Volume 92 1983 > Volume 92, No. 2 > Imperialism, dynasticism, and conversion: Tongan designs on 'Uvea (Wallis Island), 1835-52, by I. C. Campbell, p 155-168
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It has become axiomatic in Pacific historiography to interpret religious conversion in the 19th century as the resolution of a struggle for political power. At the same time missionaries on the whole have been absolved of the role of imperial proconsul, although undoubtedly some missionaries were imperialistically minded and others were used to advance the interests of their homelands. Both of these trends in interpretation have been the result of an increasing willingness on the part of historians to see processes in terms of the internal dynamics of Island society.

The religious transformation of Wallis Island in the 1840s may be interpreted in the same way, but there are, nevertheless, features which distinguish the Wallis experience from the usual pattern in Polynesia. Central to the whole process was the overt rivalry between Protestants and Catholics from a very early time. Elsewhere this rivalry was either muted or it post-dated the substantial success of one or other religion. In Wallis, moreover, the outcome was shaped by the intervention of external powers—specifically of the French Navy—in support of the Catholic priests, and of Tongan canoes and warriors in support of Protestantism. It also seems likely that, at least on the part of the Tongans, the power of religious conversion was being used to advance a political purpose: the subjugation of Wallis Island and its inclusion in the revival of the ancient Tongan maritime empire of which tradition speaks, and which King George Tupou of Tonga (Taufa'ahau) is reputed to have attempted to accomplish. Both groups of outsiders found allies from among the Wallisians, reflecting internal political rivalries.

The pivotal events in the development of this process were the arrival in 1835 of a party of Tongans from Niuatoputapu with evangelical intentions; the arrival of Bishop Pompallier and his establishment of a Catholic mission on Wallis Island in 1837; the contest in the 1840s between Lavelua and Bo'oi, for supremacy on Wallis; and the small but - 156 continuing stream of Tongan agents to Wallis throughout the 1840s. The conclusion seems inescapable that conversion was an instrument of politics, and that the ultimate political status of Wallis was determined by the religious rivalries of different groups of Christians.

When Bishop Pompallier, the recently appointed Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania, decided to make Wallis Island his first mission field in October 1837, it was a sudden decision. He had planned to make the island of Ascension (Ponape) in Micronesia his headquarters but on the voyage westward from Tahiti in the Raiatea he had decided to call at Vava'u in the Tongan group (Wiltgen 1979:156). Pompallier seems to have been unprepared to find Protestant missionaries already well entrenched and had fruitless negotiations with the King of Vava'u, Taufa'ahau (or King George as he was already known to Europeans), who refused to allow him to leave any of his party there. Pompallier had disingenuously proposed that he leave two men merely to learn the language. Taufa'ahau insisted that churchmen could not refrain from practising and teaching their religion, and that, since he believed that two rival religions would be disruptive to Tongan society, he would not allow the Catholics to remain (Pompallier 1888:17-18, cf. Thomas MS: VI, 27-28 October, 1837).

Pompallier left in dismay, convinced that it was the influence of the Wesleyan missionary John Thomas which was really the obstacle to his work. He therefore conceived a new strategy: to place his resources in such a way as to confine the expansion of Protestantism, and to prepare for a counter-attack. The conversion of the heathen was for the time being to lose precedence to the desire to rescue the recently heathen from the apparently greater peril of “the Wesleyan heresy.” This goal could best be served, Pompallier reasoned, by occupying an island close by which was not in Wesleyan hands. For this purpose the two small archipelagos of Wallis and Futuna seemed ideal.

Pompallier suspected—and probably knew—that the Wesleyans in Tonga were planning an extension of their influence to Wallis and Futuna. He knew, also, that in 1834 they had sent missionaries to the large and populous neighbouring groups of Fiji and Samoa. If Catholicism was to become established quickly in the Central Pacific area, it was strategically imperative to begin work immediately on Wallis and Futuna. He arrived at Wallis on November 1, 1837, and promptly obtained an interview with Lavelua, the king of the island (although just what authority he had over how much of the island is unclear). Pompallier saw some advantage in the fact that the people did not know who he was or what he represented. Lavelua, however, evidently had his suspicions, for when the bishop proposed—as he had at Vava'u—that he - 157 leave two men behind merely to learn the language and establish friendly relations, the king questioned him closely about his business and intentions, in particular wanting to know if his was a party of missionaries “who flog the natives for drinking wine and smoking tobacco,” and saying that if such they were then they must leave. Pompallier, anxious to distinguish Protestantism from Catholicism, denied strenuously that he was of the same sect. Lavelua, reassured, replied that “he was greatly inclined to admit me and one or two of my companions into his country, and even into his royal dwelling” (Pompallier 1888:20-22).

Just how Lavelua interpreted Pompallier's denials is impossible to say, but Pompallier wrote that Lavelua had good reason to be wary of any Protestant missionary proposing to settle “for about two years before, the king of Wallis and his people had massacred over fifty-five native Protestants of the neighbouring islands, who had come armed to preach on his island, and to make war upon him in case of his refusal to be converted to their church. Since that time all the people hated the Protestant missionaries, and the king would on no account open to them the gates of his little states” (Pompallier 1888:21).

Lavelua consulted his chiefs and overrode their fears with the apparently nonreligious consideration that he was the only chief who did not have his own resident white men. Pompallier's proposals were therefore accepted, and a priest, Pierre Bataillon, and a brother, Joseph Luzy, began their residence (Pompallier 1888:22).

Four years later, Bataillon, who had been reinforced with a second priest, Father Chevron, was able to report that conversions had been taking place in such large numbers that Wallis was a Catholic community (Wiltgen 1979:233).

Thus reported, the triumph of Catholicism seemed easy, unchallenged and undramatic, and perhaps even assisted by the folly of the Protestants. In fact, it was the result of a subtle interplay of political and religious considerations which involved the Protestant missionaries, and was probably connected with Tongan politics as well.

The Wesleyans had first put on record their intentions towards Wallis Island in 1835 (Wesleyan Missionary Society, Friendly Islands Circuit District Minutes, October 31, 1835). By this time the Tongan mission had become securely established, was favoured by the most powerful chiefs, had won thousands of adherents and was at the height of its vigour. A European missionary would be sent to Wallis Island as soon as the more pressing needs of Fiji and Samoa were met. Until then the work of evan gelisation was to be carried forward by Tongan local (lay) preachers and teachers.

In the meantime, local preachers and teachers were being sent to the - 158 distant, northerly Tongan islands of Niuafo'ou and Niuatoputapu. There had been for some time an active demand from these islands for the introduction of the new religion which was sweeping Ha'apai and Vava'u. News of the new religion had been spread widely throughout the Western Polynesian archipelagos by voyagers of many islands, as part of the continuing intercourse between them. The missionaries had themselves moved north from Tongatapu in 1830 at the urgent request of Taufa'ahau, then paramount chief of Ha'apai. Vava'u was occupied shortly afterwards when Taufa'ahau induced the paramount chief of Vava'u, Finau 'Ulukalala to turn. With this move the missionaries were fully extended. They planned, as reinforcements became available, to deploy them in beginning the conversion of the large populations of Samoa and Fiji. Niuatoputapu and Niuafo'ou, as small remote Tongan islands, had a lower priority than the great archipelagos of Samoa and Fiji, and had little likelihood of ever receiving a permanent European missionary. Plans were laid fairly early, however, to send local preachers. During 1831 Thomas had had conversations about religion with a Niuatoputapu chief called Mafoa at both Ha'apai and Vava'u (Thomas MS: III, January 1, 1831, and October 6, 1831). In July 1832 the Rev. William Cross, of the Tongan mission, visited Niuatoputapu (Thomas MS: III, July 17, 1831), but it was not until 1834 that a native Tongan local preacher, Mosesi Nauleo, went there to inaugurate the mission. As early as June 1834 it was reported that the island was very receptive (Thomas MS: V, June 11, 1834). Christianity on Niuatoputapu received a tremendous boost for some months in the early part of 1835 when the Rev. Peter Turner—probably the most effective evangelist of the Tongan mission—stayed there on his way to Samoa. At the end of his residence there Turner reported that the king and queen of Niuatoputapu were both class leaders, and that the king planned to take teachers to Uea (Wallis Island) and later to his smaller and nearer neighbour, Niuafo'ou.

By December 1835, the missionaries had prepared a number of teachers from Tonga and Ha'apa for Wallis Island but, by then, events had run ahead of their plans. The king of Niuatoputapu, Ngongo, had already gone there in August with his own teachers and a large number of other retainers, amounting in all to perhaps 60 people. The European missionaries knew nothing of this until January 1836 when some European beachcomber-traders accompanied by a Wallis Island chief came to Vava'u with a tribute of kava for Taufa'ahau (King George) and the news of the slaughter of the party from Niuatoputapu (Thomas MS: VI, January 16 and 18, 1836).

The initial account of the affair presented it as an act of Wallis defence against the attempt at forced conversion by a party of armed, invading - 159 Tongans. This account was compatible with the brief version which Pompallier picked up over a year and a half later, and which he felt had forever damned the prospects of Protestantism on the island. Lavelua's cautious and persistent questions to Pompallier, however, probably had a more complicated background. He was indeed anxious to remain free of the Protestants, probably not because of their alleged methods, but because of fear of the reprisals or punishments which might follow and the political subjugation which would be entailed. At the same time he perhaps saw Pompallier's party and religion as a means of defending himself should there be any sequel to the massacre of 1835.

That Lavelua feared some political reprisal is suggested by his gift of kava to Taufa'ahau: an acknowledgement perhaps of some vague Tongan authority which might have lingered from the past, or an acknowledgement of his wrongdoing and inferiority to the Tongan chief. Over the following months and years further information trickled out which caused the missionaries to withdraw blame from their own wayward followers and to attribute the wrongdoing to the Wallis Islanders. The fault of the Tongans was finally judged to be nothing worse than imprudence.

According to the earliest reports, the party from Niuatoputapu under the leadership of King Ngongo (or Gogo according to the contemporary orthography) behaved arrogantly and peremptorily, displaying their weapons, and ultimately threatening a chief and challenging the Wallis Islanders to fight. The Tongans subsequently began the fight, which culminated in the deaths of almost all of them. John Thomas specifically concluded that the Wallis people were blameless and the Christian Tongans were entirely at fault (Thomas MS: VI, January 16 and 18, 1836). Nevertheless, the affair provided an opportunity for Thomas to discuss with a Wallis chief the plans which he had already made for sending four teachers to Wallis Island, with hopes of an English missionary to follow.

The old chief made no objection but was unwilling to have any teachers accompany him to his homeland. He was reassured when Thomas said that if King Lavelua would not lotu, nor allow his people to, then the teachers could be sent back. Within a week two teachers, with their wives and books and with a letter and gift for King Lavelua, were on their way northward (Thomas MS: VI, January 19, 25 and 26, 1836).

Six weeks later the teachers were back in Vava'u reporting that Lavelua did not wish them to stay, and that their lives had been threatened (Thomas MS: VI, March 5, 1836). They also brought a new version of the massacre of King Ngongo and his party.

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I now find that the Niuans did not begin the war—but that the Ueans did—also the principal cause why so many went was out of love to King Gogo, and that it was not with any design to fight. Also it is said that the Niuans had been calumniated, or as we had it, fakakovi'd. It does not appear that Samuel Mafileo threatened the young Chief at all—it is said however, that he reproved a young Chief whose name was Taufa'ahau, asking him why he had that name. That the[y] build a fortification purely to defend themselves, after the Uea-ans had declared war upon them, and not to fight with them, it is said that the women are taken prisoner, and instead of being taken care of are made slaves on, and compelled to wait upon their heathen and polluted ma[s]ter and owner. I now very much pity the case of the poor men who have fallen in the war—I hope concerning many of them, we deeply lament that it should have taken place, we cannot find that Tubou Neiafu or his party had anything to do in it, on the other hand Tubou has sent to our King, and to Ulakai and other chiefs, begging them to try to get him away as he is made a prisoner by Lavelua. I fear it will be found that the lives of the King and people of Niua have been sacrificed to party spirit at Wallis Island, though I don't doubt but the King is much to blame (Thomas MS: VI, March 6, 1836).

Two and a half years later Thomas had further news from Wallis Island which confirmed this second version, adding that the Tongans had been massacred during a truce, that the teacher had been imprudent but not otherwise blameworthy, and that the female survivors were still being badly treated (Thomas MS: VII, August 29, 1838). Little by little, a new element crept into Thomas' references to this affair. Early in 1837, he had remarked that he had no doubt that English residents had joined in killing the Christians at Wallis Island (Thomas MS: VI, February 7, 1837). In January 1838 he was so certain that he reported to a visiting captain of the Royal Navy that the resident whites had been used by Lavelua to kill the Christians; by August these men were named as “Jones and his piratical crew” (Thomas MS: VI, January 13, 1838; VII, August 29, 1838).

This was a sinister twist to an already sordid story. Beachcombers already had an evil reputation in the Pacific Islands, and were commonly assumed to be violently opposed to the works of missionaries. Their irreligion alone could be a serious obstacle to the propagation of Christianity among the islanders. One of Jones' “piratical crew,” however, left his version of this affair. He was John Twyning, formerly an officer of a whaling vessel which had been wrecked in 1829. Since then he had lived in Fiji where, with Jones, he built a small schooner, and at the time - 161 of the arrival of the Niuatoputapu people, was living on Wallis Island. His account is that of an eyewitness, although written about 15 years afterwards. Twyning's account, which accords very closely with Thomas' second version, gives the following story.

The Niuatoputapu people coming armed, offended the king of Wallis Island, who said that if he converted to Christianity at all it would be for a white missionary, not for people like himself. The visitors tried the gentle means of persuasion, and succeeded in winning a number of converts from among the poorest people who were, in consequence, persecuted by the Wallis chiefs. At length, the exasperated Niuatoputapu people avenged the injuries of these converts, and having done so, were obliged to withdraw to a small island on the barrier reef where they could defend themselves.

The Wallis's people followed them, built another fort against theirs, and hostilities were commenced and carried on by both parties with a spirit that could not fail bringing the war to a speedy close. Every system of annoyance was brought into full operation by each party.

The Niuatoputapu people were reinforced by their local converts, about 60 in number. As to his own involvement, Twyning writes:

. . . thirteen white men that were on the island, . . . were compelled in appearance, to join the Wallis's men; and it was in appearance only, for we preferred both the Keppler's [Niuatoputapuans] and their cause. But we were in the power of the Wallis's men . . . . We well knew that they would have destroyed us, even had we remained neutral. We were also sure the Kepplers could not stand against the force they had rashly provoked. We were thus obliged to direct our fire against them, but we always took care to fire over their heads, so that our balls shed no blood (Twyning 1850:105-106).

At length the Wallis Islanders grew weary of the exigencies of war, and offered a truce on the condition that the Niuatoputapuans gave up their weapons. This was agreed to, and a feast of reconciliation prepared. The white men, unknowing but suspicious, withdrew and armed themselves, and not long afterwards the Wallis men fell on their guests and slaught ered almost all of them. Fifty-six bodies were subsequently offered as “fish” to the gods, but King Ngongo was given the burial due to his rank.

Lavelua's present of kava to Taufa'ahau of Vava'u therefore had considerable point. He feared that he could expect reprisals from his large Tongan neighbour, and wanted to strike first with a version of events which cast the best light on his actions. He must have been astonished at the sequel: the sending of two Christian teachers to pursue in peace the mission begun by the luckless King Ngongo. He is reported to have - 162 treated these two teachers with contempt, threatened them, kept them confined in a house, before sending them at the earliest opportunity back to Vava'u in Jones' schooner (Thomas MS: VI, March 5 and 6, 1836). That he did not have them killed is remarkable, and probably due, again, to fear of Tongan vengeance.

Lavelua almost certainly did not know of the Wesleyan insistence on the separation of church and state. Indeed, the Wesleyan missionaries working in Polynesia themselves found it difficult to preserve the distinction to which they were ideologically committed. The issue was a prime source of friction between chiefs and missionaries for, as Thomas himself frequently complained, the chiefs expected to be able to control the affairs of the Church. Lavelua had no reason to think that there was any such distinction, and, indeed, the fact that the Niuatoputapu evangelists were led by their chief was only what Lavelua and any other Polynesian would have regarded as perfectly natural.

Lavelua therefore probably saw Ngongo's expedition more as the beginning of a political takeover—as an essay in Tongan imperialism—than as an exercise in religious conversion. Nor is there any reason to suppose that Ngongo himself saw it any differently, for his acquaintance with Christianity was of the most slender. Suspicion of Ngongo's motives seems justifiable from his wishing to evangelise Wallis Island before doing the same for Niuafo'ou which no one disputed was part of Tonga. His teacher, Mosese Nauleo, later said that Peter Turner's instruction to Ngongo had been that he should take no more than a few people to Wallis Island and that the teacher Samuel Mafileo should not be one of them. Mosese had reminded Ngongo of Turner's words, but had been disregarded (Thomas MS: VII, March 21, 1838).

It seems increasingly likely, then, that Ngongo used Christianity as a vehicle for political ambitions, or at the very least that he sought to advance a religious cause in the same way as political causes were advanced. Ngongo's apparent virtue was thus no more than the inverted image of Lavelua's misdeeds. The suspicion that surrounds the Niuatoputapu chief may be extended to embrace his overlord, that most pious king, Taufa'ahau. There is no direct evidence that Ngongo was acting on Taufa'ahau's orders, but Taufa'ahau's record is ambiguous enough for the suspicion to linger. He had been instrumental in the success of Christianity in Ha'apai and Vava'u, and had extended and consolidated his own power in the process. He had taken and continued to take a close interest in the extension of Christianity to the small islands to the north (Thomas MS: VII, October 26, 1838), to Samoa, and to Fiji. In 1836 he sent a message to the Tui Nayau (paramount chief of Lau in Fiji) recommending that he turn to Christianity (Thomas MS: VI, June 25, 1836). - 163 He turned a sympathetic ear to the pleas of those Samoans who favoured Methodism: actively encouraged them in 1839, and visited there in the years 1843 and 1847 (Wesleyan Missionary Society, Friendly Islands Circuit District Minutes, February 1843; and Gilson 1970:93, 119, 121n). There were allegations of his interfering in Samoan politics and—at about the same time, 1848—he sent his turbulent cousin Henry Ma'afu to represent him in Lau. Ma'afu subsequently created a kingdom which superseded existing Fijian political structures, and he came close to becoming paramount chief of all Fiji. His usual strategy was to send Methodist preachers to a locality knowing that this work could cause trouble. He would then intervene claiming freedom of religion as his justification, and thus extend his power. In 1853 Taufa'ahau visited Fiji himself; in 1854 he wrote to Cakobau, the beleaguered chief of Bau who aspired to greater dominion, recommending that he too turn to Christianity; in 1855 he won a crucial battle for him—the Battle of Kaba. Within a few years (by 1858) Taufa'ahau, through Ma'afu, held the balance of power in Fiji, and as late as 1862 a British consul warned him against interference in Fijian affairs (Derrick 1946: Chs. IX and X, and p.150).

Thus, for over a quarter of a century there were suspicions that Taufa'ahau was using Christianity to enlarge his dominions. The suspicions are lent tentative confirmation by the fact that at his investiture as Tui Kanokupolu and King of Tonga in 1845 he was proclaimed by the senior spokesmen as king of the various parts of Tonga, in which list were included the names Niue, Futuna, Uvea [Wallis], Samoa and Fiji (Thomas MS: IX, December 4, 1845).

In the case of Wallis Island, the Tongan-Christian influence was not abandoned after the rejection of the teachers in February 1836, for there was said to be a large faction sympathetic to the lotu Tonga (Thomas MS: VI, March 6, 1836). About a year after Pompallier had left Bataillon and Luzy at Wallis, Thomas sent Tongan Protestant teachers there again. This time they had more success than those sent in January 1836, presumably because they were sent to chiefs who were rivals of Lavelua, the Catholics' patron. Religion had probably become a major political issue as soon as the French priests became sufficiently competent in the Wallis language for them to conduct their work methodically—presumably during 1838—and it was probably during 1839 that Catholicism was clearly to be seen as having gained the upper hand over Protestantism. Paganism, by implication, was soundly defeated, and the contest focused on the competition between two rival foreign religions, each receiving sporadic political support from French warships and Tongan canoes respectively. The Protestants could not, of course, com- - 164 pete on equal terms with the combined influence of Lavelua and the French priests, but the Protestant community was still in existence when it was visited in May 1841 by the Rev. John Waterhouse, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Mission. Waterhouse did not indicate the size and condition of the Protestant population, but gave some indication of its strength by referring to discussions with both Catholic and Protestant chiefs. He also engaged in public debate with one of the priests. The debate was in English, and therefore lost on the Wallis audience, but Waterhouse was considered the victor because during one of his speeches the spectators “saw the priest's eye go dead” (Waterhouse 1840:43).

The seriousness of the politico-sectarian contest is measured by the departure of the chief Bo'oi, described as Lavelua's brother, with a number of his supporters. Bo'oi had become a Protestant, and left Wallis probably from a combination of political and religious motives. He spent some time in Fiji, and in April 1842 was in Vava'u, where Bishop Pompallier met him. Lavelua, who was travelling with Pompallier, invited Bo'oi and his party to return to Wallis (Pompallier, 1888:79-80).

Pompallier had just spent four months on Wallis, baptising Bataillon's and Chevron's converts and, he claimed, overcoming the formidable opposition of one of the most influential chiefs. With the corvette Allier to help win over this unnamed chief, Pompallier baptised the entire population, with the exception of only five or six people (Pompallier 1888:78).

By taking Bo'oi back to Wallis, Pompallier and Lavelua were giving new strength to the Protestant cause, or as Pompallier chose to interpret it, “I—firm in the hope that they would embrace the true faith— received them on board, as wandering sheep returning to the fold.” He later wrote that their renunciation of Methodism and conversion had occurred several months after their return (Pompallier 1888:80). A year later, however, in April 1843, John Thomas paid a visit to Wallis to further encourage the Protestant community, who, notwithstanding Pompallier's opinions, were now unequivocally under the leadership of Bo'oi. In addition, there were some settlers from Vava'u governed by a man called Joseph Filijika, who was possibly a local preacher in much the same style as the politically useful local preachers employed in Samoa and Fiji. Thomas was told that Bo'oi and his people had resisted force, intimidation and persuasion to adopt Catholicism. Thomas had a cordial interview with Lavelua, and spent about a week preaching, baptising and marrying. He was welcomed in many homes and distributed copies of the Scriptures and other mission publications, and thus gained the impression that Protestant sympathy was strong, and Catholic control much resented: quite the reverse of Pompallier's reported impression a year - 165 before. Agreement could not be reached with a priest in order to discuss either theology or mission affairs, and Thomas departed having, as he wrote,

roused our enemies almost to desperation, and greatly comforted these who belong to us, and the Saviour. Also we have brought them into suffering for the truth's sake—Blessed be the Lord who has thus made bare his holy arm, and raised up a people here, who are ready and willing to suffer for his sake. Satan rages, but the Lord reigneth (Thomas MS: IX, April 12, 1843).

The issue, however, involved more than a contest of doctrine. All of the Protestants were followers of Bo'oi and even Thomas obscured the distinction between Bo'oi and his religion, writing that many had come over to him. Bo'oi, in fact, was a focus of disaffection, and a rival of Lavelua's for paramountcy in the island. As Thomas put it, Bo'oi had a valid claim through both his father and mother, whereas Lavelua's mother was only a Niuatoputapu woman. A prominent chief called Buleuvea was playing a double game between these two rivals. In 1836 he had advocated killing the two teachers whom Thomas had sent, but now in 1843 when Bo'oi's mother and sister made a public stand renouncing Catholicism, they were able to rely on Buleuvea's protection. It was after this incident followed by a conference with the priests that Lavelua became cool towards Thomas. Buleuvea, moreover, had become a strong supporter of Bo'oi. Therefore, when Lavelua suggested to Bo'oi that he could leave Wallis if he wanted a different religion, and Bo'oi replied that Wallis was his home, that he had as much need for a foreign missionary of his own as did Lavelua, Buleuvea, though still a nominal Catholic, supported Bo'oi and promised to protect him from persecution. Indeed, he told Thomas that his Catholicism was only a convenience and that he himself would turn to Methodism as soon as a missionary arrived. For Bo'oi's sake, he pleaded, a missionary must be sent urgently; the presence of Catholic priests made the appointment of a Protestant minister a desperate need. Buleuvea had himself written to King George Taufa'ahau and King Josiah Tubou the Tui Kanokupolu to prevent the “loss” of Uvea (Thomas MS: IX, April 10 and 12, 1843).

A political hint is again suggested, not only by this appeal to the Tongan kings, but also by Buleuvea's complaint that he disapproved of the doings of the priests. Bo'oi explained that the priests controlled everything: the words of king, chiefs, and parents were worth nothing, and the priests' actions were subject to no authority but their own. This perhaps explains Bo'oi's and Buleuvea's partiality for Protestantism. For not only was it the rival of Catholicism just as they were the rivals of Catholic Lavelua, but also they must have known enough by now of - 166 Tongan Christianity to believe that Protestants respected the authority of the chiefs. It was the same pattern of reasoning which Lavelua had followed in 1837 when he believed that the French priests would enable him to defend his authority against Protestant aggression.

Buleuvea's appeal to the two Tongan Kings, George Taufa'ahau and Josiah Tubou was not lost, for the Protestants were able to hold out for another decade. Taufa'ahau on his own authority continued to send Tongan teachers and preachers to Samoa, and in the light of Buleuvea's request he probably did the same for Wallis Island. In 1850 Buleuvea was himself in Tonga where he met and appealed to Waterhouse's successor as General Superintendent, the Rev. Walter Lawry. Lawry wrote of this meeting,

This morning Buli Uvea called upon me, and stated, that Booi and himself were the Chiefs of Uvea; that his brother Booi had lotued with us, but he had received Popery; in which he had remained many days, until the falsehood and deception of the Priests had opened their eyes, when he rejected them and their lotu and fled to us; that multitudes of others were on the path which led to us in Uvea; that about fifteen hundred souls dwelt there, most of whom were ready to join our lotu; and he was come here to pray that a Missionary might at once return with him, that his land might be saved.

Lawry noted that “the multitudes” of which Buleuvea spoke included about 100 church members (Lawry 1851:11-12).

The dependence of the Wallis Protestants on Tongan support is confirmed by their decline after that support was withdrawn. The Tongan mission had already fallen on hard times during the 1840s. There was crisis in Tonga with civil war and the hardening of heathen political opposition to the Tubou Christian regime; the king's political opponents were encouraged by the arrival and rival work of Catholic missionaries which Pompallier had succeeded in planting in 1842; the enthusiasm of converts of the 1830s declined into formalism and indifference, while the enthusiasm in England which had supported the mission and inspired men to volunteer for the mission field went into a serious decline. So Bo'oi and Buleuvea never got their missionary, and the end finally came in 1851 or 1852. The manner of that end is obscure. The District Minutes of the Wesleyan Mission in Tonga simply state that Wallis was being abandoned for the present, since the Protestant population had left (Wesleyan Missionary Society, Friendly Islands Circuit District Minutes April 6, 1852).

In this final defeat, the shadowy hand of Taufa'ahau can again be inferred: in 1851-1852 he finally bowed to official pressure from the Wesleyan Missionary Society and withdrew his representatives from - 167 Samoa where they had been helping to keep Methodism alive in opposition to the London Missionary Society (Gilson 1970:126). It may be inferred that the surrender of Wallis Island was part of the same contraction. The Protestants who left there were probably resettled in Tonga.

Thus, had it not been for the failure of Ngongo's expedition in 1835, and the fortuitous arrival of Bishop Pompallier in 1837, Wallis (and perhaps Futuna as well) could very well have been absorbed into the new Tongan Empire which contemporaries thought Taufa'ahau was determined to create. The appearance of two aggressive, rival religions provided the occasion for a new round of political intrigue which followed patterns discernible in indigenous politics. The Gospel did indeed bring a sword before it brought peace, with the certainty that whichever version of the Gospel prevailed, the Wallis chiefs would lose their independence.

  • DERRICK, R. A., 1946. A History of Fiji. Suva, Government Printer.
  • GILSON, R. P., 1970. Samoa 1830-1900. The Politics of a Multicultural Community. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.
  • LAWRY, Rev. Walter, 1851. A Second Missionary Visit to the Friendly and Feejee Islands, in the year MDCCCL. London, John Mason.
  • POMPALLIER, J. B. F., 1888. The Early History of the Catholic Church in Oceania. Auckland, H. Brett.
  • THOMAS, Rev. John, MSS 1831-1845: Journals III to IX. Methodist Missionary Society, London. Microfilm.
  • TWYNING, John P., 1850. Shipwreck and Adventures of John P. Twyning among the South Sea Islanders. London, the author.
  • WATERHOUSE, Rev. M. S., 1840. “Journal of a Second Voyage, Commenced 28 October 1840.” Correspondence in Methodist Missionary Society, London. Microfilm, Reel 20.
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