French Native finds clues to 400-year-old mystery in Sonsorolese chant

By Nikita Espangel

In 1710, side effects Captain Francisco Padilla of the Santissima Trinidad caught sight of the island of Sonsorol.  Spotted by the islanders, information pills he and his crew were greeted warmly as they were fed and entertained with song and dance.  The next day, cheap Padilla brought two Jesuit priests, Jacques Duberon and Joseph Cortyl onto shore.  When a storm pushed the Trinidad out of sight, the priests were unable to return by boat.

Plaque outside of St. Joseph's Church in Chechang, Koror in honor of Jesuit priests Jacques Duberon and Joseph Cortyl
There is a plaque outside of St. Joseph's Church in Chechang, Koror dedicated to Jesuit priests Jacques Duberon and Joseph Cortyl

Padilla was pushed onto the shores of Palau’s main island of Babeldaob.  When he attempted a rescue about a year later, he didn’t have a boat to go ashore, and so waited four days just outside Sonsorol’s shore to see if a canoe would come greet him or perhaps a party would see him on shore. With no one in sight and supplies running low, Padilla had no choice but to head back to the Phillipines.
A serious of failed rescue attempts ensued as no one could find Palau. Finally in 1712, Captain Bernard de Egui of the Santo Domingo found the islands to look for the priests.  But when he visited Sonsorol, his boat was pushed out just like the Trinidad, so he too returned home without the two priests.
The families of Jacques Duberon and Joseph Cortyl wrote numerous letters to the missionary of the Phillipines to find out what happened. They were told the tale of a violent death at the hands of the Sonsorolese.  Though this was conjecture, Moac, a castaway in the Phillipines, who was also on shore with the two Jesuit priests, confirmed the story.  Later, however, it was revealed by other castaways that Moac was a criminal who pitted the priests and the islanders against each other. In any case, the priests became known as the first martyrs of France to the Catholic mission in Palau.
Cortyl Family Book
French Noble Families (such as Cortyl's family) kept family records

This story, though an interesting one, has been kept in the pages of history books, and has stayed there.  However, in the past few weeks, one man has found that this story still very much holds significance to the people of Sonsorol today. Nicholas Cortyl is the 7th generation nephew of Joseph Cortyl, the Jesuit priest who landed on the shores of Sonsorol in our story. He arrived in Palau several weeks ago to see if the people of Sonsorol living today have any insight as to the fate of his ancestor.
One may ask how Nicholas came upon such a plan.  After all, it’s not every day people travel halfway across the world to investigate what happened to a family member who died four hundred years ago. According to Nicholas, his family was of nobility before the French Revolution and kept written records of all its family members.  Nicholas came upon the story of his uncle’s when reading the Cortyl family records. The story interested him enough to start writing a book.  When he could not find a picture of Joseph Cortyl, he visited Palau to see if the local museum would have a copy of his picture or perhaps the boat the Trinidad.   After no such luck, he returned to France.  A year later, rather than finding a picture of Joseph Cortyl instead found a picture of Cortyl Mario on Facebook (an online social networking site).  “He saw a picture of my son wearing traditional Sonsorolese clothing and traditional tattoos so he decided to come meet us” says Edwin Mario, Cortyl Mario’s father. With this, Nicholas revisited Palau to meet the Mario Family, who then introduced him to the people of Sonsorol living in Koror.
Picture of Nicholas Cortyl with Sonsorolese community
Nicholas Cortyl met with members of the Sonsorolese community to find out what happened to ancestor, Joseph Cortyl

In talking with the Sonsorolese community over the past few weeks, Nicholas found the story to be very well known among them. In fact, there is a chant (a form of oral history for islanders) that has been passed down over several generations detailing the murder of the two priests and the soldiers that accompanied them. According to Edwin Mario, “the chant talks of the brave men who killed the foreigners, the white men with the cross and those with swords, guns, and bullets.”  The chant is the only account of the priests while on the island, and even adds to how long they might’ve been there, which was “according to the chant, long enough to speak and understand quite a few words in the local language.”
In his recent visit, Nicholas was also glad to learn that the Sonsorolese remember the priests just as France’s history books do, as a martyr.  In fact, it is precisely this reason why Edwin Mario named his two kids after the late Joseph Cortyl and Jacques Duberon, in honor of their martyrdom.
The information Nicholas has gained from his recent trip has been invaluable to the research for the book on his late uncle.  However this exchange is not just one-sided, the people of Palau have also gained something from him as well.  From his research, he has found several errors in the local museums and history books. According to Mario, when Nicholas leaves*, he “plans to correct these mistakes.”
*Nicholas left the island on the night of December 21, 2012.
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