Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Nights of Storytelling

Nights of Storytelling: A Cultural History of Kanaky-New Caledonia

Edited by Raylene Ramsay
Copyright Date: 2011
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Nights of Storytelling
    Book Description:

    Nights of Storytellingis the first book to present and contextualize the founding texts of New Caledonia, a country sui generis in the relatively little-known French Pacific. Extracts from literary, ethnographic, and historical works in English translation introduce the many voices of a diverse culture as it moves toward "independence" or the "common destiny" framed by the 1998 Noumea Agreements. These texts reflect the coexistence of two major cultures, indigenous and European, shaped by the energies and shadows of empire and significantly influenced by one another.From the founding stories of Kanak oral tradition to the contradictory reports by Cook and d'Entrecasteaux, from the accounts of the French colony's difficult first destiny as a penal settlement to the construction of settler mythologies, the book investigates the nature of overlapping spaces created by cultural contact between Europe and the Pacific. The final section focuses on the literary effervescence of the contemporary period and its revisiting of colonial histories in the difficult movement toward a national identity. Historical romances describe the harshness of life for freed convicts, the impossibility of love between a liberated prisoner and a free settler. Sagas of late-nineteenth-century indentured laborers seeking a living on the nickel-rich main island speak similarly of physical struggle, sacrifice, and ultimately, of contribution to the country's development and the right to a place in the new land. Kanak texts disseminate that community's oral culture and largely silenced voice through the printed word. In a world still moving from colonial to postcolonial frames, the engagement of these works with vital contemporary questions of historical legacy, legitimacy, and cultural hybridity is intensely political. Aesthetics is a political ethics as the different communities of New Caledonia experiment with artistic and textual forms to write their distinctive place in the land.Nights of Storytellingis a collaborative work complemented byLa nuit des contes,a subtitled DVD of images and text, which features key works read or spoken, generally in the original French. It provides visual and aural access for the book's Anglophone readers to the specific cultural, linguistic, and geographic contexts of these historical and literary works.65 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6035-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The project of our cultural history of New Caledonia is to cross old imperial boundaries and open up an important location of decolonisation in the French Pacific to Anglophone readers by translating its relatively little-known literatures. Through a selection of founding texts presented for the first time in English,Nights of Story-tellingseeks to bring the stories and histories of an unfamiliar group of French-speaking islands into the living rooms and libraries of the English-speaking world, close to their original, vibrant form. For many readers, the Oceanian country has largely remained an exotic ‘French’ tourist destination. For others, Kanaky-New Caledonia...

  6. Part I. Kanak (Hi)stories

    • Chapter One Origins and Orality
      (pp. 13-31)

      For thousands of years the Kanak peoples of New Caledonia have transmitted their values, history, customs, relationships, and collective wisdom from generation to generation through their oral traditions. The umbrella term ‘Kanak’ is used to designate the distinct indigenous societies of New Caledonia where more than twenty-eight languages are spoken today. Despite this linguistic diversity, cultural elements common to all Kanak societies exist as a consequence of the long history of interaction between them in which networks of exchange, marriage, alliance, and migration have been established. A central feature of all Kanak societies is the great importance attributed to the...

    • Chapter Two Pathways and Interconnections
      (pp. 32-50)

      Kanak oral traditions are permeated by the network of connections and genealogical itineraries that underpin Kanak understandings of the universe. From the simplest story for the entertainment of children to the most fundamental story of origins, traces of these understandings are found in every genre of Kanak oral literature. The Kanak cosmos is a network of connections and relationships embedded in the landscape of a world not just inhabited by people, plants, and animals. The visible and the invisible coexist, and interaction between these two realms is continuous and dynamic. Communication between those who are living and those who are...

    • Chapter Three Cultural Initiation
      (pp. 51-62)

      Oral literature plays an important role in the education and initiation of children into the cultural life of their own society. Every story in Kanak oral literature is permeated by the knowledge, values, and beliefs of the society it belongs to, and thus as well as serving as a source of entertainment and diversion, it has an educative function, which can be overt or implicit.

      Children are immersed in oral tradition as they grow up in thetribu;they hear stories of Kanak oral literature as they participate in the activities of daily life, as they sit waiting for their...

    • Chapter Four Transformations: The Dynamic Nature of Kanak Oral Traditions
      (pp. 63-82)

      Oral traditions, the living archives of Kanak societies, exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium and are constantly being transformed as they integrate new events and developments that take place in the cultures from which they arise. As components of oral traditions, oral literatures are also constantly undergoing transformation, and various factors can contribute to this process of gradual change.

      The storyteller’s version is shaped not only by her/his own experience, memory, and talent as an orator; it is also influenced by the performative context. Contextual factors, such as the age, gender, composition of the audience, their response and interaction...

  7. Part II. Exploration and First Contact

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 83-86)

      Encounters on ‘primitive’ beaches still intrigue and attract, asSurvivor,the recent TV series set on tropical islands, reminds us. Global media and tourism ensure that Pacific islands today still conjure up seductive images of swaying palms, blue sea and sky, and a life of ease in a balmy climate. Even before the advent of photography, the late eighteenth century provided the first version of this persuasive and durable image in the lyrical descriptions of Tahiti (‘la Nouvelle Cythère’, after the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love) that resulted from Bougainville’s visit there in 1768. Had Rousseau’s ‘Noble Savage’...

    • Chapter Five James Cook: A Positive Account of Balade, New Caledonia, 1774
      (pp. 87-96)

      On Sunday, September 4, 1774, a sailing ship captained by English-man James Cook entered the harbour at Balade on the northeastern coast of New Caledonia. Cook had set out from Santo in the New Hebrides in late August 1774 and sailed southwest, ostensibly heading for New Zealand. Fate and the elements, however, conspired against his making landfall there in time to observe the solar eclipse of September 6, 1774. His more westerly route had caused him to encounter the new landmass by accident, or so it would appear.

      This second Pacific expedition of Cook on board theAdventureand the...

    • Chapter Six The Forsters: Cook’s Philosophers Abroad
      (pp. 97-103)

      J. R. Forster, the naturalist on board the Resolution, was an Enlightenment polymath of extremely wide-ranging interests. His writing covered numerous topics, his training several disciplines. A linguist, he was also familiar with philosophically informed travel writing, having translated several travel accounts, including those of Bougainville and of pupils of Linnaeus. A fellow of the Royal Society, Forster, aged forty-three at the time of the voyage, had a reputation for being a difficult character to deal with. This is borne out by the odd wry comment of Cook and a full-blown dispute with William Wales, the astronomer on board the...

    • Chapter Seven D’Entrecasteaux: A Negative Account of Balade, 1792
      (pp. 104-109)

      On September 29, 1791, two ships left Brest Harbour in Brittany, France, bound for the Pacific Ocean.La Recherchewas commanded by Contre-Amiral Bruny d’Entrecasteaux, leader of the expedition, andL’Espéranceby Huon de Kermadec. On board both ships was a complement of ‘savants’ to carry out the necessary observations now considered an essential part of all such voyages. These scientists and scholars included Charles Beautemps-Beaupré, engineer and hydrographer whose meticulous charts were lasting evidence of the mission’s successes, and Jacques-Julien de La Billardière, both doctor and botanist who was the principal naturalist of the expedition.

      With the ships went...

    • Chapter Eight La Billardière: Observations of a French Naturalist
      (pp. 110-117)

      The naturalist with the d’Entrecasteaux expedition, Jacques Julien de La Billardière, displayed the same assiduous attitude to specimen gathering as had his counterparts on theResolution.At every opportunity he set off on expeditions along the shore and over the mountains that separated the coast where the ships anchored from the Diahot Valley that lay beyond. La Billardière is credited with the discovery of then’bouet,orhache ostensoir,as the French termed this ceremonial weapon. One Kanak gave a graphic demonstration to an avid audience of sailors of this instrument’s use in the ritual preparation of human flesh for...

    • Chapter Nine Nineteenth-Century Perspectives
      (pp. 118-128)

      France took possession of New Caledonia sixty years after the visit to Balade by d’Entrecasteaux. The beginnings of colonialism in New Caledonia, following theprise de possessionin 1853, were slow and faltering. In the context of French history, the young colony seemed a marginal proposition and was far away, small, and easily forgotten (Merle 1995).

      During the reign of Louis-Philippe, Contre-Amiral Dupetit-Thouars had been instructed by the retiring Minister of the Marine to take possession of New Caledonia. This was effected at Balade in 1843; however, the action was not ratified by France both for economic reasons and for...

  8. Part III. Early Texts:: Missionaries, Settlers, Convicts, and Kanak

    • Chapter Ten Colonial Representations of Kanak Culture
      (pp. 131-150)

      The work of early colonial writers constitutes the first body of written New Caledonian literature. More particularly, it provides a rich source of information on the customs and attitudes of the settlers. Colonial texts illustrate the complexity of relationships with other settlers, with the colonial authorities, with the indigenous people, and with a land at once a new homeland and a place of exile. They reveal both individually coloured and collectively shared attitudes towards the people whose culture they were displacing, and whose land they were often appropriating.

      The history of the colonisation of New Caledonia began in 1853, when...

    • Chapter Eleven Portraits of Colonial Society
      (pp. 151-162)

      ‘Nervat’ is the nom-de-plume of husband and wife Paul Chabaneix and Marie Caussé, who lived in New Caledonia for four years, from 1898 to 1902. Paul was a medical officer in the French army colonial service. He and his wife had belonged to a literary group in Toulouse and had both written poetry published by the respectedMercure de France. During their stay in New Caledonia they lived in several different districts and finally settled at Pouembout from January 1901 until April 1902. Founded as a penal centre, Pouembout was a small settlement several days’ journey from Nouméa in a...

    • Chapter Twelve Living in the Bush
      (pp. 163-174)

      Marc Le Goupils lived in New Caledonia between 1898 and 1904. He came to join his two brothers, who had been farming for four years, and took over an adjoining property. He lived and worked on this new plantation for six years before returning to France, disillusioned by the ineptitude of the colonial administration. Le Goupils had been a secondary school teacher in France, and he wrote extensive notes about his life on the isolated farm, eighty kilometres from Nouméa. The new ‘writer’ did not publish his observations until 1928, when he added a postscript to each chapter on the...

    • Chapter Thirteen Women’s Lives
      (pp. 175-180)

      The excerpt fromLes femmes bagnardsby Odile Krakovitch, which appears inRegards de Femmes,the exhibition catalogue and anthology of texts on New Caledonian women, describes the life of female ‘criminals’ (numbering around two thousand in total) sent from France to the penal colony of New Caledonia. Many of the deported women were sent to work in the gardens or to be seamstresses in the convent at Bourail, and married off in groups to liberated male convicts, in support of the policy of populating the colony. Krakovitch credits deportee Louise Michel with having passed on the knowledge of what...

    • Chapter Fourteen The Voice of the Other
      (pp. 181-192)

      In fact, only a (very) small number of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century texts give access to indigenous voices, particularly in letters. The publication inLettres de Maréof some thirty-nineTusi nengoni—letters sent back and forth between Kanak chiefs in exile in Poulo Condor (French Indochina) and their families or the missionaries on the Loyalty island of Maré (mention is made of the London Missionary Society [LMS] pastor, Mr. Jones)—provides a distinctive perspective on the past through personal and intimate testimony. Like the texts of oral tradition, these letters also provide a sense of the rhetorical traditions that...

  9. Part IV. The Modern Period:: From Colonial New Caledonia to the Kanaky-New Caledonia of the Noumea Agreement (1998)

    • Chapter Fifteen From Colonial Regimes to Their Contestation (1870–1946)
      (pp. 195-202)

      The push to empire from 1870, accelerated by the meeting in Berlin of the European powers, gave rise to triumphantly colonialist affirmations. These intensified what were designated 128 years later as the “shadows of the colonial era” (Nouméa Agreement of 1998). The attitudes of 1870 were not, in fact, so very different from those found in the earliest settler representations of the indigenous peoples. Jacques Arago speaks of “the fierce Caledonians whose religion is cannibalism” (Arago 1854, 90). Colonial texts continued to imply the founding principle of the naturalness of the domination of the superior and civilised West over the...

    • Chapter Sixteen Rewriting Colonial History: Transitions to Modernity (1946–2006)
      (pp. 203-234)

      The French journalist Jacqueline Sénès lived in New Caledonia from 1930 until the mid-1980s. Sénès was particularly interested in the transitional period of the 1950s, the call by the Union Calédonienne for greater local autonomy, and its credo of “two colours, one people”.

      Exploring ‘white’ New Caledonian rural communities and traditions that were disappearing (Sénès 1982), Sénès published a number of reports and books containing photographs, letters, interviews, and biographical texts. Written in the midst of the so-called “troubles” of the 1980s, her settler novel,Terre violente(Violent land) (1987), sketches out the dramatic history of the colony through the...

    • Chapter Seventeen Kanak Rewriting of Colonial History
      (pp. 235-248)

      Artists, too, are concerned with ways of reworking representations of the colonial past and reusing old representations, techniques, or materials to create new “cognitive mappings”. In her portrait entitled Betty, the artist Micheline Néporon reproduces a colonial photograph of a Kanak woman in the mission dress, or Mother Hubbard, that has become ‘traditional’. Representing the exotic and doomed Other, the lost ‘race’ to the European world, the photograph is now reframed and made to speak in Néporon’s own voice. The message written over the photograph—“Betty. Photograph. The bark of the tree . . . But the KANAK spirit remains...

    • Chapter Eighteen Recovering Custom
      (pp. 249-271)

      A major aspect of emerging Kanak literature is its desire to recover and preserve lost or disappearing traditions. Waia Gorodé, Déwé Gorodé’s father and author ofSouvenirs d’un Néo-calédonien ami de Maurice Leenhardt,remembers and celebrates customary ways in his unpublished autobiography, “Mon école du silence” (My school of silence). His father, Philippe Gorodé, had worked with Leenhardt as his informant. Waia himself had in fact collaborated more particularly with Leenhardt’s disciple, Jean Guiart. The syntax of “Mon école du silence” reveals the structures of the speaker’s maternal language. This written text incorporates characteristics of oral tradition in its allusive,...

    • Chapter Nineteen A Cultural Politics of Independence
      (pp. 272-278)

      Kanak rewriting of colonial history and recovery of custom is inextricably linked to the wider cultural politics of independence. The earliest Kanak text to assert that the day would come when New Caledonia would be called to attain her independence was a dissertation written in 1963 by Apollinaire Anova, a Marist priest in his second year of a study in the School of Social Science at the Catholic Faculty of Lyons. EntitledHistory and Psychology of the Melanesian People,Anova’s text, edited and published by EDIPOP in 1984 and again by Hamid Mokkadem and Bernard Gasser with a commentary in...

    • Chapter Twenty Critique of Custom
      (pp. 279-298)

      Many poems in a Kanak voice that show the ravages wrought by colonisation also stage the denaturing of a custom after colonisation or custom’s irrelevance in the face of development. In Gorodé’s poem, “Kanak Reserves” (Réserves Kanakes), the reserves, seen as ghettoes, are presented in a negatively connoted litany: picking coffee, a crop planted for private (European) profit, consuming alcohol that results in violence against women, replacing the traditional strings ofadiwith pieces of material and banknotes, obeying elders who have sold their souls to the Europeans in power while the ecological and economic spoliations of the nickel industry...

    • Chapter Twenty-one Writing Together
      (pp. 299-322)

      The 1998 volume ofNotre Librairiedevoted to New Caledonian fiction, such as Liliane Laubreaux’s 1996 thesis on the emergence of a New Caledonian literature and two recent doctoral theses by Julia Ogier-Guindo (2005) and Stephanie Vigier (2008), are signs of a coming of age of contemporary New Caledonian writing, at least as object of academic attention (with the reservation, of course, that Kanak oral tradition, with its own very long history, can hardly be seen as ‘emergent’). The new literature was also signalled by the first literary collaboration between communities of writers—for example, between Déwé Gorodé and Nicolas...

    • Chapter Twenty-two Métissage and Cultural Hybridity
      (pp. 323-370)

      The autobiographical essays of Louis José Barbançon, a teacher and historian born in New Caledonia, bring that writer’s convict origins out of the closet inLa terre du lézardand similarly conclude that all communities must speak with their own voice knowing that “despite all obstacles”, they are “condemned to realize a common future” (1993, 89). In the more popular genre of the romantic novel, Arlette Peirano, too, echoes current explorations of the new possibilities of mixed sexual relationships and of Barbançon’s thesis of the presence of a social and cultural in-between-ness that already affects most communities. The characters in...

  10. References
    (pp. 371-386)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 387-388)