1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - CHAPTER VII. Arival in New Zealand...

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  1888 - Pompallier, J. Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania - CHAPTER VII. Arival in New Zealand...
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Arrival in New Zealand--Early Difficulties and Trials--The First Mission Station and its surroundings--Origin of the Protestant Missions--Elements of Persecution--Danger of Pillage--Experiences with the Wirinaki Tribe--Danger to the Lives of the Vicar-Apostolic and his Priest.

ON Wednesday, the 10th of January, 1858 [1838], we arrived at the entrance to the Hokianga River, which is on the north-west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, after a pleasant passage of twelve days. We went about eighteen leagues up this big river into the interior of the country in the schooner. A European pilot established at the mouth of the river took us up safe and sound. We landed at an Irish timber merchant's, who was a Catholic, and who had been legitimately married at Sydney. 1 He had been living in New Zealand for ten years. He wished to give up to me the best of his wooden houses, and undertook to build one for me at a reasonable price at any spot I might choose in the country. The one he offered me consisted of four small rooms and a garret. While waiting for him to build the other, I converted the principal room of this one into a sort of temporary chapel, erecting in it my missionary altar, and on the following Saturday, for the first time, the blood of Jesus Christ flowed in this island at the sacrifice of the Mass, which I celebrated, and which had probably never before been celebrated in New Zealand. What vows for salvation were offered to God on that day, consecrated to Mary, and which crowned the octave of the Epiphany! I confided this Mission to the most Holy Virgin under the name of the Assumption. The whole of the Apostolic Vicariate was placed under the name of the Immaculate Conception. The station at Wallis was under the patronage of St. John the Baptist, and that of Futuna under that of St. Francis of Assisi.

From Hokianga I hastened to send back the schooner Raiatea to its owner at Tahiti, and I testified to the captain my sincere gratitude for his services and devotion. Then we remained quietly in the house which we occupied, but our repose was not of long duration, and we applied ourselves diligently to improve our knowledge of English and to learning Maori. Our dwelling was on the banks of the river Hokianga, at a place called Totara; we were thus pretty well isolated from the native tribes, who are called Maoris. Their complexion is somewhat the colour of copper, they have regular features, generally smooth hair, are above the medium height and of a strong constitution; they are tattooed about the face, and have a manly and warlike bearing. Several came, from time to time, to see us; some of them were infidels, others neophytes of the Wesleyan Protestants. The former saluted us with sufficiently good grace, but the latter hardly dared come near to look at us. We knew nothing of their language, and could hold no conversation with them; all we knew were a few words of salutation in use among them, and there our knowledge ended.

Hokianga is a large district in the north of the North Island of New Zealand, which is a vast archipelago composed of three islands, called Te Ika Na Maui (the fish of Maui); the second Te Wai Pounamu (the water which furnishes these people with greenstone--this is a stone green in colour and very hard). The third, much smaller

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than the other two, is called Stewart's Island. The extremity of the North Island is in about latitude 35 degrees south, and the extremity of the South Island is in about 48 degrees. The climate is temperate; the country is covered with forests and ferns, very mountainous, frequently traversed by rivers which are formed and fed from their sources by the rains, torrents, and tides. There is no kind of venomous or savage animal, but a large quantity of birds, many of which make excellent food, such as the pigeon and wild duck. Shell-fish abound there, and the rivers and ponds inland swarm with eels. The natives make great use of these gifts with which Providence has furnished them.

After we had put our new establishment a little to rights, we applied ourselves to the study of English and Maori. English above all was indispensable to the Vicar-Apostolic in administering the mission in these seas, and for travelling from one island to another; and it is extremely useful to every missionary in Oceania in enabling him to carry out his ministrations with regard to the English and Americans whom one frequently encounters in one place or another. A knowledge of Maori is absolutely necessary for preaching the faith to the New Zealanders, for these people know no other language than their own.

While we were occupying ourselves quietly in studying languages, I took every pains to inform myself about the localities, the numbers of the tribes of savages, about their manners and customs, and as to what facilities the river Hokianga would afford me in holding communications connected with the mission within and without, and in establishing a store and a place of central administration. I soon saw that vessels did not visit these ports sufficiently often, and that it would be difficult to carry out the plans I had in view. But I learnt with pleasure that the Bay of Islands, which is about twenty leagues from Hokianga on the East Coast, possessed an excellent harbour, and the frequent communication which I desired. However, we continued to stay at Hokianga to learn the language of the country, to ripen my plans for forming an establishment, and to wait there for fresh help from Europe, which would enable me to realise my projects.

I was not long in ascertaining at Hokianga the state in which the Protestant missions were in New Zealand, these facts being but superficially known in Europe. Their origin dated back to more than twenty years before my arrival in the country. In coming to New Zealand, I had the same intentions as I carried out in the tropics, namely, to commence learning the language of the people and evangelising at some part of the country where infidelity only existed, and not heresy, which would have acquired the language of the country before ourselves. I had gained my end in establishing the stations of Wallis and Futuna; but I was not so fortunate in New Zealand. When settling myself at Hokianga, I did not reckon on finding myself quite close to a Methodist missionary station, which had been established at this place some five or six years, and which had four or five hundred native disciples, who followed their teaching. Furthermore, in a circle of about twenty leagues, at regular distances, were seven other Protestant missionary stations, either Methodist or Anglican; and, contrary to my intentions, Providence had fixed my first residence in the very midst of all these stations. There was nothing for it but to abandon myself to its guidance and to learn as quickly as might be the necessary languages.

Our arrival at Hokianga did not fail to become at once known to the Protestant missionaries, more especially to the Methodists, who were in the immediate neighbourhood. They seemed to be alarmed at the arrival in the country of a Catholic minister, and went amongst all the native tribes striving to prejudice them against us; telling them that we were bringing them wooden gods, that we intended to seize upon their country, to slay or burn them, that our doctrines were full of errors and wickedness; in short, that we were a calamity of which it would be needful to rid the country as soon as possible. Such were the deadly calumnies that circulated everywhere. Although the infidel New Zealanders, who were warriors and cannibals, finished by paying no attention to the calumnies which the Protestant missionaries were spreading about, still the disciples of the latter believed what they said.

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Twelve days after our arrival we incurred great danger. It was early in the morning of Monday, the 22nd January. Some thirty Methodist natives who were returning after their Sunday duties--that is, from their missionaries--had to pass our house on their way up the river in canoes, to reach their settlement. When they arrived at our house they landed, and seated themselves in a half-circle on the ground surrounding the front of our residence. It was just daybreak, and we were getting up. The catechist was already afoot. He opened the door and saw before him all the natives seated round. He did not pay much attention to them, thinking that these people had come to pay me a friendly visit, a thing that had happened to us on the part of other natives on several occasions. So he contented himself with coming to tell me that a number of natives were outside, waiting to see me, and I hurried out to receive them. When I got to the door I cast kindly glances on the company, but they remained cold, and several of them looked askance at me with angry and defiant glances. As I had not yet mastered their language I was unable to say a single word; I saw they had evil intentions, but I did not let them see that I had divined this from their stern looks and attitudes. I surveyed them calmly, and walked up and down in front of the door, waiting for an interpreter for whom I had sent and who was a near neighbour. He hastened to come to me. I spoke with him for a few moments, and he noticed as quickly as myself that the natives were not in a good humour. We consulted together as to what would be the most prudent means to employ in order to soothe and enlighten them. Providence sent to me also a chief of a tribe that possessed great influence, who had paid me a visit a few days before, and who had not only displayed confidence in me, but even evinced a desire to be taught about the true God through my ministration. His presence was far from being useless in the critical position in which I was placed. There was also another European, a sawyer, who knew Maori well and who was trusted by the natives.

After I had spoken privately to the first European, who was my neighbour and who had lent me the house in which I lived, he advanced a few paces into the half-circle formed by the natives in front of us and asked them what they wanted. The greater number of them were chiefs of a certain rank; they had with them their wives and children. One of these chiefs rose with much emotion; he spoke warmly, with an animated action, emphasising his words with rapid motions of his head, hands, and feet; he spoke thus for some time, then remained standing in silence, the perspiration running down his face. He waited for the European interpreter to answer him. He in his turn commenced to speak and the native sat down, listening with attention, as did the entire assembly. When the European had finished, another native rose and took up the discourse. He moved about like the first one and then stopped, waiting for an answer, which the interpreter at once gave him. After that a third chief rose up and spoke with the same gesticulations as the two former ones. An argument ensued between him and the European interpreter, words were exchanged with warmth. Alas! understanding nothing of these speeches, which were being made in Maori, I could only inwardly recommend to God the efforts of the interpreter, that they might be crowned with success, and at the same time I offered to God the sacrifice of our lives if it were His will that we should be murdered that day.

As the discussion was prolonged and I understood nothing and saw that my presence was useless, I retired into the house to recite matins and lauds which I had left unsaid the previous day. I left M. Servant to observe what passed. From a seat in the window of my room I could see all that was going on in front of the house. The discussion lasted for fully three-quarters of an hour. But as I finished my breviary the European interpreter came to me in the room to tell me that he had been successful in persuading the natives to abandon their evil designs and to remain peaceable. I asked him what their intentions had been. He replied that they had intended breaking the images, the crucifix, and a statue of the Holy Virgin, which were in the principal room in my house; then to seize M. Servant and myself and take us in their canoes up the river, into which they would probably have cast us, and that this was the result of advice

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given them by their Methodist missionaries, who desired them to make this attempt. I thanked the interpreter for his good services, and I blessed God, the Master of our lives and hearts, that He had vouchsafed that day to deliver us from a great danger.

I caused the natives, who had grown calm and ashamed of having followed bad advice, to be informed that I bore them no ill-will, and that I invited them to enter my house and shake hands as a sign of peace and friendship. At first they did not dare to enter, saying they felt too ashamed. But I pressed my invitation, by means of the interpreter, and they decided upon coming in. We received them cordially, shook hands and conversed with them all. They asked us very many questions, which compelled me to let them know that we had left relations, friends and home in Europe to come to them so far away in New Zealand; that we had nothing in view but the doing of good, leaving to the chiefs and the people their authority and everything that belonged to them; that we were the ministers of the true God and of His church; that we came to instruct those who were willing to listen to us, and to leave in peace those who desired to know nothing of our doctrines; that we had in no wise come to amass the good things of this world, but to give away those of the other world; lastly, that we had neither wives nor children, and that our hearts and bodies were consecrated to God, to have no other care than that of serving Him and the salvation of the people. These natives were quite surprised to hear these things. Several of their wives, who accompanied them, seemed especially overcome with emotion, lifting their eyes to heaven, clapping their hands and exclaiming: "Oh! is it possible that these strangers are so good, and that we wished to kill them!" After some time spent in conversation, the natives took leave of us, shaking hands affectionately and promising that they would never come again to disturb me or my dwelling.

The day after our deliverance I was able to get a boat to go and visit some families of white people who lived a long way off, on the banks of the river Hokianga. I began by paying then a pastoral visit. I was anxious also to visit some native tribes who had not as yet embraced any of the Protestant sects. I had with me M. Servant, an interpreter, and several other Catholic Europeans. Four of these offered their services to pull the boat. The few Catholic families who were at Hokianga showed great joy at being able to procure in the country the spiritual aid of a legitimate minister.

After having gone about ten leagues up the river we reached a tribe called the Wirinaki, consisting of about four hundred natives, the most populous and powerful, and, at the same time, the most feared and wicked tribe in Hokianga, constantly resisting the advances of the Protestant ministers. Not long before, being desirous of seizing a European vessel, they had waged a most desperate combat with those on board and with other natives who had sided with the whites. These people were feared not only by the few Europeans who lived at Hokianga, but even by the natives of the neighbouring tribes. They had only one name for the Wirinaki--the "wicked tribe." At the same time, the natives of this part were intelligent, lively, and very open-hearted. They gave me a favourable reception. One of the principal chiefs said to all his people in our presence: "These two strangers have neither wives nor children; they do not appear to be well off. These are ministers of the true God."

It is as well to remark here that this and several other tribes at Hokianga and the Bay of Islands had known for some years that the ministers of the true Church were unmarried, that they would come to New Zealand, and should be easily recognisable by the celibacy which they practised. From whence had they got this tradition? It is difficult to find out at the present day. According to some of the natives a spirit had foretold these things to some of their forefathers.

When the chief of the Wirinaki tribe announced to the assembled people that I and M. Servant were the ministers of the true God a favourable impression was visible in their countenance. We remained all the afternoon at this place, and had a long talk about religion and the true Church. When night came they begged us to share their supper of potatoes and fish, and to remain the night with them. I willingly accepted all

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their offers. During the evening they gave us a splendid fete. The men and the young folks sat in a group in front of the hut, which had been offered to us to pass the night in. They sang all manner of songs to show their goodwill and affection. The women and young girls ran about hither and thither as a sign of rejoicing, carrying bundles of lighted twigs in their hands. It was only when the night was far advanced that they left us to sleep in peace.

Early the next morning the crowd increased. They had come from all sides to see us. A sense of contentment was to be remarked in the crowd. We breakfasted with these people, who served us apart with a small basket of their food. Before we left they expressed a desire that I should say a prayer from our holy religion. I complied, reciting several in Latin on my knees. All the Catholic Europeans joined with me, and when we had finished the natives cried out, "Kapai! Kapai!" (Very good! Very good!)

This appeared a veritable day of grace for the tribe--known as "the wicked tribe." The principal chiefs wanted us to fix our abode with them at once. They offered to give us any bit of land that might suit us, to give their labour to build a house, and their young people to wait upon us. I thanked these chiefs greatly for the confidence and affection they testified, and I gave them to understand that though I could not immediately avail myself of their offers, yet I was far from declining them; that as yet, being unacquainted with their language, I would return to where I was temporarily residing, in order to learn it, and as soon as I had acquired it I would come back and settle everything with them. We shook hands, and they promised to wait our coming, and to follow no other teaching than that of the Mother Church. For ourselves, we started for home, blessing God for His grace to the most wicked of the Hokianga tribes, which, notwithstanding, had shown such an interesting disposition towards salvation.

Upon returning to our residence at Totara, we busied ourselves still more studying the languages. Several Europeans and some of the natives came pretty regularly to mass on Sundays. The English Catholics hastened to confess themselves and receive the sacraments; those of their children, some of them rather big, who had not been baptized, received Holy Baptism. A chief of a tribe, whose name was Tiro, and several native women who were living with Europeans, begged me to baptize them also, because they wished to be married by the Catholic Church, and they could not receive the nuptial benediction without being previously baptized. I instructed them, therefore, in the principal truths of salvation, and within a space of two months I baptized and married them.

Nevertheless, we did not enjoy much tranquillity during this time. Several times each week we heard alarming rumours that were spreading over the country. It was said they were coming to take us by force, put us on board some vessel, and expel us from New Zealand; that the people of such and such a tribe were coming to plunder and murder us and burn down our house; and then we heard that when I went up the river (which was bordered by forests) I should be fired at by natives who were lying in ambush for me. Sometimes we saw canoes full of natives, who came up our side of the river making the same signals with their paddles that they are accustomed to employ in time of war. They uttered horrible yells, and then retired without doing us any harm. The best European Catholics were terrified at our position in the country; they believed themselves to be endangered by us. They complained that we were French, and had no Consul representing our country in New Zealand; and added that I had better quit the country and leave the mission for some English priests, who would be protected by the authorities of New Holland. But I looked upon these rumours which were being circulated in the country as merely a means taken to frighten me, and having their origin in the ill-will of the Protestant ministers, while I considered the advice of the frightened Catholics as being dictated by a timid policy. I paid no heed either to the murderous rumours of heresy or the discouraging advice of policy; my trust was in the Lord, and it was far from my thoughts to abandon His work of salvation in New Zealand. On the contrary, I continued to see that my orders were carried out to build a house of boards in a central spot in Hokianga, where I might reside and establish a missionary station.

1   His name was Poynton, and he is still living. He resides at Takapuna (near Auckland), and is well known to me.--John Edmund Luck, O.S.B. Sept. 5th, 1885.

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