Tracing Kanak Feminist Earthly and Oceanic Paths



While the Kanak liberation struggle tends to historicize the role of men such as Jean-Marie Tjibaou, Eloi Machoro, Yeiwéné Yeiwéné, Nidoïsh Naisseline, Alphonse Dianou, etc. Kanak women such as poets, writers, and activists Déwé Gorodé and Suzanne Ouneï have been front and center of the movement. This text by Sarah Pelage and Anaïs Duong-Pedica retraces their paths and place them in a broader context of Oceanian feminisms.

Wane Funambulist
Artwork by Annabelle Wané.

Epeli Hau‘ofa’s vision of Oceania as a sea of islands understands the ocean as a space that favored connections between peoples and islands. This perspective contrasts with a reductive Western view of the ocean as a barrier between islands and islanders, who are seen as living confined and separated lives. While the ocean has never divided Pacific islanders, colonization, on the other hand, brought with it a variety of strategies and mechanisms of division of Oceania. For example, the division of the region into three cultural areas — Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia — according to racial typifications in the 19th century, created a racial and cultural hierarchy of Pacific islanders. As Kanaka Maoli Maile Arvin argues, this hierarchy is based on the Western idea that “Polynesia is almost white but Melanesia is absolutely Black” (“Polynesia is a Project, Not a Place,” 2018). This idea aims to facilitate the settler colonial project by naturalizing whiteness as indigenous to Polynesia and the rest of Oceania. Indeed, in the Western consciousness “Polynesia” ends up representing Oceania as a whole. One of the results of this Western project is the invisibilization of Black Oceanians, itself a form of anti-Black racism. On top of this, the introduction of colonial languages to the region and English imperialism have also contributed to the invisibilization of “francophone” Black Pacific islanders, such as the Kanak people, beyond the francophone world.