not yet seen him. We haven’t even received any news from him for nearly two years. It was Father Chevron who brought us this news in May of last year. That confrère, who came to visit us on behalf of His Lordship, stopped here only four or five days, after which he went to stay on Futuna with Father Chanel, who was so good as to send him back to me six months later, with Brother Attale who was with him, so that for a year there have been four of us on Wallis. Our numbers were increased again last May by the arrival of Brother Marie-Nizier who had escaped from Futuna to bring us the most consoling and glorious news for the little Society of Mary, that of the martyrdom of Father Chanel. He was horribly massacred in his hut in April last by the people of his island who, seeing that he was beginning to win over some important chiefs, thought they could stop the progress of religion only by getting rid of the missionary himself. They came together as a crowd, one morning when he was alone, and at the moment when he had just finished his prayers. They were armed with spears, clubs and axes, and after having had a little conversation with him, they struck him with their club, pierced him with their blades and finally took his life from him by splitting his head in two with an axe blow. A happy blow which won for him a diadem. Briefly, religion accounts for everything else. He was decently buried, we are told, beside his little hut. Brother Marie, who was on the other side of the island that day, would probably not have escaped death if, after some days, he had not got on to an American whaling ship whose captain was kind enough to bring him here. He was the one who gave us all the details of Reverend Father Chanel’s martyrdom, and you can expect that I will send them to you at length, when I have a favourable opportunity. I had an opportunity to write to the Bishop about it afterwards but I don’t know whether he got my letters. I still do not see His Lordship coming.
- Summing up, there are five of us on Uvea, and here is, succinctly, the mission’s situation: it’s been three months since the whole island was converted to the true God. We have just built the tenth and last church in the very village of the king who was the last person to embrace the faith. There remains no trace of paganism, but for all that the work is far from finished. There has not been, as yet, any general baptism in fact, and I don’t hope to be able to do one very soon. However the whole island is instructed. A great number know how to read and write, and it is only the last converted who don’t have the knowledge needed to receive baptism and who already want it, but one man alone creates our whole cross, by stopping the progress of the gospel, and this man, would you believe it, is the one who was the first who converted on his own decision at the beginning of 1839, and who then made, to use one of his expressions, all the others convert by his strength and authority. He fulfilled what I had always suspected in him, that is, that he had embraced and spread the religion only for reasons concerning politics and ambition. He is a young man full of strength and courage and, it has to be said, with extraordinary talents for this country. While still young he took the pilot’s role, and while piloting British and American whalers, he had learned some words of their language, and had built up for himself a stock of their powder and guns, which certainly gave him more authority than all his other qualities and being the nephew of the king. So to try out his strength and to please the white men who often mocked his island’s religion, he decided to undertake introducing their religion to it, and he did this so well through his skill and his authority, and the grace of God, of course, that he destroyed paganism and brought all his compatriots to the knowledge of the true God, but finally he found an obstacle, and it was in himself. He believes, but cannot act on his belief, and seeing in all the others more generosity for acting on the moral demands of the gospel than in himself, he now is making almost as much effort to prevent the spread of this sacred morality as he had to spread the faith. He has four wives, and, far from being able to send any of them away, he thinks he cannot content himself even with them. Then dancing and all the other wicked pleasures which they allowed themselves beforehand, he cannot do without, and looks for every way of convincing himself that they are licit. The only forbidden things, he says, are theft, murder and violation of the Sunday. He teaches this to the natives in an underhanded and secret way and tries, by all sorts of ways, to persuade them not to believe us; he tells them that I exaggerate and that I demand more so as to gain a little, that through his knowledge of the white man’s language, he had learned all things from them etc etc. He mocks the simplicity of those who believe and practise. He puts them to ridicule, sometimes even threatens them, and criticises them for wanting to act in a way different from the one he himself follows. However it is in an almost underhand way that he utters his false teaching, because he is afraid of us and avoids us as much as he can. For our part, we sometimes use gentleness, sometimes authority, sometimes we entreat him, sometimes we oppose him to his face and, thanks be to God, I can truthfully say that perhaps no more than ten people have been caught by his traps. Everyone knows very well, after hearing us, that he is in bad faith and only talks like this to justify, in the sight of the ignorant, a dissolute way of living that he does not have the strength to give up. But no matter, everyone is so afraid of him that not even the King would dare to openly act in a way opposed to his, people content themselves with complaining secretly, groaning and waiting for the result of such conduct. There is a desire – a desire for baptism, people hardly even desire to show too much attention and eagerness for the [true] religion, the missionaries and everything to do with them, for fear of being held to ridicule or caught out by him who soars so high above them, so that things are in a frightful state, and everything languishes. The old people no longer dare to keep control of the young people; these, still deprived of the sacraments and at the mercy of their passions and the ridicule of the impious, are gradually allowing themselves to go back to their first dissoluteness, and still have not seen the arrival of the Bishop, whom they have been waiting for, for 4 years. They are beginning to suspect, more or less, that we are, perhaps, impostors. About this, I think I should give you some details which I want known only to you. Putting aside the impenetrable plans of God and judging only by appearances, we do not doubt that the death of Reverend Father Chanel must be attributed to the Bishop’s delay, and we firmly believe as well that if the mission on Wallis is suffering so much and, perhaps so close to ruin, it must be principally and solely attributed to the Bishop’s delay. People said in Futuna, where is this great missionary we have been told about for so long? Where are its ships? They are so many myths. These white men are only adventurers, cast onto this island by someone on whom they depended; it’s only so that they can impose themselves on us that they speak about a ship, a bishop, France, and we can rid ourselves of them without fear. Such was the talk of the Futunians every day; they hurled it in the Father’s face and did not fear treating him as a liar and an impostor. This sort of talking has often also occurred in Wallis, and is the main argument the young chief we have already mentioned used to justify his bad conduct and for getting the others to not have faith in what the missionaries were teaching. This, added to the fact that they have only seen British or American ships, puts them in doubt and leads them to almost be certain that there are no other lands in the world apart from those of the British and the Americans, and that consequently their religion, which they know has been spread into all the neighbouring islands, must be the great and general religion of the universe. So two British missionaries having come here recently to find their fortune in this island, did a fair bit of damage, and if more came before the Bishop’s return I do not know how things would work out. “How many times,” the King said one day, “would we have been visited by friendly ships, if we had the religion of England, and how many valuable things would we have received? But when will we be visited by this country called France, which seems to be so poor and of so little account that it doesn’t even know how to build ships?” Gifts are the great incentive for our natives.
- I think I have to send you secretly, Reverend Father, all these details, certainly not to complain about our abandonment in the middle of this ocean, nor at our being treated as impostors and adventurers; Our Lord experienced that before us; but only to give you an idea of our situation so that you may act as you decide is appropriate, before God, for the honour of the holy Church of Rome and the little Society of Mary. If the Bishop was no longer alive, or if it was no longer possible for him to visit us, decide for yourself what would be most advantageous for the glory of God and our salvation. My conscience is now unburdened and for the rest, we are as much resolved to remain thus abandoned as to be visited one day. And if it pleases God, we will see, without being disturbed, death, expulsion, and even the ruin of the whole mission. Resignation to the divine will, necessary as it is throughout the world, is indispensable in Oceania and, if our anchor was not buried in the very wound of the heart of Jesus, we could hardly find security in harbours such as those found here.
- Speaking in terms of the ordinary course of events, only two things can resurrect our mission, the Bishop’s arrival, or the disappearance in some way of the young chief in question. If God, in his designs was one day to break the rod he has used, to throw it in the fire, I wouldn’t see any difficulty in putting this mission in an excellent condition. I would see little difficulty as well if the Bishop visited us soon and if he visited us regularly, especially if he came with abundant alms given by the French faithful, because I will tell you in passing that you couldn’t have any idea of their cupidity and hunger for clothes and their demands about that. They think they are being wronged by not being dressed from head to foot from the moment that they converted; I tell you this in passing because I have heard it said that someone wanted to write from New Zealand that no more clothing be sent because the New Zealanders did not like them; that is to make ‘a particulars’ judgment or, rather, to stop thinking about the mission in the tropics. Oh! People couldn’t possibly send too many clothes for the natives of these island groups!
- Although here I am giving you only disagreeable news, do not think, however, that there is almost nothing edifying or consoling in our mission. Everywhere God has his chosen ones, and his work is admirable everywhere, but in this land we tell you about only the difficulties. May the mistress of this mission provide us, in the future, with consoling things to tell you about. If, in the midst of so many difficulties I still preserve some light of hope for this mission, it is because it is entrusted to Mary. The man who is creating our cross is just waiting for an opportunity to go to Futuna to avenge, he says, Father Chanel’s death, and to make the island turn around, as he puts it. I don’t want to say anything, nor oppose an extravagance of that sort. Perhaps this is the time at which God is waiting for him. Everyone is secretly rejoicing at seeing him preparing to leave the island of which he is the terror and the scourge.
- We are all well. We don’t have any pressing needs; only most of us are beginning to go bare-footed, but that is nothing. We have two main dwellings and, in spite of our real desire, it’s often morally impossible for us to observe the letter of the rule which you commended to us so strongly, which demands that a priest should always be accompanied by another priest; we would need to be four priests to be able always to obey that article [of the rule]. The spirit of the Society is still being preserved among your children, if you make an exception of the least of them all, the dangers in these islands are the same as everywhere, but they are not so extraordinary as people in France imagine. I think I can truthfully say that in France people have entirely false ideas about these islands and their inhabitants in at least many respects.
- Good Father Chevron is in good health, he is keenly studying the language and will, I think, soon be able to write a catechism. I am happy to have him with me. We console each other about our difficult situation, and we don’t make the smallest decision without consulting each other; how pleasant it is to have a wise and pious confrère to share the weight of such a formidable ministry!
- I have already made several requests to you in my preceding letters. Please be so good as to not forget them. I am now adding one which I think very important, it is a numerous collection of large and beautiful pictures of the Old and New Testaments, among others, one of St Michael fighting the devil, Adam and Eve being seduced, the patriarchs Moses, etc, all the mysteries of Our Lord and of the Blessed Virgin and the child Jesus. They have a remarkable effect on the natives. For them, seeing the representation of something is like seeing the thing itself; they believe it just as if they were seeing it. I found among our goods  some crude pictures of Epinal – they had as many visitors and admirers as there are people on the island; they concluded from that, that the Protestant religion was false, because it could not be seen. For example, they have no more doubt about Our Lord when they have seen him in a picture. The king asked me one day, in a serious way, after seeing some red pictures of Epinal, if it wasn’t the divinity himself who had made such masterly works. Oh! If you could [send?] us some fine paintings for our churches which are so bare and poor, what [good?] that would do in all these island groups. It would be an excellent catechism for the most unintelligent and lacking in ability.
- Some prayer books in English, some good writers of controversy against Protestantism, in English as well.
- A printing press is indispensable and it would be excellent if the Brothers knew a bit about printing. We have distributed hundreds of alphabets or written hymn books and we cannot satisfy all the demand although almost all the time two of us are involved in writing. All the young people have something of a passion for learning to read; they teach each other without any of us getting involved.
- We all kneel before you to receive your blessing, and humbly commend ourselves to your prayers and holy sacrifices, and especially to your remembrances in the presence of our good Lady of Fourvière, mistress of this mission and of the missionaries of Wallis. I commend to the prayers of all the members of the Society the entire island, and in particular the King and his nephew who make our whole cross.
- Please excuse my scribbling. I no longer know how to speak or write in French; I would prefer that most of the details of this letter were known to you only. Please excuse the liberties I have taken, and be assured of the deep respect with which
- I have the honour to be
- Very Reverend Superior, your most humble and obedient servant
- Miss(ionary) ap(ostolic)
- Very Reverend Superior, your most humble and obedient servant
- I have the honour to be
- This ‘young man’, Tu’ungahala, chief of the islet of Nukuatea, was a cousin (not a nephew) of the King Vaimua Lavelua, both descendants of King Manuka. He became his son-in-law by marrying Naukovi, daughter of King Vaimua (Cf Henquel p38; see also Doc 28  f/n 40)
- ‘a particulars’ – an argument or reasoning that wrongly goes from a particular situation to a universal statement - translator’s note
- Concerning Tu’ungahala’s arrival in Futuna in the early months of 1842, see Doc 342  f/n 3.
- ‘our goods’. No doubt things given to them in charity which were sent them from France - translator’s note
- Epinal’ – pictures of Epinal – popular 18th/19th century prints showing scenes of traditional French life – translator’s note
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