Kanaky-New Caledonia: Towards a Sovereign Future



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Map of Kanaky-New Caledonia. / The Funambulist (2016)

On the outer fringes of the French Republic’s overseas possessions, surely there is a risk of rehashing a discourse reflecting the militant, engaged positions of intellectuals? When you ask a French person in mainland France where New Caledonia is, you are surprised to hear that most people locate it in the West Indies, Martinique or Guadeloupe. Tahiti seems to form a clearer image in peoples’ imagination. Against the advertisers’ postcard landscapes and geographers’ maps that have built an imaginary South Pacific to replace its peoples, civilisations, cultures, arts and societies, the overseas world has to be reset into the history and future of Oceania. So much so that a feeling of doubt arises – is New Caledonia really part of the world’s history?

Geopolitically, New Caledonia, is a colonized francophone Melanesian archipelago, administered by the administrating power, France. As a unique collectivity of the French Republic, the territory is governed by decentralized institutions and legal mechanisms for transferring responsibilities that organize and apportion a shared sovereignty. Despite that shared sovereignty, however, we find ourselves in one of the world’s classic situations of inequality, where structural persistence and permanency are historical in character. The publicists constantly push their propaganda and praise cultural diversity to mask and conceal the constant structural inequality. Today no-one will deny that there are many more Kanaks matriculating from secondary school and undertaking university studies than in the 1970s. This real progress does not change the deal. The country is still split into two unequally endowed countries: the cultural, material and mental Kanak universe versus the European universe. Most of the indigenous people, the first people, since the first settlement more than 3500 years ago, call their country ‘Kanaky’, referring to the confiscated sovereignty that gives sense to the Kanak nationalist movement. The New Caledonian communities, present for barely two centuries, descendants of the people transported there since France took possession of the island on 24 September 1853, want to keep the name New Caledonia, to maintain the ties to France. New Caledonia is the name given by James Cook to the island group in 1774. This subject of the British Crown, a naval military commander, had charted maritime routes in the Pacific with the help of the Tahitian master navigator Tupaia. These charts opened the way for settlement by the populations that became today’s multi-ethnic communities. These migrations made minorities out of the original pacific Island peoples: Australian Aborigines, New Zealand Maoris, and the Kanaks of New Caledonia. The “multi-ethnic communities” of New Caledonia belong to the history of settlement alongside the original settlement by the forefathers of the Kanak People. Today we can observe the evolution and movements of two symmetrically opposed forms of legitimacy: while the Kanak People militates for a sovereign and independent Kanaky, the New Caledonian communities do their utmost for New Caledonia to remain within France. New Caledonian conservatism is opposed to and juxtaposed with the Kanak nationalist movement.

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Paintings by Upiko Hnawang photographed by Hamid Mokaddem

Kanaky/New Caledonia has produced an ethno-cultural partition defined by territorial demarcation lines between Kanak villages and European townships and the sole city/capital, located in the south, Nouméa. Within the city boundaries, around the city centre, radiate out segregated social spaces between the ‘poor’ northern neighbourhoods and the ‘rich’ southern ones. Koohné, the administrative centre of the Northern Province, is being developed along industrial lines and is turning into a suburb transplanted into the northern part of the territory. Urban public policy is the conventional western biopolicy and it supplants the Kanak customs and social arts. No real Oceanian town design is achieved. This postcolonial situation contradicts the common destiny and shared-living mantra of the Nouméa Accord. Communities are living side by side in juxtaposed and not intermingled social spaces.

The maritime charts were the forerunners of the postcards. A diversion via the social sciences is useful to measure the insidious forms of recolonization. The “Island of Oblivion,” the street name for the only prison in New Caledonia, is populated only by Kanaks. The many young Kanaks excluded from the economic, school and health systems produce “juvenile delinquency.”

The silence of the analysis by statisticians, sociologists and demographers on the unequal ethno-cultural outcomes is symmetrically proportional to the incessant prattling of anthropologists and ethnologists on Kanak custom and culture. An astonishing number of theses, scientific reports and conferences on Kanak culture orbit outside the reach of time.

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Portrait of Eloi Machoro painted on the Waa Wi Lu (Houaïlou) bus stop by Ignace Wema (on the photograph with his daughter). / Photograph by Hamid Mokaddem

After being integrated through the norms of a society that is not theirs, now have to reconcile themselves with the transported groups in an imagined and/or imaginary community, the “community of common destiny.” The latest political agreement signed in Nouméa on 5 May 1998 between the French Government, the FLNKS (Socialist Kanak National Liberation Front) and the RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia in the French Republic) introduces and structures the “common destiny.” French national sovereignty has become extra-territorial and organizes and redistributes the institutional powers of the new political mechanism. The model recentralizes road networks, trading routes and economic distribution systems, as well as migratory flows, around economic hubs: Nouméa, (administrative and economic capital), Koohné (Northern Province administrative centre) and Wé (Islands Province administrative centre). The administering power is decentralizing everything by refocusing the economy around deterritorialized hubs that reproduce the hexagonal model. The actors concerned are playing with this new hand. The best approach is to channel our perceptions through the comments of Raphaël Pidjot, the first Kanak Managing Director, who was responsible for managing the nickel processing plant at Koniambo, in the Northern Province, run by the majority Kanak pro-Independence leaders. The Kanaks chose to play under the new rules of capitalism:

“As the third millennium begins and trade is globalized, how can traditional societies, like Kanak society, make their mark and guarantee their social survival? Jean-Marie Tjibaou said: “Our goal is to assert the richness of our own models and leave open the broadest possible range of relevant cultural choices enabling people to build their personality.” Kanak society today is facing a double bind – seeking emancipation in its own environment and integrating into globalisation, or running the risk of increased marginalisation. This route is a complex one. After all, the context may have changed since one James Cook saw the Hoot Ma Whaap Country from the horizon, but the stakes are still the same.” (Raphaël Pidjot, “Une société en devenir,” 1999)

The point is that the colonial and/or postcolonial settings may have changed but the “stakes remain the same” for Kanak island society. In this new legal and political context, how can New Caledonia become emancipated and sovereign? What are France’s calculations in this new political game of “common destiny” in Kanaky, in New Caledonia?

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Wagap landscape paintedon the Pwéé Wimia (Poindimié) bus stop / Photograph by Hamid Mokaddem

Rather than rambling on about the future sovereignty, I would like to substantiate my remarks about Kanak expression. In oral civilizations, rhetoric is harmonized with poetry to interpret history. New Caledonia is living an intense experience of change, perceived and expressed by Kanak players through aesthetics which I would like to portray with some examples, as well as including some photographs. Better than statistics, aesthetic expression rips up the postcard and opens a window that reveals and expresses another vision of the coming sovereignty.

The first poem sets the emblem of Kanaky alongside that of the French Republic. The choice of a common flag juxtaposed with that of the tricolor is permitted by Article 5 of the 1999 Organic Law. But this is a choice charged with significance and history. Georges Waixen Wayéwol weaves his poem around the significance in and for New Caledonia and its two identity emblems.

In the other two poems, Luc Énoka Camoui uses humor and humanism to address the negative effects of colonization  —  the malaise and distress of the Kanak People, homelessness and the many lethal accidents on the sole road round the island . (Luc Énoka Camoui and Georges Waixen Wayéwol, Magma. Hwan Pala,. Poésies kanak, 2014)


“Emblem of the Kanak Country” by Georges Waixen Wayéwol ///

1853, up there,
In Hoot ma Whaap Country,
On the land of our brothers from Balade
The French standard was raised.
In the name of the values of that Republic
Deceiptful recital to soothe us with the motto-trilogy
Liberty Equality Fraternity.
Opposite the Rising Sun
The tradewinds
Blow themselves out on the cloth wreathed
In three colours:
Red White and Blue
Informing the world
Of the claim to empty lands without
Life, soul or culture.
And yet!
In the name of liberty
The ‘citizens’ of that country
Were shunted to the remotest valleys
Behind the ramparts of the ‘Reservation’
The Monarchical Republic
Conspicuously supplanted
The Republican Monarchy
To subjugate the ‘citizens’ of the Kanak Country
In the name of Equality
The ‘citizens’ of that country were marginalised
To give credibility to that system of oppression
So disparaged by the whole world: colonialism
To turn citizens of the world
Into second-class subjects.
In the name of Fraternity
Kanak apartheid was introduced
Through the criminal codification of the Native Code
Nourishing racial and ethnic segregation
Encouraging cultural negation
Reviling the existence of a civilisation.
In the name of that very Liberty
In the name of that very Equality
In the name of that very Fraternity
So that the Republican trilogy inspired
By the freedom of human and citizens’ rights
Not be reduced to the trivial expression of a usurped democracy
Supplanted by the dictatorship
Of a system that has always wanted to dominate the world
I hold out to the Kanak Country
An emblem for the shared future
In the multitude and multiplicity
Of its communal democratic expression
The Blue of the ocean for the expanse of space and the open horizons
The Green of the land for the commitment to universal and singular values
The Red of carefully performed work and the effort invested
Stamped with the Yellow of the sun that gives life and strength
Pierced by the roof finial of the essence and the essential
To give meaning and ethics to our lives as citizens
May the roof finial stretch out
Towards new stretches of time
Extend beyond the space of mortals
Merge with that of the immortals
In intercosmic communion
Kanaky-New Caledonia
In the universal concert of nations
Free, Independent, Sovereign and Democratic.


“Macadam” by Luc Énoka Camoui ///

As I left the house
On Macadam Avenue
A quick look to the left
A quick look to the right,
On the pavement I see
A gaggle of homeless
Vegetating clotheseless,
But still good friends,
And I shout:
Humanity  —  Equality
Civility  —  Respect – Dignity.
Macadam is not soulless
Democracy’s milk-cow
Macadam is not Madam
At the mercy of nonchalant gentlemen
Who vegetate clotheless,
And I say:
Humanity  —  Equality
Being  —  Liberty – Happiness


“Fatal News” by Luc Énoka Camoui ///

Never can there be
Pain without tears,
A day with no bad news
To attract attention
To active media coverage
Without making us tired of it.
Week-end breaking news of deaths.
Running every other week
So as never to be spared of it.
The defendant is the one
Who has broken the law
Of citizenship and who
Has taken human lives
Under the influence of the agents
Of social scourges.
The list is long, and
Drunk driving, by far
Shines as the leading cause
Of serious, killer accidents.
It won’t happen to me,
Making it even more important to sensitise
Family, friends, partner
About the damage this scourge will do
Avoiding the temptation
Of not wanting it to happen to you.
So for mere mortals,
It is not the accident itself
That frightens the people involved,
More the circumstances,
True consequences
Directly affecting
Innocent families and children,
Indirectly responsible
For arbitrary reversals
Of tragic situations
Of life or death.
The victims will never come back
To bring a ‘civil’ action
Because they have left this world,
While the alleged guilty party,
Is still alive,
Deprived of freedom
With the iron already in his soul
If society does not give him
A second chance
To avoid committing
The same human errors
By deviating consciences
From inevitability
Towards the values, the virtues
Of civility.
You cannot replace
Death by life
But you can be reborn
To avoid death.

“To the memory of the victims and those responsible for loss of human life making their families vulnerable to near or far society”.