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Jean-Marie Tjibaou, Kanak Witness to the World

Jean-Marie Tjibaou, Kanak Witness to the World: An Intellectual Biography

Eric Waddell
Copyright Date: 2008
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    Jean-Marie Tjibaou, Kanak Witness to the World
    Book Description:

    Jean-Marie Tjibaou is arguably the most important post–World War II Oceanic leader. His intellectual abilities, acute understanding of both Melanesian and European civilizations, stature as a statesman, commitment to nonviolence, and vision for Melanesia’s potential contributions to the global community have all contributed to the creation of a remarkable and enduring legacy. Until now, no substantial English-language study has existed of Tjibaou, who was assassinated in 1989. This intellectual biography of the Kanak (New Caledonia) leader takes an essentially chronological approach to his life—from his beginnings in the mountains of northern New Caledonia and his studies at the Sorbonne to his leadership of the independence movement in the Territory. The work focuses on the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual sources of Tjibaou’s ideas and actions as well as on those who were a source of inspiration to him. Particular attention is given to Tjibaou’s sense of service, the convergences and divergences he identified as existing between Melanesian and Western civilizations, and the impact of metropolitan French politics on the situation in the Territory. In addition, the book explores the fracture between the Grande Terre and the Loyalty Islands, one with deep historical roots that help explain why Tjibaou’s assassin, Djubelly Wéa, was not a "crazy fanatic" but the uh_product of a distinctive reality—with a very different cultural and political reading of New Caledonia’s destiny.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6317-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Sources
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxi)
  7. [Map]
    (pp. xxii-xxii)
  8. Introduction: The Challenge of Writing about Jean-Marie Tjibaou
    (pp. 1-13)

    Writing any book is invariably an intense personal experience, no matter how detached one is from the subject matter. It absorbs, even possesses the author, from the moment the first sentences are formulated until the final polishing of the manuscript. Writing biography is even more emotionally charged because it involves entering the life of another human being and establishing an intimate relationship with that person, be it real or simply through the mediation of the spoken or written word. My thoughts on this account are drawn spontaneously to David Marr’s biography of Patrick White (Marr 1991). Although no more than...

  9. 1 “The Big Black Hole” … and the Open Wounds of Ouvéa
    (pp. 14-30)

    The tourist literature is frightening in its naivety and ignorance. The brochures prepared principally for the Japanese who frequent the luxury hotel at Mouly assert that Ouvéa is the “closest island to Paradise … the dazzling purity of the combined colors of the sky, the lagoon and the vegetation, the exceptionally clement climate, the natural hospitality of its inhabitants, the gentle way of life in an island protected from any impurity.” Certainly that is how it appears to those privileged few for whom this partly raised atoll is a brief holiday destination, blinded as they are by the sun, the...

  10. 2 The Roots of Identity: Hienghène and Its lourd héritage
    (pp. 31-47)

    Hienghène, like Ouvéa, is a place of immense beauty, its distinctive characteristic being that it evokes Melanesia rather than Polynesia. A dramatic pinnacle structure, La Poule Couveuse (The Brooding Hen), rises out of the sea to mark the entrance to a sheltered bay into which two navigable rivers flow (figure 3). A high mountain range, deep valleys, and dense vegetation form the backdrop to the bay, while a narrow surfaced road hugs the coast, with occasional dirt tracks branching off to serve the tribes that are tucked in the hills (map 3).

    Here, as on the smaller islands, the casual...

  11. 3 C’était la logique du système: Negotiating the Catholic Church in New Caledonia
    (pp. 48-60)

    Jean-Marie was not satisfied with being a teaching brother and insisted that he wanted to pursue his studies, proceed to thegrand séminaire(theological seminary), and train to be a priest. In making this choice he was no doubt counseled by Father Rouel, but above all he was expressing a personal commitment to his mentor. The Catholic and Protestant Churches were the only institutions that had, since the beginning of the colony, been consistently close to the Melanesian people, defending them in times of crisis, offering counsel, and providing opportunities for significant educational advancement.

    In Jean-Marie’s case, training to become...

  12. 4 The Desire to Understand: University Studies in Lyon and Paris
    (pp. 61-72)

    Already in 1967 Jean-Marie was actively exploring the possibility of going to France. Pierre Métais offered him a scholarship to study ethnology at the University of Bordeaux, and he was given leave by the Church to prepare for the entrance exams in June of the following year. However, because of the events of May 1968 the exams were canceled. In the meantime Jean-Marie obtained aCroissance des jeunes nations(Growth of Young Nations) scholarship to study at the Faculté Catholique de Lyon, commencing in September 1968. There he joined his ni-Vanuatu friend Gérard Leymang, who had left a year or...

  13. 5 From Applied to Committed Anthropology: Social and Cultural Action in Nouméa
    (pp. 73-92)

    New Caledonia had changed radically between Jean-Marie’s departure in 1968 and his return three years later. With its succession of right-wing governments France had continued to tighten its grip on the territory. The Billotte legislation, passed in January 1969, constituted the last step in the elimination of any semblance of autonomy. Local administrations—thecommunes—were brought under the direct control of the state, as was the mining sector of the economy. Nickel had been exploited since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. For long described asLe roi nickel(King Nickel), it was at the heart of the...

  14. 6 Contrasting but Complementary Civilizations: The Search for Mutual Understanding
    (pp. 93-105)

    Mélanésia 2000 projected Jean-Marie into the public arena. It endowed him with credibility and authority, as much with the French and the territorial administration as with his own people. He was no longer the obscure defrocked priest or student seeking to reinsert himself into the fabric of his country. It was a defining experience. His actions since returning had brought him into close contact with women’s groups, chiefs, and young people. He now had confidence, vision, and a greatly enriched understanding of both Kanak and European societies. He was always a chief who traveled far beyond the boundaries of his...

  15. 7 New Caledonia or Kanaky: The Inexorable Drift from Political Negotiation to Violent Confrontation
    (pp. 106-144)

    “First give ye the political kingdom and all else will follow”: such was the message that swept across the African continent in the wake of the Second World War. It was a euphoric era of national independence movements that embraced Asia as well as Africa. Notably it gave birth to a third world that sought to carve a distinctive path between the communist and capitalist blocs, with a view to promoting global peace and cooperation and breaking the economic stranglehold the metropolitan powers exercised over their distant empires. The Bandung Conference, held in Indonesia in April 1955, was the first...

  16. 8 The One Remaining Hope: Appealing to the French People
    (pp. 145-162)

    There is no doubt that key figures during President Mitterrand’s first term of office from 1981 to 1988—Henri Emmanuelli, Georges Lemoine, Edgard Pisani, and Francois Mitterrand himself—were fully conscious of the social and economic discrimination to which the Kanak people were subject and were very sympathetic to their political aspirations. They were likewise impressed by the personality of Jean-Marie Tjibaou—his charisma, his intelligence, his sincerity, and his lucidity. They were even determined to right the wrongs of one and a half centuries of French colonial history. However, they all too quickly learned that they were constrained in...

  17. 9 From Ouvéa to Matignon, and Back to Ouvéa
    (pp. 163-184)

    As dawn broke on the morning of 5 May 1988, the elite of the French armed forces launched an assault on the cave at Goosana. Their objective was to release the twenty-three hostages taken following the bungled attack on the police post at Fayaoué some thirteen days earlier. Fourteen of them were gendarmes captured on 22 April, eight were French military, and one a magistrate, all of whom had been taken hostage—or had allowed themselves to be taken hostage—in the course of negotiations with the hostage-takers. One hundred and thirty soldiers were directly engaged in the action, backed...

  18. 10 The Measure of the Man
    (pp. 185-208)

    The deaths of Jean-Marie and of his indefectible lieutenant, Yeiwéné, resulted in a spontaneous outpouring of grief of unexpected dimensions. According to newspaper reports, more than twenty thousand people turned out on 7 May to pay their respects to the deceased outside the cathedral in the center of Nouméa, where their funeral was held, and along the road leading to the town’s airport. In other words, well over 10 percent of the territory’s population gathered around them prior to their final journey to their respective tribal homes, Jean-Marie to Hienghène, on the Grande Terre, and Yeiwéné to Maré, in the...

  19. Notes
    (pp. 209-214)
  20. References
    (pp. 215-224)
  21. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)