St Peter Chanel

How Peter died - the oral tradition

The night before the one hundred and sixty third anniversary of the death of St Pater Chanel, a group were spending time in quiet vigil inside the church of the shrine. During this time Bro Petelo Sekeme a locally born Futunian shared the oral tradition of how Peter Chanel died.

Bro Petelo who had learned the story at his mother’s knee, and lived close to the tradition most of his life, told the story as he knew it. It was a profoundly moving account, and it was only later that someone said it should be recorded. An oral tradition loses something on being written down. Nevertheless the following is a summary of the main points of the narrative.

“Niuliki was the only king on Futuna at the time that Peter lived there near him at Poi. His son Meitala lived in a different part of the island near the present airport, and when he was converted to Christianity there was trouble.

Musumusu was a noble whom the king loved like a son. He said to Musumusu to do whatever was necessary to fix the problem. Musumusu went to Meitala, and found him and his friends at prayer. He remonstrated with him, and the two men fought. Meitala was a smaller man, but held his own and Musumusu was injured. Musumusu and his friends returned to Poi.

He approached Fr Peter who was home alone. Peter had injured himself while gardening, so Br Marie-Nizier had to do the visiting on his own that day.

Musumusu asked Peter to tend the wound on his forehead. As he turned away and went into the house, Musumusu’s friends stormed into the house by another door, and began to smash and loot the place. One of them injured Fr Peter with a spear, and he staggered outside, and sat supporting himself by the side of the house. Inside the house as suitcases and trunks were emptied out, chalices and gear fell everywhere.

At this point Musumusu entered the house and shouted, ‘Did we come here to rob the papalagi, or kill him?’ When a garden hoe fell out of a trunk, Musumusu said ‘This is what I need’ and delivered the mortal blow to the head of Peter.
The two daughters of Niuliki tended Peter in his dying moments.”

“When Fr Viard called at the island a year later to claim the body, he was on a French warship. He declined the captain’s offer to fire the ships’ guns. Musumusu at this stage king himself. He waited in his house for the French soldiers to come and arrest him, but no one came near him.

Later when Fr Servant, Br Marie-Nizier and one other returned to the island, Musumusu eventually became a Christian. His grave is a large one on the lawn outside the shrine. When near death he said he hoped that visitors would walk over his grave as they came to honour Peter Chanel.”

- Courtesy of the Marist Messenger.