Spanish Capuchins in the Carolines
Posted by - francisx
Some fifty years earlier, a French Picpus. Fr. Desire Maigret — later to become the Bishop of Honolulu — sailed to Ponape with a companion who died upon arrival. Maigret remained on the island barely six months before returning to the more fertile fields of Polynesia and was never replaced with a successor. Some years later, the American Boards established a foothold in Micronesia by opening missions in Ponape and Kusaie staffed by American Congregationalists and Hawaiian-born second-generation Christians. By 1886 the Protestant mission had successfully expanded to include several of the Marshall Islands and had recently launched a new effort to bring the faith to the islands of Truk, a region that had been by-passed for years by both missionary and sea-captain because of the xenophobic reputation of its inhabitants.
Had it not been for the dispute that arose with Germany in the previous year over Spain's long-neglected possessions in the Pacific — a dispute that resulted in an appeal to Pope Leo XIII and his judgment in favor of Spanish claims to the territory -it is unlikely that this missionary band would have ever been dispatched. The controversy drew Rome's attention to the fact that the Carolines had been sadly overlooked in the large-scale deployment of priests and religious throughout the Pacific in the nineteenth century. Spanish civil authorities, moreover, were quick to encourage plans for the evangelization of the far-flung islands, for they knew that the Carolines were still very much within the sphere of' German influence, however well established the Spanish title to these islands had become of late. It was an eleventh-hour attempt by Spain to consolidate the remains of what had once been a vast empire; and, as in the past, the padre and capitan were to form an alliance to plant both flag and faith in these islands.
We read in an official report penned by the Capuchin Superior, Fr. Llevaneras, that after 42 days at sea, during which time one of their number took ill and died of fever the Capuchins disembarked at Manila where they were warmly received by members of other religious orders already at work in that part of the world. According to a decree that was formally issued on May 15, 1886, the Caroline Mission was to be divided into two parts that corresponded to the division in the Spanish civil administration between the eastern and western islands. There was to be a superior of each and a mission center set up at the seat of Spanish government. Both local superiors were responsible to the Procurator of the Order's Spanish Province who was also the Superior General of its Missions in Ultramar, Fr. Joachim de Llevaneras. Fr. Llevaneras had accompanied the new missionaries from Spain and was to stay on long enough to see to it that the new enterprise was satisfactorily begun.
The Capuchins had been in Manila scarcely a month and were still busily employed in soliciting donations and preparing supplies for their missions when they learned that the steamship "Manila" would soon be departing for the Carolines. Although the five Capuchins assigned to Ponape (one of the two proposed mission centers) were not able to complete their preparations in time to leave on the "Manila"; Fr. Daniel Arbacegui and the religious who were to be stationed in Yap departed on this ship for their new field of labor.
En route to Yap, the ship put in for a few hours at Palau where the missionaries went ashore to pay a diplomatic visit to Aibedul, the chief, and his "prime minister": Fr. Arbacegui comments on the extraordinary corpulence of the two royal personages, but adds that the Capuchins were given a gracious welcome by their hosts and offered gifts of fruit. In return, the priest placed around the neck of each one a rosary and a medal of Our Lady. After a pleasant visit, the Capuchins took their leave with a promise to return to Palau — a promise that was made good five years later when the first mission station was established on that island.
On June 29, the small band of Capuchins finally arrived at Yap, and we are told that almost immediately they went to visit the chief who was supposed to be the King of Yap. Evidently the good Fathers were worldly-wise enough to realize the advantages to be gained in winning the chiefs-first and widespread. As unsophisticated as these missionaries' understanding of cultural processes may have been, they demonstrated again and again that at least they had no illusions about the possibility of making conversions without the approval of the chiefs. On this particular occasion, however, they had to be satisfied with a respectful greeting from the wife of the chief since the chief himself had gone out for the day. We are pointedly told of the woman's attempt to modestly cover her bare bosom with her long hair and arms as she received her missionary guests — a gesture that must have met with the full approval of the Capuchins.
In their first reports on Yap to superiors in Spain, there are all too familiar signs of what we would now call "culture shock". The Capuchins, who spent their first few nights in military tents lent them by the garrison commander, were so appalled at the hovels "built of trees and plants in a manner that is truly primitive" that they could never quite bring themselves to apply the word "houses" to these dwellings. They were surprised at the absence of any cultivation of crops in a land that gave evidence of such a remarkable fecundity in the wild flowers and its tall fruit trees. It was this astonishment that prompted one of them to write: "We hope to be able to contribute to the material and moral prosperity of the people with spiritual knowledge and instruction in the cultivation of crops." The scantiness of the clothing and the horrible custom of piercing the ears adorning them with flowers or wreaths seemed distressing at first sight. Withal, however, these first reports from Yap reflect a delight with the pleasant disposition of the people who thronged around the missionaries expressing admiration at the full beards of the Capuchins. The children especially flocked to the strange men in their long brown robes and remained at their side, playing and jabbering for long hours on end. Such a display of affection (or of curiosity) was bound to be taken by the zealous missionaries as an "auspicious sign of an abundant harvest of souls and quick return for our labors." Time would temper this ready enthusiasm.
Soon after their arrival, the missionaries finished building their first mission station — consisting of a modest residence and a small church — in the Spanish colony of San Cristina. On this station they bestowed the title of "St. Mary of Yap." Not long afterwards they felt it advisable to add a second, which they situated on the opposite side of the island in the village of Guror and named in Honor of the founder of their Order, St. Francis. The usual policy was for a priest and a lay brother to live together at a station. While the priest took care of the spiritual duties of the parish, the brother kept the buildings in repair, cooked the meals, and sometimes taught catechism to children. It was unusual for a missionary to live alone under any but the most extraordinary circumstances. Fr. Llevaneras, in the account of his visitation to the Carolines in 1887, furnished us with a sketch of the daily life of the Capuchins in the mission — a life that was surely as ordered as that of any of their fellow religious in the monasteries of Europe. Their day began at 4 AM when the religious rose for prayer and Mass; there was the customary dinner at noon, followed by a siesta, the common recitation of Office and the public rosary in the evening. The greater part of the day was spent in catechetical instruction and lessons in Spanish for those who wanted to learn this language. Carpentry and agriculture were later taught on a regular basis, usually by the lay brothers of the mission. The course in agriculture must have caused something of a sensation in Palau, to be sure, since it was considered offensive for Palauan boys to study what had always been regarded as women's work according to the traditional Palauan division of labor.
The Spanish missionaries spent a fair amount of their time going from one village to another visiting homes and gaining the confidence of the people. It appears that they had foresight enough to bring with them a good supply of knickknacks that they could distribute to those whom they visited. Llevaneras tells of a chief who was given a looking-glass which he promptly hung around his neck as a body ornament. Whenever anyone came to admire it and caught sight of his own reflection in the glass, he would jump in glee. Finally the chief who wanted to find out what all the fuss was about looked into the glass and immediately joined in the merriment. By making presents of mirrors, beads, and toy flutes, the Capuchins — like countless other missionaries before and since — hoped to win the affection of the people and prepare the way for their conversion. Whether this approach to evangelization is ever calculated to produce anything more than "rice Christians" is a controverted point and perhaps an insoluble question. It is interesting, however, to compare the open-hand approach of these Capuchins with that of Dr. Gulick, one of the first Protestant missionaries on Ponape, who writes in 1854 that he must frequently refuse the chief's request for gifts. As a rule, it seems to be true that Protestant missionaries in these parts did not favor the distribution of presents to the people in the hopes of interesting them in the faith, while Catholic evangelizers often used this technique in trying to win the hearts of the people. As an indication of just how clearly recognized this difference has become in Ponape by the beginning of this century, Hambruch records that among the reasons most frequently given for the conversion of many Ponapeans to Catholicism was the friendliness of the Fathers and the distribution of presents to the poor. Protestant insistance that a mission eventually maintain itself and pay for its own support led to this kind of decision for many a Ponapean: "I shall not become a Protestant for I am poor. I shall become a Catholic, for the Fathers do not ask me to pay for anything."
The Capuchins gave away not only toys and trifles, but also clothes — not so much for the sake of modesty as to protect the natives against the elements and thus check the spread of respiratory diseases caused, it was believed, by constant exposure to the wind and rain. Within a short time the Yapese learned not to appear before the padres without clothes -much to the surprise and chagrin of the Capuchins who had neither desired nor anticipated such a sudden turn. It soon seemed that everyone on Yap was emulating the modesty of the chief's wife who had been the first to host the priests on this island. Llevaneras remarks that women who happened to catch sight of a missionary approaching from a distance would run for their clothes and clutch them to their bosom if they had no time to slip them oil before meeting the priest. Fr. Valencia, writing from Palau a few years later, seems to have taken a slightly different view on the subject, for he complains of the limited success he has had in clothing the women. He sounds a hopeful note, however, by adding that a group of fifteen or so women appear for Sunday Mass in smocks or skirts, all wearing head coverings in church. Regardless of their personal feeling about the desirability of clothes for their flock, the missionaries soon found out that clothes — or the lack thereof — could be used as a handy excuse to explain why a person had been absent from church on the previous Sunday.
There were few occasions that gave the Capuchins as much cause for rejoicing as the baptism of the first Yapese, a child who received the name Leo in honor of the Pope who had recently instituted the mission. Just about the entire Spanish colony was on hand to celebrate this landmark in the evangelization of the islands. The Spanish governor served as godfather. Not too long afterwards thirty others were baptized, including some adults. Considering the stubborn opposition to foreign ways and the superstitious nature of the Yapese, characteristics that a later missionary singled out as the two main obstacles to the work of evangelization among them, these modest gains within the first eight months on the island were not altogether discouraging beginning for the Yap mission. Before the end of the century and the takeover by the Germans, the number of converts in Yap rose to over a thousand. Even if relatively few of these could be counted as genuine (as circumstances indeed were to prove!) at least this does attest to a superficial acceptance of the missionary by the Yapese. This fact may be small enough consolation for those who are attempting to effect a much more permanent change of heart in the individual, but it did produce its own rather deep changes in Yapese life.
On February 4, 188'7, the second small band of missionaries left Manila for Ponape in the company of Fr. Llevaneras, who was conducting his first official visitation of the missions, and Fr. Ambrosio de Valencina, whose diary was later published under the title Mi Viaje a Oceania. Traveling with the Capuchins aboard the Spanish steamer was the recently appointed Spanish governor of the Eastern Carolines, Don Isidoro Posadillo, and his party of adjutants and infantry.
En route to Ponape, the ship put in at Yap for about three weeks, thus giving Llevaneras and the others a chance to observe first hand the progress that their confreres had made in Yap since their arrival there the summer before. No sooner had he and his companions stepped down the gangplank, Llevaneras relates, than one of the Spanish residents began running to the mission station with the unexpected news that more Capuchins had arrived. The three priests on the island hurried down to greet their Provincial and fellow religious. Meanwhile, the three lay brothers, who saw the commotion on the dock and the larger than ordinary number of religious robes, grabbed candles and cross and ran down to join the gathering themselves. Delighted by this unannounced reunion, the Capuchins formed a solemn procession with bells, candles and cross on their way up to the church.
Nineteen days later, after satisfying himself that all was going as well as might be expected, the Provincial and his party once again boarded the "Manila" to complete their journey to Ponape.
The reception that greeted them in Ponape was a far different sort than the one they had just received in Yap. According to Llevaneras' description, the dock was lined with foreigners of just about every nationality — many of them traders who had lived for years on the island and were curious as to what changes the first official administration would bring to the island. There were the customary canoes in the harbor that piloted the ship into dock and a good-sized throng of natives on the shore watching. And then there were also the Protestant ministers who, in the opinion of thus Catholic priest, were the only ones in Ponape not entirely swept up in the universal joy that greeted the arrival of the Spanish. The Congregationalists, we may be sure, were anxious as to what policy the new civil government of Catholic Spain would adopt towards the mission that they had labored so hard to build up during their thirty-five years on Ponape. Their fears were justified, as events would soon prove. They could expect little sympathy from a colonial government that regarded itself as responsible for the Hispanicization and Catholicization of those under its jurisdiction and looked upon the extermination of heresy as one of its most sacred duties.
The judgment of the Spanish Capuchins on the American Protestants was never too kindly, and relations between the two even worsened as time went on. The unfortunate consequence of this mutual distrust was a religious "cold war" that periodically erupted into open hostilities between the two Christian groups and furnished Ponapeans with standards to rally behind in their political vendetta against one another. Accusations and counter-accusations were rife during this period. Llevaneras minces no words in charging the "disseminators of evil" with hypocrisy, perversion of morals among the people, coercion under threat of chains and physical punishment, and falsification of the official reports on the numbers of schools and their effectiveness. Not only have the misguided attempts of the heretics to change the wild ways of the people been spectacularly unsuccessful, but they have brought new afflictions upon the Ponapeans — e.g., the alarming decline in population and the spread of venereal disease.
One of the most frequently repeated charges against the Protestant missionaries was that of mercantilism: "Trade is the principal occupation of the Protestant ministers in Ponape. Their avarice is apparent in their readiness to claim new regions and set themselves up as surrogate rulers of these districts." The strong insistence of the American Board missioners upon modest covering of the body together with their preparedness to sell the material from which clothes could be made was undoubtedly taken as proof of their commercial interests. Even Fr. Salesius, a German Capuchin whose criticisms were usually much more cautious and balanced than those of his predecessors, makes this comment on the subject: "One must lament and condemn the crude system of the Boston Methodist Mission, a profanation of Christianity possible only for an American business soul, whereby clothes are forced on the natives under the mask of Christian morality and decency, but in reality to make a lucrative business out of its highly profitable trade in these garments, which soon wear out because of their poor quality and must be replaced by new ones."
There is little point in getting embroiled here in the old quarrel over whether the missionaries in the Pacific did more harm than good in clothing the native. Of more interest is the charge of crass exploitation leveled against the early Protestant missionaries by the Capuchins. Let it suffice to point out that the Catholic accusation of mercantilism failed to take account of two important principles that long guided Protestant mission work. The first was the conviction that concealment of the body was an indispensable aid of Christian sexual morality. The second that, whenever possible, the evangelized people should assume complete financial responsibility for their church and whatever else they received from their pastors. Christianity was not to be a give-away program of social action, for it was only by his efforts and personal sacrifice that the strength of character necessary for Christian life could be implanted in the individual. This latter principle was never really alien to Catholic missiology and, in fact, came to be much more important under the German missionaries.
Only three weeks after the arrival of the Capuchins, construction of the first residence and church at Santiago, the Spanish colony, was finished. Mass was celebrated in the church for the first time on Palm Sunday, April 4, 1887. As one report puts it, "we celebrated the Paschal feast with great joy, chanting alleluias where formerly only the groans of diabolical slavery were heard." Other signs of encouragement followed quickly upon the dedication of this first Catholic church on Ponape. Just two weeks later the first baptism was performed on a three-year old child. That same week saw the return to the fold of a certain Narciso, a Filipino who had resided on Ponape for 37 years and spent much of that lengthy period assisting the Protestant mission. After his abjuration of heresy, Narciso received a hasty course in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith and thereupon was employed by the Capuchins as a catechist in their first school. But the most notable success during these early days was the surprise visit paid to the priests by the Nanmwarki of Kiti, the chief of the largest of the five districts of Ponape, who requested that the Capuchins found a mission station on his land. At the time the missionaries had no way of foreseeing how much trouble and pain would result from this seemingly innocent petition. They gratefully acceded to his request, of course, and by the time Llevaneras left Ponape the residence and church there were almost completed. What the Capuchin Provincial did not know was that the insurrection that followed almost immediately upon his departure from Ponape aboard the steamship "Manila" would delay the opening of this Kiti mission for two years.
It was only in 1889 that the station of St. Felix at Aleniang began operations. Its dedication was celebrated with all the pageantry that befits such an event. The superior of the Ponape mission, Fr. Saturninus, writes that he and the staff of the new station arrived in Kiti by ship and were met by the Nanmwarki, who was decked out in his favorite European suit. After Mass the next morning, which was attended by several Ponapean dignitaries and about eighty Spanish soldiers, two brothers and a priest were left to care for the mission while Fr. Saturninus returned to Santiago.
During that same year a third mission station was opened in the village of Oa just a few meters away from the Protestant church. It was short-lived, however. The whole mission was destroyed soon after its completion and was never reopened by the Capuchins.
The spiritual consolation of these early gains must have been shattered abruptly for the Capuchins when open rebellion broke out in June, 1887. Trouble between the Spanish authorities and the Ponapeans had been brewing from almost the first day the governor arrived three months before. The practice of corvee labor, accompanied by threats of punishment and imprisonment, had done very little to win the affection of the Ponapeans for their new overlords. It is easy to imagine that the very presence of the Spanish garrison at Santiago must have rankled the islanders, apart from the demands that were made on them by the civil and military authorities. One of Posadillo's first official acts was to summon the chiefs, bestow on each of them the title "Gobernadorcillo," and give them the emblems of Spanish rule, the flag and the scepter. This act of recognition, customarily awarded to petty chiefs in Spanish overseas possessions, was intended to establish the ultimate authority of the Spanish rule while confirming the existent political structure. This gesture could have done little to improve the situation, for the Spanish officials soon found themselves at odds with the traditional Ponapean leaders.
Besides this, there was the famous controversy between the governor and one of the Protestant missionaries over the title to a large piece of property -the site of present-day Kolonia — that reputedly had once been given to Doane and the Protestant mission by some of the Ponapean nobility. Doane's title to the property was now being contested by the Spanish government. In the spat that developed over this land, Doane was charged with seditious conduct and sent to Manila for trial by the same ship that brought Llevaneras back to the Philippines. The Protestant adherents among the Ponapeans were naturally angered by what they considered an attempt on the part of the Catholic civil authorities to deal Protestantism a blow, even if the real religious objections were thinly disguised by political charges. Shortly after the departure of the "Manila," open hostilities broke out between Ponapeans and Spaniards over a refusal of the people of Sokehs to work under the Spanish overseers. Governor Posadillo was killed during the rebellion, and it was only with the arrival of three Spanish warships at the end of October that peace was at last restored to the island.
From the limited material at our disposal, it is difficult to make a conclusive judgment on the role that the Capuchins actually played in the rebellion of 1887. Early in the insurrection Fr. Saturninus offered to try to arbitrate the dispute, but his attempts apparently came to nothing. We know from the annual mission report of 1890 that some observers who wrote on the events of 1887 laid the blame on the Capuchins. Naturally, the Catholic missionaries accused the Protestants of originating this calumny. The report protests that "in their hatred of our missionaries, they have the support of even some Spaniards, especially the authors of wicked diaries who seek to discredit the servants of God. They agree with the enemies of Spain — in fact, they go them one better where religion is concerned — even though the instinct of love for one's country and the principle of national honor totally condemn their way of acting. Denouncing what they call ‘false patriotism’, they cite the missionaries as the cause of the rebellion and regard them as an obstacle to the advancement of Spanish control here." This report, goes on to record the testimony of Fr. Saturninus that the Capuchins had conducted the difficult work of their ministry "with the greatest prudence and tolerance."
This was not the last time the mission would be accused of preaching peace and inciting war. After the great rebellion of 1910 during the German administration on Ponape, the same charges would be made against the German Capuchins by no less a person than the former governor of the colony. Although the character of these first missionaries is surely unimpeachable and their good intentions beyond question, there is still some truth to the charge that divisiveness and hostility were the by-products of Catholic proselytism. Wherever possible, new Catholic missions were erected in traditional Protestant strongholds, as in Oa. Instead of seeking to complement one another, the religious groups issued a declaration of war upon each other. Religious tolerance may not have been one of the more acceptable virtues of the day for either Catholics or Protestants, but the bitterness between the two religions only aggravated the unrest that accompanied the foreign rule of the Spanish. and later the Germans. With the coming of the Capuchins to Ponape, two hostile camps were set LIP and clear lines of' demarcation were drawn between rival groups so that Ponapean converts could align themselves with one or the other depending on the political advantages offered them. Even if religious hostility did not actually cause the conflicts that marked this era of Ponapean history, it provided a means of institutionalizing the lines of conflict and undoubtedly also reinforced them.
As to the effect of the insurrection of 1887 on the Capuchins mission, this much at least may be said: the missionaries were once and for all identified with the interests of the Spanish government. 'The Capuchins did nothing, to discourage this; in fact, it would have gone against their deepest beliefs to do so, as we have mentioned before. Fr. Antonio de Valencia, the first missionary to Palau. stated the objectives of the mission explicitly and succinctly when he wrote: " We are working not only to convert the natives here to the Catholic faith, but also to make Palau a real Spanish land."Throughout this period of mission activity, such continued to be the working policy of the Capuchins. Only upon the arrival of the German priests in 1904 did the mission manage to attain an autonomy with respect to the civil administration.
Soon after Spain defended its title to the Caroline and Mariana Islands against Germany in 1885 and regained interest in its long-forgotten Pacific possessions, a small band of Capuchin friars arrived from Spain to begin the first sustained Catholic missionarv work in the Caroline Islands. On June 29, 1886, six Capuchins landed in Yap where within a brief period of time they erected two mission stations, began classes for children in catechism and vocational trades, and conducted a campaign of house-to-house visiting in an effort to win the affection of the people and interest them in the Christian faith. Their work was rewarded before long by the baptism of several Yapese: an event that signaled the beginning of deep social changes among these people.
As the first part of this article explains (Micronesian Reporter, Second Quarter 1971), the second group of Capuchin missionaries, who disembarked on Ponape in 1887, found not as clear a field for their apostolic labors as had their confreres on Yap. Within a few months of their arrival the Spanish Capuchins were evolved in a religious cold war with the Protestant Congregationalists who had established a mission on Ponape some thirty years before. Complaints by the Congregationalists that the priests depended on highhanded tactics and the backing of the Spanish crown in their proselytizing were met with bunter-accusations on the part of the Capuchins that the Protestants were guilty of crass exploitation in their attempts to clothe the people in Boston-manufactured garments. Religious lines were clearly drawn. It was not a complete surprise, then, when open hostilities between the sects erupted and a Catholic mission in the village of Oa was burnt to the ground.
Despite their conflicts with the Protestants, the Capuchins made significant gains during these first years on Ponape. Only three weeks after their arrival the first Catholic church was built in the Spanish colony of Santiago. A second mission station was set up shortly afterward at the request of no less a man than the Nanmwarki of Kiti. The first infant baptism by the Capuchins was followed by the return to the fold of a Filipino who had been a long-time catechist for the Protestant mission.
Catholic evangelization on Ponape suffered a serious setback with the outbreak of open rebellion against the Spanish authorities in June of 1887. Although the cause of the revolt lay in the irksome demands made on the Ponapeans by their new Spanish governor, Catholic and Protestant factions were soon implicated in the uprisings. A prominent American Congregationalist missionary was charged with sedition and sent to Manila for trial. In the hostilities that followed, the Spanish governor was killed. Peace was finally restored only after three Spanish warships sailed into the harbor four months later. The effect of the insurrection upon the Capuchin mission was lasting. The missionaries were identified once and for all with the interests of the civil government in the Carolines.
Our story continues . . .
Meanwhile, the mission on Yap was undergoing difficulties of its own. Fr. Arbacegui writes that in March, 1889, there was a sudden volcanic eruption in the village of Lamer that lasted for three months before the crater disappeared entirely. This strange phenomenon inspired a prophetic movement led by seven natives who began to tell everyone that the Spanish missionaries and the governor would soon leave Yap or be driven out by the spirit or kan of that place. Furthermore, all Yapese who adhered to the new religion would have to renounce it or suffer similar consequences. The effect of all this was to frighten away those Yapese who had usually come to the mission for instruction in the faith — that is, until one of the priests confronted the seers and forced the retraction of what had been said.
Fr. Arbacegui also mentions in his report that a fertility cult had been revived by the seven men atop Mt. Matsebap. It was said that any woman who ascended the mountain and left an offering to the god would conceive a child. The priest notes that these superstitions received their just desert — first, the wives of five of the seven self-styled "missionaries" died; then disaster befell many of the women who had visited the seers. One died in childbirth, another had a miscarriage, a third gave birth to a child who was so sickly that he died a few days later. In a short time, the fertility cult proved to be quite the reverse and word spread among the Yapese that if a woman went to Matsebap her child would surely die. We are not told whether this was the end of the nativistic movement, but the mission seems to have gotten its catechumens back again. Arbacegui triumphantly writes that "all this was sufficient to convince the people of the truth of our teachings." He is quick to add, though, that the Yapese don't seem to be very anxious to understand these teachings for they wish to remain free from the moral obligations that Christian doctrine entails.
If superstition was the greatest problem that plagued the Capuchins on Yap, there were numerous others besides. A letter from Fr. Arbacegui dated November 4, 1893, tells of a tidal wave destroying his church and residence at Guror. When the dispossessed priest attempted to rebuild his mission in the village of Onean rather than on the former site, he met with a good deal of hostility on the part of the villagers. Repeated visits to the people were of no avail. Finally the priest took the matter to the governor, who thereupon ordered the chief to assist the missionaries in building their church. The chief and people of Onean could do nothing but comply, and so the station was erected in a short time. We can only wonder at the buoyant optimism of the author when he tells us that within a few weeks the initial reluctance of the people of Onean had turned to enthusiasm towards their foreign resident and his undertaking.
The pastor goes on to relate how his efforts to evangelize other places nearby have been impeded because work on the main road has been discontinued. The entire Yapese road gang declared a strike because they were deprived of their gin by edict of the governor after some forty deaths had been caused in some way or other by drinking. Fr. Arbacegui comments on the magnitude of the problem of alcohol in Yap, illustrating it with the story of a recent fiesta en honor de la bebida during which a drunk had liquor forced down his throat until the priest thought the poor man would burst. As they poured, the revelers shouted: "We are giving you this so that you can send us more liquor from the other side of the grave." Again the priest found it necessary to consult with the governor — this time in order to see to it that the prohibition on the sale of liquor to Yapese was strictly enforced. He admits that his success on this score did not enhance his popularity with the villagers. Ever the optimist, however, Arbacegui feels that at least they have begun to understand that the prohibition is all for the best.
The letters from this period all sound the same refrain: the frustrations of the apostolate, the disappointment of the padres at the backsliding of their people, some small signs of encouraging progress in their work, and a prayer that some day the people of Yap might pass from the darkness into the light. Throughout the ups and downs of the first years on Yap, the expansion of the Capuchins mission continued. In 1891 another six priests and an equal number of lay brothers were sent from Spain to staff the growing number of stations in Ponape and Yap. Still more men were sent to the Caroline mission in 1893 and in 1896; by the turn of the century there were 42 Capuchins at work in the islands. 1893 saw the dedication of a new church on the island of Map (St. Joseph of Torei) and the construction of a chapel and sub-station in the village of Fra. In the following year, the church that had been destroyed by a tidal wave was rebuilt in Guror, while at Matsebap the cross was raised over the ruins of what had once been a temple in honor of the Yapese god, Gopin. It was here that the fertility cult mentioned earlier had been conducted. When the irony of the situation was grasped by the devotees of the cult, the site was abandoned and the ancient prayer to Gopin degenerated into a common formula of ridicule used by the Yapese against one another's naive beliefs. The upshot of all this was not only the vindication of the faith against pagan superstitions, but the acquisition by the Capuchin mission of a large parcel of land for a nominal fee.
But the most significant step taken during these years was the inauguration of the mission in Palau, There is an interesting letter written in July 1890 by an unnamed Capuchin priest who was traveling in the company of a lay brother aboard the famous Captain O'Keefe's ship. The author reports that twenty Yapese were being taken to Palau to quarry stone money. When asked by one of them why he was going to Palau, he punned in reply that he did not intend to extract fei (stone money), but to spread fe (faith). He and his companion received very kind treatment from the legendary trader-king, and after a near disaster in one of the treacherous channels just off Palau they were met by Aibedul shortly after landing. The chief, "as fat as he was four years before," was surprisingly cool towards the missionaries. When he was told that the priest had come in the official capacity of vice-governor, Aibedul broke into tears. His fears were stirred, he said, by a recollection of what had happened to his predecessor, who some years earlier had been executed by the commander of a British warship for the murder of the trader, Andrew Cheyne. He was afraid of suffering a similar fate at the hands of the Spanish, and his fears had only grown after hearing stories spread by certain foreigners on Palau about the viciousness of the missionaries and the military might of the Spanish that lay at their beck. To prove to him how foolish these fears were, the priest told Aibedul that he intended to stay in the chief's own village as long as he remained on Palau. "At first," he writes, "men, women, and children would all run away and hide as if they would be killed by the very sight of us." Terror soon changed to curiosity, and finally to respect. Gifts of pigs, chickens, fish, fruit, and sweets poured into the home of the missionaries. On the day of their departure, a steady procession of women carrying food for their return trip moved in and out of the tiny house. At their parting, Aibedul asked the priest to return to Palau and establish a mission there. The author of the letter adds that he has already requested the aid of the governor in founding a permanent mission in Palau for he has been impressed by the potential fruitfulness of this field. There is already a Protestant living on the island who has translated the four gospels into the Palauan language; but he is more a help than a hindrance, according to the Capuchin, "not in the sense that he speaks favorably of us or does anything positive for us, but because he is so disliked that if he says something is white everyone agrees that it must be black."
This letter, or letters like it, evidently produced their desired effect, for within a year more Capuchins were sent from Spain to open new missions in the Carolines. On April 28, 1891, five years after the mission on Yap was started, the first permanent Catholic mission on Palau was begun when the ship Santa Cruz brought two priests and two brothers to that island. Among this band of Capuchins was Fr. Antonio Valencia, whose Memoria de Palaos is the outstanding ethnographical work of this period of religious activity. Originally written as a report to Fr. Llevaneras, his provincial, on what he had observed during his first year in Palau, this document was preserved and later annotated by a Spanish Jesuit working in Palau. Although this long memorial is mostly a description of the land, the people and their customs, we do learn something about the progress of the mission in its dedication and epilogue. Fr. Valencia writes that the chief (who may or may not have been Aibedul) received the party of missionaries very warmly and gave them a house to live in. Fr, Arbacegui, who had come with the other Capuchins to formally inaugurate the mission on Palau, blessed the house a few days later, but the blessing proved to be no deterrent to the rats and lizards that shared these humble quarters with the religious. The villagers nearby were suspicious of the intentions of the missionaries, according to Valencia, and kept their children away from these odd-looking newcomers. The people evidently had no idea of why the Capuchins were living among them. "Some took us for traders with a different uniform from the others who live here; others believed that we came to govern the land and would be followed by soldiers. But all were far from believing that we were bringing them a new teaching, a new way of life diametrically opposed to their old way."
The same misunderstanding plagued the Capuchins two years later when they founded another mission station at Melekeok on the island of Babeldaop. When asked whether they would permit the Capuchins to establish a residence there, the people pleaded that they must first ask the galid or spirit what they should do. After long negotiations between the priests and the chiefs, it came out that the real reason for the hesitation of the Palauans was their fear that if they admitted the Capuchins, Spanish warships and soldiers would inevitably follow and most likely kill them all. It seems that the tales spread by the foreigners in Palau about the liaison between the priests and the infantry had made as deep an impression upon the people of Melekeok as on Aibedul a few years earlier.
Even apart from the Palauans’ fear of the Spanish military, it is not difficult to understand native opposition to the settlement of the missionaries in Palau. The forthright declaration that they had come to change Palauan ways was not exactly calculated to win the confidence of the people. "From the start," writes Valencia, "we declared our intentions to the chief — to instruct them in other and better customs. This was the real cause of alarm among them." Such a frank admission as this is shocking in our age, an age that has come to look with scorn on the crude assaults of the earlier missionaries upon the customs of what they supposed were a primitive people buried in darkness. The fact is, of course, that these missionaries saw the culture as steeped in superstition, loose sexual mores, slavery, ignorance and thievery. Not only had these vices to be extirpated, but everything in the culture that possibly might reinforce such immoral tendencies had to go. The theology of the missionaries prevented them from doing otherwise. The Capuchins surely knew that the Palauan people loved their way of life as much as these Spaniards did their own, but when the gospel was at stake there was no room for pagan perversions under the name of cultural relativity.
Despite their reaction to the missionaries’ announced program of radical change and their lingering fear of the Spanish infantry, the Palauans in Koror gradually came to accept their visitors, as so many other Carolinians had done in like situations. They permitted their children to come to the priests’ house and be instructed, although at first it was only the children of the chiefs who came to be taught. Valencia laments the requirement that the nobility must always be the first to receive instruction and baptism, for they are often the very ones least ready for thus step. When the missionaries do go about to visit the homes of the commoners, they are met with great respect, attentively listened to, and questioned about their teachings. The people, lie observes, agree with the teaching but they postpone the change of their customs until later. In analyzing the Palauans’ change of heart towards the Spanish priests, he suggests that the most significant factor in softening the Palauans was the Capuchins’ ministry to the sick during a recent influenza epidemic. It seems that it was the hardiness of the Capuchins and their amazing immunity to the disease that impressed the Palauans much more than their kindness in attending to the needs of the sick. Whatever the reasons, Valencia reports the baptism of 14 children and 9 adults, one of whom was a blind girl who gave valuable service to the mission many years after the Spanish Capuchins were recalled from Palau.
The method used by the Capuchins in Palau was the same plodding type of work conducted elsewhere in the mission. In general, however, results were not as great here as in other parts of the Carolines. Certainly there was not the wide scale social reform that Valencia and his companions desired, very likely because the work of the Capuchins did not have the government support in Palau that it enjoyed in Yap and Ponape, where the Spanish administrative presence was a real force upon the life of the people. Social reform of the kind envisioned by Valencia would not be carried out until the Germans assumed control of the Caroline Islands and introduced their program of sweeping institutional change in the social and political structures of the island.
Information on the fortunes of the Ponape mission for the years 1891-1904 is scant. Fr. Augustine Arinez writes of an epidemic that ravaged Kiti during the months of October and November, 1894; he mentions the opening of a special school for Christian doctrine and the baptism of 18 more adults during the past year. Of such unexciting tidbits most of the letters of this period are composed.
In 1896 a series of spectacular conversions gave new hope to the Capuchins whose customary optimism was beginning to wear thin by this time. "With a sad heart we have often observed the fruitlessness of our efforts and sacrifices," writes Fr. Bernard Sarria, "but now the picture has changed altogether." He goes on to report that the Nanmwarki of Sokehs has recently been baptized a Catholic. The ceremony was conducted two weeks earlier with all possible solemnity; there were bells, flowers, more than forty national pennants, and the Spanish flag flying high above the altar. After the three-hour ceremony, which included the rites of baptism, confirmation and matrimony, the new Christians were led into the mission residence and treated to a small glass of muscatel, sweets and cigarettes. The whole celebration was brought to an end with a rousing musket salute discharged by the Spanish troops present. Fr. Sarria concludes his letter with an enthusiastic rehearsal of what this event might mean for the advance of the mission and assures his readers that "this event will be recorded in letters of gold in the chronicle of thus mission."
Just a few months later, Fr. Jose Tirapu reported the baptism of the principal chief of Awak, a man by the name of Chaulik. This may have paved the way for future conversions, but it did nothing at all to ease the tension between Catholics and Protestants that was building up in Uh.
Less than a year later, the Nanmwarki of Kiti and his family were baptized in the church at Aleniang. This was a great boost for the mission, if we take Fr. Sarria at his word, for the Nanmwarki had been frequently approached by the Protestant missionaries who apparently desired his conversion every bit as much as the Catholics. The baptism was celebrated with all the accustomed splendor and pomp. The Governor of Ponape, Miguel Velasco, acted as sponsor for the neophyte, while all the lesser chiefs of Kiti, the Nanmwarki of Uh and his entourage, the usual complement of Spanish infantry, and even the Vicar Apostolic of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, Fr. Edward Bontemps, attended the ceremony.
One can sympathize with the readiness of the Capuchin missionaries, after their long years of seemingly ineffective work, to seize on these sudden conversions as an indication that the Catholic mission was on the threshold of a new age of prosperity. What is more difficult to understand, though, is how they could have failed to see the political motives that figured so strongly in the decision of these chiefs to embrace Catholicism. The interest of the Nanmwarki of Kiti in the Catholic religion became all the stronger with the rise in prominence of his rival, Henry Nanpei, who was a pastor of the Protestant Church in Kiti. As Nanpei's prestige grew to threatening proportions, the Nanmwarki seems to have had no choice but to side with the opposing faction — in this case, the Catholic Church. If the religious faiths offered convenient lines of political alliance for various power blocs on the island, the culmination of these political intrigues came in 1898 when several parties joined in an attack on the people of Awak in an effort to drive out all Catholics. It was only the military assistance of the Spanish man-of-war Quiros that saved the mission in Awak from total ruin and the people there from sure defeat.
The Catholic mission in Kiti did not fare as well; in the outbreak of hostilities that occurred in the same year the mission was completely destroyed. Fr. Jose de Tirapu writes of a heart-breaking visit to the site of the residence at Aleniang two years later where he found the ruins almost totally grown over with underbrush. He says that he salvaged what few materials he could for a new station that was to be built, not at Aleniang but in Roi, the village of the Nanmwarki. Here the mission would be better protected by the presence of the chief in the event of a recurrence of hostilities. Since the three priests in Ponape were engaged at the missions of Sokehs, Awak and Net at this time, two brothers were to be sent to run the school, lead daily prayers and prepare the people for a resident priest when one could finally be spared.
On October 12, 1899, the German flag was raised over Ponape, bringing to an end the thirteen year period of Spanish sovereignty in the Carolines. From this time on, the Spanish Capuchin mission began a steady decline until at last the mission was formally transferred to the German Capuchins by formal decree on November 7, 1904. The new missionaries began to arrive in the field almost immediately; by 1907 the transition was completed with the departure of the last Spanish priest from the mission. The turnover of the mission to new personnel was inevitable. After the advent of the German administration, the Spanish missionaries could no longer count on the liberal support that they had always received from the government. The subsidy that they had been given each year by the Spanish government was discontinued: but perhaps even more important was the fact that the padres could no longer depend upon the civil authorities to back their mission program and lend their influence to the work of the priests. The German government in the Carolines tried to maintain a neutral stance towards the missionaries. If they did not interfere with the evangelizing work of Catholics or Protestants, neither did they support the work of either. According to Fr. Lopinot's short history of the Capuchin missions, the changeover of political control and the withdrawal of government support affected the mission on Yap much more seriously than that on Ponape. He attributes this fact to the overzealousness of the last Spanish governor on Yap in assisting the Capuchin mission.
"By using strong pressure in favor of the mission, he began actively to promote the work of conversion. Fathers of families who did not regularly send their children to school were forced to perform penal services in the colony. The government also set himself vigorously to the task of raising the morality of the village; this made him very unpopular.
Now that the civil and ecclesiastical work in the colonies were quite distinct affairs, many of the earlier inducements to Christianity were taken away. No longer could the padre shield the law-breaker from the vengeance of the civil authorities; conversion to Christianity was no longer an effective means of ingratiating oneself with the local government officials; and the Spanish language that was still taught in mission schools ceased to have any particular value for the native as a way of social advancement. With the coming of the Germans the appeal that Christianity was to have for the Yapese must be, more than ever before, a religious one. The people would have to accept the Catholic faith on its own terms as a spiritual force. What actually happened, as we know from the German colonial reports at the turn of the century, was a widespread defection from the religion of the Spanish fathers. "Church attendance," we are told, "is hardly enough to be mentioned." Enrollment in the mission schools on Yap, which had numbered 542 children during the last year of Spanish rule, dropped to only nine pupils in the following year; and these were almost all the offspring of foreigners residing in Yap. Lopinot sums up the situation in this way: "The new regional director gave full freedom as far as attendance at church and school was concerned. the chiefs and magicians used this freedom to promote their own ideas. They forbade the visiting of churches and schools, and posted guards to control such visits. Thus, as far as the natives were concerned, all visits to the churches and schools ceased completely. From among the inhabitants of the colony, only the Chamorros and a few foreigners came to Mass, but no natives of Yap."
This state of affairs was, as Lopinot suggests, a reaction against the pressure applied by the Spanish authorities in favor of the Church, but it was also striking evidence of the superficiality of the hold that Christianity had on the people. Some years later the German Capuchins learned that Yapese church-goers during the Spanish times customarily remarked to one another that they were going to church "to deceive the Father." One wonders whether what should have been so painfully obvious to the Spanish priests actually went unnoticed by them or whether they just lacked suitable missionary techniques to remedy the situation. And yet the writings that we have reviewed here give no hint that the missionaries suspected just how ephemeral their hard-won gains actually were. The German Capuchins who followed them in the mission, however, saw quite clearly how weak the foundations upon which the Church rested were. Probably the strongest criticism of the procedures of the Spanish missionaries was voiced by one of their successors in the Carolines, Fr. Peter Salesius. "The lasting success of the mission is to be achieved not through the brachium saeculare and not merely through the external rites of the Church and forms of worship, but through devoted, patient work in religious instruction and a simultaneous, intensive elevation and advancement of the material culture of the islanders."
With the closing of their mission in the Carolines, the work of the Spanish Capuchins in Micronesia did not come to a complete halt. The Spanish Augustinians who had been entrusted with the mission in the Marianas were driven out of Guam when that island passed over to American control after the Spanish-American War. The single remaining priest, the native-born Fr. Jose Palomo, turned to the Spanish Capuchins for help and in 1901 the first Capuchins were sent to work on Guam. Later others followed and laid the groundwork for the new Capuchin mission there. Meanwhile in 1905 the mission of the Caroline Islands was constituted an ecclesiastical prefecture under their first Prefect Apostolic, Fr. Venantius Prechthal. With this the era of the Spanish Capuchins in the Caroline Islands was formally closed.
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