Background to language documentation
In 1884 the first French Missionaries of the Sacred Heart established a base on Yule Island. The next year Father Henri Stanislas Verjus came to Yule Island. He was soon joined by others and by 1892 the mission was well established. Many of the priests who came at that time were young, energetic and interested in the cultures of the area. Some moved on to other posts, such as Fr. Francis Xavier Gsell who became Bishop of Darwin (image on right, below). Some stayed for life and are laid to rest in our soil. Father, later Bishop and now Venerable, Alain Guynot de Boismenu is one who stayed and, with Fr. Verjus, is now being considered for sainthood.
The missionaries and our people developed a long-lasting relationship over the years, built on trust and mutual respect. Being well educated and coming from a multilingual society, the young missionaries were keen to understand our culture. To do this, they needed to learn our language. The earliest grammar, written by Father E. Joindreau, is dated 1897. That original document is archived at the Mission headquarters today. Our world was explained in French and Italian by men who wrote what they could hear - but not always what the people actually said. Now, a small team of Kairuku people, with mentoring assistance, is unlocking the information contained in those original documents.
Henri Verjus at Yule Island in 1885.
Alain de Boismenu is the dark-haired one on the right, standing with hand to chest.
In September 2016 The Maeaka Tohana Team visited the Bereina Diocese where the records of the early missionaries are archived. The Team was welcomed by Fr. Paul Guy and Cecelia Momo and given full access to the historic materials, some of which are in a delicate state. Team members were impressed with the level of care and attention to detail evident in the records. The Maeaka Tohana Project will first digitise the 1939 Dictionnaire Roro-Francaise by Pere Paolo Coluccia, MSC - whose first language was Italian. After this is digitised and printed for public use, there will be plenty more to be done!
The Team visits Language Archives at Bereina, CP.
On 1 October 2016 Father Xavier Sariman was ordained into the priesthood at Wama/Kanosia church. The willing and joyful participation of many cultural groups gave living testimony to the continuing mutual respect between the Missionaries and the local people.
Hisiu dancers escort the Offertory Procession.