The Contemporary Pacific, vol. 27, no. 2 (2015)

Decolonization, Language, and Identity: The Francophone Islands of the Pacific

Guest edited by Bruno Saura


and Léopold Mu Si Yan

About the Artists, ix


Decolonization, Language, and Identity: The Francophone Islands of the Pacific
Léopold Mu Si Yan and Bruno Saura, 325

Abstract: This article is both an introduction to this special issue of The Contemporary Pacific and a more general reflection about francophone research in the Pacific Islands and about their cultures and populations. The common topic of the essays selected here is the difficulty of maintaining an indigenous identity within the French colonial system in the French or francophone islands of the Pacific (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Wallis and Futuna). Four contributions from contemporary scholars of New Caledonia and French Polynesia bring their research on the cultural, social, and political struggles of their interlocutors to better visibility for a broad, largely anglophone audience in Pacific studies. The Resources section, produced by the chief librarians of the University of New Caledonia and the University of French Polynesia, provides a very useful overview of bibliographic and research materials about these two territories. Putting things in broader perspective, this introduction discusses what may be a common denominator in research work produced by francophone scholars that makes it distinctly different from the work of Anglophones. As well, it raises the epistemological issue of the political commitment of researchers born in the francophone Pacific Islands or living there on a permanent basis.
Keywords: French research, francophone Pacific, New Caledonia, French Polynesia

Remembrance of the Colonial Past in the French Islands of the Pacific: Speeches, Representations,and Commemorations
Bruno Saura, 337

Abstract: Beginning with an attempt to define “colonial times” and the “colonial past,” this article examines the question of indigenous remembrance or remembrances of the past in the Pacific region—a subject that lies at the heart of the collaboration between disciplines of history and anthropology. The situations of the two main French colonies in the region—New Caledonia and French Polynesia—are quite different. What is similar is that, in both cases, indigenous peoples do not seem very interested in the period of first contact with Western navigators, and both tend to cast the evangelical work of nineteenth-century missionaries in a positive light. But colonial experiences in the two places are given distinctly different representations. New Caledonia has a violent past, with opposition between Kanak groups and French settlers as well as between some groups of Kanak. For this reason, it is necessary for work of remembrance to take place before a strong path toward the future, in the spirit of the Matignon and Nouméa accords, can be developed. In French Polynesia, on the other hand, the colonial wars of the nineteenth century have only recently begun to be a subject of public interest, but the period of nuclear tests (1966–1996) is still fresh in the collective memory. This period is the main reason for the tension in French Polynesia’s relations with the French State, which, for members of the independence movement (and others), makes it impossible to forget and difficult to forgive.
French Polynesia, New Caledonia, history, memory, colonization

Brave New Words: The Complexities and Possibilities of an “Indigenous” Identity in French Polynesia and New Caledonia
Natacha Gagné, 371

Abstract: In French Polynesia and New Caledonia, the “indigenous strategy” in reference to the world indigenous movement and UN indigenous rights instruments is a relatively new one in the struggle to recover sovereignty. Individuals and volunteer associations only began to explore the possibilities of this strategy in the mid-1990s, and it continues to hold a marginal place in the political field of the French territories in Oceania. This article explores how indigeneity and indigenous rights are understood and enacted locally, drawing on local voices and actions within a local and national context. It shows how the framework for the struggles of the indigenous peoples in the French territories in Oceania differs radically from those of other peoples who have been seen as emblematic of the category “indigenous peoples.”
Keywords: French Polynesia, New Caledonia, indigenous peoples, indigeneity, decolonization, sovereignty, political strategy

Imagining the Body in Pacific Francophone Literature
Titaua Porcher-Wiart, 405

Abstract: This article deals with the central position of the body in Polynesian and Kanak imaginary, ancestral myths, and language. In the collective imagination, the body is akin to a particle of the cosmos. The author probes into major primordial images in order to understand the peculiar role of the body in the Oceanic “anthropological structures of the imaginary” (Gilbert Durand’s term) and asks whether the vision proposed by archaic myths finds its way into modern autochthonous Polynesian and Kanak indigenous literature, especially in the writings of Déwé Gorodé, Chantal Spitz, Flora Devatine, and Moetai Brotherson. Indeed, in keeping with the theories of Michel Foucault, the Oceanic body as it appears in modern poetic or novelistic narrations bears witness in its maimed flesh to a collective history and bears the scars of colonialism. Through its transhistorical dimension as well, this brand of francophone literature constitutes an original way to introduce some sort of counter-discourse into narrative strategies shaped by Western colonial history. In reclaiming the body, these writers are also reviving an ancestral voice.
Keywords: Oceanic myths, Oceanic literature, francophone Pacific, the body


Linguistic Ideologies: Teaching Oceanic Languages in French Polynesia and New Caledonia
Jacques Vernaudon, 433

Abstract: Though traditionally reluctant to teach languages other than French, the national idiom, schools in French Polynesia and New Caledonia have gradually made way for vernacular languages in response to the rise of indigenous identity claims, first articulated in the 1970s. The decentralization policy of France and especially the transfer of jurisdiction over primary and secondary education to local administrations have contributed to this linguistic and cultural acknowledgment, at least at an institutional level. However, territorial education practice remains strongly homologous with the metropolitan teaching model and, because of demographic, sociolinguistic, and political factors, the two French overseas collectivities display contrasting situations with different conditions of resistance to the “all in French” ideology. Following a presentation of their contemporary sociolinguistic contexts, this dialogue piece traces the main phases of education and language policy implemented in these two countries from the missionary period to today and identifies their ideological underpinnings. It details the current major differences between the two territories in their promotion of local languages in schools. As institutional recognition of local languages is not enough, in itself, to revitalize their practice and transmission, it also uses quantitative indicators to consider the role of families in language transmission. The essay concludes with a reflection on the ultimate objectives of teaching indigenous languages.
Keywords: French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Oceanic languages, educational policy, bilingualism


Resources for Research in French Polynesia and New Caledonia
David Aymonin and Isabelle Heutte, 466

Abstract: French Polynesia and New Caledonia library and archives collections are typically in French and tend to be organized according to French institutional and scientific methods. Recent transfers of power from the French State toward certain territorial institutions have not significantly changed this fact. This particular situation is, on the one hand, a source of enrichment because it creates diversity within the Pacific region and because these sources of documentation and the way they are organized link these territories to larger repositories of knowledge in France and elsewhere in Europe. On the other hand, it is also an isolation factor in the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, whose inhabitants are mainly anglophone, and in an academic world that is also dominated by the growing use of English. After a listing and presentation of all the libraries and media centers existing in French Polynesia and New Caledonia, the focus of this essay moves on to the question of partnerships to be built between the various institutions of these two territories, metropolitan French libraries and networks, and English-language institutions of the Pacific region.
Keywords: libraries, documentation, resources, French Polynesia, New Caledonia


The Region in Review: International Issues and Events, 2014
Nic Maclellan, 488

Melanesia in Review: Issues and Events, 2014
Jon Fraenkel, 508

Papua New Guinea
Solomon Kantha, 519

Solomon Islands
Gordon Leua Nanau, 528

Douglas Kammen, 537

Howard Van Trease, 544


Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise, and Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise, by Sven Kirsten
reviewed by Geoffrey M White, 560

Conjurer la guerre: Violence et pouvoir à Houaïlou (Nouvelle-Calédonie), by Michel Naepels
reviewed by Louis Bousquet, 565

Une mairie dans la France coloniale: Koné, Nouvelle Calédonie, by Benoît Trépied
reviewed by Lorenzo Veracini, 568

Décoloniser l’école? Hawai‘i, Nouvelle-Calédonie: Expériences contemporaines, by Marie Salaün
reviewed by Nathalie Segeral, 570

The Pā Boys dir. by Himiona Grace
reviewed by Vilsoni Hereniko, 573

Jonah From Tonga by Chris Lilley
reviewed by David W Kupferman 576

Tropics of Savagery: The Culture of Japanese Empire in Comparative Frame, by Robert Thomas Tierney, and: Nanyo-Orientalism: Japanese Representations of the Pacific by Naoto Sudo
reviewed by Josh Levy, 579

Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands, by Jennifer Taylor and James Conner
reviewed by Hetereki Huke, 583

Living Art in Papua New Guinea, by Susan Cochrane
reviewed by Paul Sharrad, 586

I Ulu I Ke Kumu, edited by Puakea Nogelmeier
reviewed by Kirsten Kamaile Noelani Mawyer, 587

No Mākou ka Mana: Liberating the Nation, by Kamanamaikalani Beamer
reviewed by Lorenz Gonschor, 591

Islands at Risk? Environments, Economies and Contemporary Change, by John Connell
reviewed by Lindsey Harris, 593

Contributors, 597