37. Le père Joseph François Ezanno (1873-1938)
Le père Ezanno est né le 15 avril 1873 à Port-Louis (Morbihan). Après
ses études de théologie au séminaire Spiritain de Chevilly il est
ordonné prêtre le 15 août 1897. Il est envoyé alors à Dinguira au Soudan
français, actuel Mali, où il s’occupe de l’école. En 1898, il revient au
Sénégal où il est nommé successivement à Kayes, Goué, Poponguine,
Ngazobil (il est directeur du séminaire), Karabane, Thiès,
Le 4 août 1903, il est nommé à Fadiout, avec la consigne d’y fonder une
paroisse. Il restera 35 ans dans cette île située à l’embouchure de la
rivière Sine. Ville de 4000 habitants, presque tous catholiques
aujourd’hui, Fadiout a longtemps souffert du manque d’eau potable, mais
aussi de sécheresse, et parfois au contraire, d’inondations qui noyaient
les récoltes. Agriculture, pêche, ramassage des coquillages sont toujours
les principales activités des habitants.
Le père Ezanno apprend d’abord la langue sérère. Il devient le médecin du
village. Il apprend aussi aux habitants à améliorer leurs conditions de
vie. Au bout d’un moment il connaissait mieux la langue que les villageois
eux-mêmes. Et il se mit à écrire plusieurs ouvrages en sérère : « Katessim
na dat kerten katolik », 1913, « Ka okin Linela and udah ti vag o fatik na
ardana », 1922, « Katesim bat akatin na dait kerten katolik », 1927.
Malheureusement, plusieurs ouvrages de linguistique, en particulier, une
grammaire et un dictionnaire en sérere n’ont jamais été édité.
Le père s’intéresse aussi à la botanique. En 1930, lors d’un de ses voyages
au Sénégal le célèbre botaniste et explorateur Auguste Chevalier le
rencontre. Le père Ezanno deviendra correspondant pour ce grand professeur
du Museum d’histoire naturelle de Paris. Sans doute a-t-il lu le manuscrit
que le missionnaire avait composé : « Brousse et jardin sénégalais ». Ce
texte était prêt à être publié, mais faute de moyen, on ne pourra le faire.
C’est d’autant plus dommage que le livre a maintenant disparu. Mais un
confrère spiritain écrira dans le Bulletin général de la Congrégation du
Saint-Esprit un article intitulé « Un missionnaire botaniste » en 1930. Le
père a laissé aussi beaucoup de lettres où il parle de ses recherches..
Atteint d’une maladie de cœur le père quitte le Sénégal en 1938. Il
retrouve sa Bretagne natale, et prend une courte retraite à Langonnet : il
meurt le 15 décembre 1938.
Roger Tabard, archiviste général.
1873 to 1938
Mali / Senegal
Father Ezanno was born on April 17, 1873, in Port-Louis, in the French département of Morbihan. He studied theology in Langonnet (Morbihan), then in Chevilly. He was ordained to the priesthood in Orly on August 15, 1897, and took his missionary vows in Langonnet on August 15, 1905. He was sent to Dinguira, in the French Sudan, (presently Mali), and was put in charge of the school there. He stayed there from November of 1897 to January of 1898, at which time he was sent to Kayes. In Kayes, he was in charge of the school and also served as chaplain to the hospital. He left Kayes in September of 1899 and carried out his ministry successively in Goué, in Popemguine, in Ngazobil (where he was director of the seminary), in Karabane (Casamance), in Thiès, in Rufisque, and finally in Fadiout. On December 4, 1903, he became the director of the mission he had founded there.
It was to the unusual village of Fadiout that Father Ezanno gave himself fully, and it was there that he was able to best express his gifts as a spiritual and practical leader, in all modesty. He devoted himself completely to the town of Fadiout and stayed there for thirty-five years.
The island of Fadiout, which is located at the mouth of the Sine River, is presently connected to the mainland by a footbridge. At low tide, only a narrow but deep and muddy channel separates it from land. On a tiny sandbar, about 4,000 Serers, most of whom are Catholic, live in close proximity in huts and houses. Most of them were pagans when Father Ezanno arrived, and he contributed significantly to their conversions. Father Ezanno also devoted himself to agriculture, fishing, and harvesting shellfish. His flock was very fond of him, and for good reason: he was not only their guide in moral matters, but he was also the one they came to for help and counseling when they had problems. He became the island's only doctor, and he also taught the people how to improve their living conditions, as they were often quite difficult owing either to drought or to the excessive rains that flooded their fields. In addition to everything else, he also held the position of administrative liaison, a position that came with a certain degree of local authority. One of the greatest difficulties that households on the small island faced was the lack of water. This was their lot until 1958, when a water conveyance was installed. Before then, women had to go get water at the well in Joal, and bring it back to the village by dugout.
In 1938 Father Ezanno contracted a heart ailment and had to leave Senegal for the Abbey of Langonnet. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated rapidly, and he died on December 15, 1938, of pulmonary congestion. He had endured his condition with patience, courage, and simplicity, "willingly sacrificing his life for Fadiout and for Senegal, the land that was so dear to him, and that he would have loved to see again."
He worked in the village for so long that he was completely one with the life of his parishioners. He spoke the Serer language so well that he ended up knowing it better than the natives themselves, and he served as something of a collective memory bank for them in that regard. He became a great authority on the Serer language, and published several works on linguistics (see the bibliography). Unfortunately, several of his manuscripts were never edited, and a lexicon as well as an essay on Serer grammar that he wrote, have never been published.
Father Ezanno also had an interest in botany. In 1930 he met the famous botanist and explorer Auguste Chevalier (1873-1956) during one of the latter's trips to Senegal. The professor of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris asked him if he would correspond with him on scientific matters, probably after having become acquainted with a manuscript written by Ezanno called Brousse et jardins Sénégalais [Bush and Garden in Senegal]. Although the book was ready to go to press in 1930, it was not published for lack of funds. Sadly, it was never printed, and even worse, it seems to have vanished.
Extraordinary people like Father Ezanno certainly need to be recognized, as they worked with humility, perseverance, courage, and faith. Although they are largely unknown, and were often isolated, they nonetheless contributed to the influence of France that is exerted abroad.
Un missionnaire botaniste
[A Missionary Botanist]. Anonymous article, Bull. gén. de la congrégation du Saint-Esprit [General Bulletin of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit], 1930. Nouvelles des communautés [News from the various communities], 34: 456.
Une chrétienté sénégalaise [A Senegalese Christianity], Annales des P.P. du Saint-Esprit [Annals of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit], 1938. 54, 7: 193-195.
General archives of the Fathers of the Holy-Spirit. Chevilly-Larue: Letters, Publications:
- 1913, Katessim na dat kerten katolik (Catechism in Serer). Dakar, 1 vol. 182 pp.
- 1922, Ka okin Lilena and udah ti vag o fatik na ardena (The necessary Truths, in Serer). Large format, quarto? Fadiout, 20 pp.
- 1927, Catéchisme sérère illustré (illustrated Serer catechism). Rome, 1 vol., 176 pp.
- 1927, Katesim bat Akatin na dait kerten Katolik (Catechism in Serer). Fadiout, 1 vol., 176 pp.
The above article, which is reprinted here by permission, is from Hommes et Destins: Dictionnaire biographique d'Outre-Mer
[People and Destinies: an Overseas Biographical Dictionary], published in 1977 by the Académie des Sciences d'Outre-Mer
(15, rue la Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France) .