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Les dynamiques religieuses dans le pacifique

Gabriele Weichart
Françoise Douaire-Marsaudon

Following The Pathways. Contemporary Ceremonies, Representations of the Past and Catholicism in Northern New Caledonia

Denis Monnerie

In memory of my friend Marino Theain Hiouen.

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  • 1 In the 1980s, the independence movement adopted the work “Kanak” to refer to the autochthonous peo (...)
  • 2 Thanks to Gérard Glanard for developing and printing my pictures and to Agnès Clerc-Renaud for her (...)
  • 3 Thus, many of the contemporary goods used in ceremonial exchanges, though they are modern substitu (...)

1This paper is an attempt to understand the relations between the Kanak1 world of New Caledonia and the Catholic Church that are one aspect of the complex imbrications of past and present in a contemporary Melanesian society. I would like to underline from the very first that both the Catholic religion and French colonization are not only things of the past in New Caledonia but that they have considerable import in the present. My approach also aims at stressing the importance of recontextualizing the anthropology of New Caledonia within the debates about Melanesia and Oceania2. For an understanding of Kanak societies, this means emphasizing the importance of the study of transactions, exchanges, sharing or, more accurately maybe, circulations of goods, speeches and persons especially in ceremonial contexts (Coppet, 1968; Robbins, 1994; Strathern and Stewart, 2000; Lemonnier, 2006; Monnerie, 2005, 2008b). This also means stressing one specific aspect of Kanak ceremonial exchanges and circulations, namely the fact that they are always strongly interwoven with ceremonial speeches. Eliciting information on these exchanges and circulations is made somewhat easier by this trait, as most speeches comment on the acts they are part of and the relationships they actualize (Bretteville, 2002, Monnerie, 2005). In these ceremonial speeches, in exchanges and circulations, in narratives and glosses dealing with contemporary Kanak institutions and in everyday conversation, the explicit association of contemporary practices with aspects of the past3 is a central and pervasive feature of Kanak social life. I will suggest that the precise knowledge and analysis of the present, especially of contemporary ceremonies, greatly enhance our knowledge of the representations of the past and vice versa.

  • 4 Although out of anthropological fashion for the time being, acculturation is a handy word here. In (...)

2Here I will focus on some outstanding aspects of the relations with the Catholic Church of the Kanak society of Arama and of other societies belonging to the region called Hoot ma Whaap in the far north of Grande Terre. One of my points will be that there is a reciprocal acculturation4 of the Kanak world and the Catholic Church. It is the precise forms, meanings and dynamics of this reciprocal process, which I attempt to describe and analyze here. In order to understand this, it is best to first distinguish between what is happening inside churches and what is happening outside churches. Thus, before embarking at some length on what is going on outside churches it is important to say a few words about what is happening inside churches, especially inside the small, elegant, church of Arama.

Arama, a Kanak village and its church

  • 5 This lasted from July 1992 to October 1994.
  • 6 All local words, when not in Kanak French (i.e. the specific form of French spoken by the Kanak) a (...)
  • 7 Despite an increase in population, regular attendance at Sunday services has decreased somewhat be (...)

3I have been working in the far north of New Caledonia since 1992, my main field site being a village called Arama, and my work is systematically extended to translocal relations within the Hoot ma Whaap region and to relations with the rest of New Caledonia and with the rest of the world (Monnerie, 2005). Situated on the north-eastern tip of Grande Terre, Arama is a coastal village, with approximately 400 inhabitants at the time of my first fieldwork5. The Nyêlâyu language is spoken in Arama, Belep and Balade6. The inhabitants’main subsistence resources are fishing, horticulture, cattle raising, some government subsidies and, very irregularly in the 1990s, and less so in the 2000s, salaries from working in mines or the transportation of ore. The local primary school is Catholic. Most Arama people are Catholic and many attend mass regularly. The deep and sincere Catholic faith of many, especially women, cannot be doubted; these attend most services. The majority of the others attend services more or less regularly, especially for the most important Catholic festivals and ceremonies (Christmas, Easter, All Saints’ Day, baptisms, weddings and, massively, funerals) and feasts organized by Catholic associations. The practice of saying grace before meals is widespread. Along with the practice of Kanak forms of attention to dreaming and meditation, praying is common, so is crossing oneself, especially with regard to places of the dead. The social acts and representations which I am going to describe in this paper refer to 1993, but during my last stages of fieldwork, up to 2005, I noticed few changes as far as local relations with the Catholic Church were concerned7.

  • 8 More generally the sale of such printed T-shirts is a popular way of financing and marking importa (...)

4First, a few words about what takes place inside Arama’s church. Masses and prayer meetings are conducted there, regularly on Sunday and for other important Catholic events, in a way that is strongly reminiscent of what takes place in the colonial capital, Nouméa, or in French churches. The church itself, outside and inside, looks like a small, simple French church, with brightly coloured glass window panes in place of stained glass windows and with the Pacific touch of a corrugated tin roof. Masses and prayer meetings have some Kanak features, the most prominent being, of course, the attendance, which is almost exclusively by Kanak villagers, except on rare special occasions when a few Calédoniens may attend. They are non-Kanak inhabitants, mostly from Nooet hamlet. Some of them belong to families which have been settled in this area for several decades. During services, the local language, Nyêlâyu, is used for a few prayers and hymns, but French dominates, used by the priests for masses and sermons and even by the Arama men and women who conduct prayer meetings. Some of the elements of the decoration of the Church also have a strong Kanak flavour, especially the flowerbeds surrounding it and, inside, the garlands of leaves and flowers used to decorate it. One prominent statue – a fine Madonna – was carved by Passa Waminya, a young contemporary Kanak artist from Lifou whose name is known by all in the village and who married a local woman. Characteristically, the species and place of origin of the tree used for this piece are also remembered. This Madonna has become something of an icon of the village’s Catholic identity and its image has been reproduced on T-shirts issued to finance and commemorate local Catholic events8. The sociality of the mostly Kanak congregation also tends to exhibit many French Catholic features for the duration of the ceremony, i. e. while participating in the ritual conducted by the priest or catéchiste. So inside the church, especially during the ceremonies, the French Catholic element dominates. This is combined with a few rather subaltern, local Kanak elements. However when the villagers leave the church, one of the forms of Kanak sociality, usually that of the marché or of everyday life (Monnerie, 2008b), tends to take over.

5This paper’s main developments will now concentrate on what happens outside this church building. I shall show that outside the balance is reversed, with Kanak relational features dominating and Catholic features being subaltern. I shall start with a description of the Hoot ma Whaap regional network because it provides much of the fundamental principles of the relations to be described in the rest of this paper. Then I am going to give a sketch of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first mass celebrated on Kanak soil. A description will follow of the reception ceremony organized in Arama for a large wooden cross–circulating in New Caledonia and symbolizing Christianization – and then I shall say a few words about religion and colonization in a Kanak perspective, trying to elicit some principles of reciprocal acculturation and the dynamics of past and present before returning to the relation of inversion I have just underlined.

The Hoot ma Whaap network of regional relations

  • 9 A teâ becomes teâmâ after an installation ceremony; the suffix – is a collective which at the s (...)

6What is happening outside the church in a context of relations with the Catholic world is, I shall argue, largely predicated on classic Hoot ma Whaap Kanak regional relations. Arama is a local society which belongs to a wider system, covering the Hoot ma Whaap region. This region is acephalous and made up of twelve local societies linked by a network of pathways. The six Hoot societies are construed as having been established before the Whaap ones. Each of these twelve societies has a name beginning with Teâ; thus Teâ Aâôvaac is Arama, Teâ Belep is Belep, Teâ Vaak is Bondé, Teâ Puma is Balade. Although more than ten different Kanak languages (all Austronesian) are spoken in this region, some of the words referring to persons of high status in these societies are the same throughout. The man representing the society as a whole is everywhere called the teâma. His eldest son is called teâ9 and his younger son mweau. Their sisters are called kaavo and hixe. In contemporary times, high status is linked to ceremonial precedence and does not entail coercive power over people of other localized kin groups.

  • 10 Some Hoot ma Whaap societies may be construed in yet other ways; for instance Paimboas, or Teâ Maa (...)
  • 11 James Cook landed at Balade in 1774, French Catholic priests settled in Balade in 1843, France too (...)

7Most of the twelve local societies of Hoot ma Whaap are locally construed as a house or “great house”10. In this context, a great house has a name beginning with Teâ and refers to a localized assemblage of localized kin groups and/or hamlets. Great houses are linked to each other by a series of pathways, which are spatial and social itineraries. There are land and marine pathways. At the interface between houses and pathways, there are doors or passages. Three local concepts, or figures (Monnerie, 2005, in press a), are basic here: the great house or house (mweemwâ, mwâ), the pathway (daan) and the door or passage (phwâ). They are the three building blocks of the Hoot ma Whaap network. This network exists in the memory, personal practice and experience of hundreds of people and is actualized in special circumstances. The contemporary ceremonial circumstances of Hoot ma Whaap regional relations are primarily the sending and reception of messages concerning local societies (i.e. not messages between persons as such), regional meetings, as well as funerals and weddings of persons of high status. Formerly Hoot ma Whaap was also a system of alliance for warfare and raids in which Hoot societies, on the one hand, or Whaap societies, on the other, tended to pool resources against each other (Lambert, 1900; Dauphiné, 1992; Douglas, 1970; Guiart, 1966). In what I consider a rather typical Melanesian feature, this was a system in which relations of violence were associated with other relations of a more peaceful character such as those practised today. These were less spectacular and less well documented by travellers, priests, soldiers, ethnographers and historians (but see Lambert, 1900 and Guiart, 1966). For pre-colonial times, oral history in Arama recalls the above-mentioned relations of warfare and ceremonial circumstances as being part of the classic relations within Hoot ma Whaap. One knowledgeable man also asserts that Hoot ma Whaap was organized as a system of regional relations, following a sort of regional diplomatic agreement after a series of meetings between dignitaries of this part of Grande Terre. This was meant to put an end to indiscriminate warfare and conflicts and took place some time before colonization – or before the arrival of white men11. Thus the Hoot ma Whaap system of regional relations is construed by Kanak oral history as a pre-colonial autochthonous diplomatic creation and its existence in the very first years of colonization is indeed confirmed by the published sources, although these tend to concentrate on the exchanges of violence between Hoot and Whaap, which were soon instrumentalized by colonial forces.

  • 12 They were first labelled conseils consultatifs. Their name was changed with the 1998 Nouméa agreem (...)

8Today Hoot ma Whaap is one of several cultural regions (aires culturelles) of New Caledonia. There is a Hoot ma Whaap customary council (conseil coutumier) as well as one such institution for all the other cultural regions. In a country which is largely structured in terms of French institutions – Haut Commissariat, Provinces, Communes, Rectorat, etc.– both cultural regions and customary councils are recent innovations aiming at creating modern, Kanak-oriented, territorial divisions and decision-making institutions. Customary councils12 were a creation of the Matignon Agreements of 1988 following a proposal made by the most famous Kanak pro-independence leader, Jean-Marie Tjibaou (Tjibaou, 1996).

Reception ceremonies and their adaptations

9Reception ceremonies are an important feature of Kanak social relations throughout New Caledonia. They can be very large and formal or very brief – when a person arrives in a place where he does not belong – with almost all imaginable variants in between. Reception ceremonies are all basically organized on the same principle, with two ceremonial sides facing and meeting each other – one side being a visiting group or person, the other comprising a local group or person. The reception process entails an exchange of speeches and goods between the groups or persons that form what I call each side of the ceremony. Immediately after this is over, the visitor(s) is (are) invited to share a meal or a snack. The context of the reception is a key element of other aspects of its organization, development and performance. For instance, in Hoot ma Whaap, the largest reception ceremonies (thiam) may be performed in the classic context of Kanak regional relations or in others, such as relations with different parts of the Kanak world (for instance for anticolonial meetings), or with the colonial authorities or the Catholic Church and at many important or significant social events involving several local societies. Large reception ceremonies are a prominent opening feature of contemporary regional meetings in Hoot ma Whaap. When the meeting is over, it is followed by one or several large departure ceremonies. A comparative study of these ceremonies and their implications – especially the central dimension of “relative firstness” and the associated social dynamics of reception and expulsion – leads to a better understanding of Hoot ma Whaap social relations and, I suggest, more generally, of Kanak social relations and the Kanak independence movement (Monnerie, 2002, 2003b, 2005).

  • 13 Balade lies about 20 kilometres south-east of Arama as the crow flies. It was fairly easily reache (...)

10This chapter will now focus on the celebration, in 1993, of the 150th anniversary of the first mass celebrated on New Caledonian soil in a hamlet of Balade called Mahamat13, December 25 1843. This huge celebration was only made possible because, after some informal meetings and formal debating during two special sessions, the Hoot ma Whaap customary council agreed to it with conditions. One condition was that all the delegations were first to be received formally by the council in the Kanak way: either the complex Hoot ma Whaap reception ceremony called thiam or with comparatively simplified reception procedures for people of other regions and cultures. Another condition was that the Church were to have made it known several weeks before that during these ceremonies the French Bishop of Nouméa would publicly express the repentance of the Church for the “wrong done to the Melanesian people in the sufferings and the injustice inflicted on their ancestors who were obliged to abandon part of their culture”. Thus these Catholic ceremonies for the 150th anniversary of the first mass in New Caledonia, which included masses and prayer meetings (24-26 December), were made possible only because they were temporally and spatially wrapped within a series of reception and departure ceremonies performed in the Kanak way (from 18 till 28 December; Monnerie, 2005: 119-170, 217-260). Along with the presence of thousands of participants, most of them Kanak, during this period the links between Kanak and Catholic ceremonies were provided by the essential and largely female task of cooking and feeding everyone. This was performed in a classic Kanak manner, during Catholic ceremonies as well as during reception and departure ceremonies. In these, the circulations of persons and goods, which are so characteristic of Kanak ceremonies, take the form of the preparation and sharing of (most of) the food which has been gathered by the receiving side and brought by each of the visiting sides. The cooking is done by local women assisted, or sometimes replaced, by women from the arriving parties. Young men collect firewood and carve raw meat.

11Hence, the short term configuration of this commemoration is strongly reminiscent of the long term one I have described as regards what is happening inside and outside the church of Arama: the Kanak element dominates for the indispensable arrival, reception and departure procedures whereas Catholic ceremonies come to the fore in between receptions and departures, a process I call wrapping. It is linked to their repetition on different occasions, entailing a replication on different scales according to a context of meaningful social acts and forms. This points to a significant degree of coherence established in the relations between this part of the Kanak world and the Catholic Church for the same fundamental principles of reception, repetition, replication and variability are at work in Kanak reception and life cycle ceremonies. The ceremonies I shall describe now also display these features.

Following the pathways and circulating the cross

  • 14 For instance the Teâ Aâôvaac great house is divided into two parishes, one for Arama, the other fo (...)

12While following step by step the social relations and events which accompanied the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first mass, I became aware that there was another system of regional relations which had hitherto escaped my attention and seemed to have remained unseen or ignored by anthropologists. It is resorted to in the context of rather outstanding, complex or formal relations with the Catholic Church – so usually not performed in the context of weekly masses, prayer meetings, etc. – and derives from that of the Hoot ma Whaap network I have just described. In this acculturated system, local parishes are linked by pathways, passages and doors. Parishes do not always coincide with Hoot ma Whaap local societies14. Reception and departure ceremonies, which also derive from classic Hoot ma Whaap ceremonial procedures, are practised within this acculturated regional system.

  • 15 The Church (Archidiocèse de Nouméa) also had scarves and wall hangings printed with the names of a (...)

13Just before the 150th anniversary of the first mass, and in order to concretely display its hold on New Caledonia, the Catholic Church had organized for a large carved wooden Christian cross to travel from parish to parish for several weeks throughout New Caledonia. Day after day, this cross’s progress15 was both a local event – as we shall see shortly for Arama – and a national one, since it was broadcast on RFO TV, the government controlled French overseas network covering New Caledonia. The cross was to get to the northern part of the country at the beginning of December and reach Balade for the large Christmas celebrations I have just mentioned. It got to Arama on December 16, being brought by boat from New Caledonia’s northernmost parish, Belep. Two days later it would be taken to Bondé, another neighbouring parish.

  • 16 In this picture, the northern tip of the island of Balabio can be seen on the right.
  • 17 One generally owns a pathway through bearing a given name in a given sub-clan, which is in charge (...)
  • 18 Two missionaries, Father Guillibert and Father Gagnière, were sent to found a “new mission” in Ara (...)

14Let me now describe the reception ceremony performed in Arama. In the morning, three small outboard powered boats from Belep Island reached the coast. The heavy wooden cross was taken from one of the boats and erected on the shore on a sort of portable wooden stand, beneath a decorated bamboo arch, next to pro-independence flags of Kanaky (photo 116). About fifty Arama villagers, many of them women and children, were waiting for them. Among these people were the catéchiste and several dignitaries, two of them the owners of a pathway to Belep17. A Catholic priest and several nuns, some of them from Italy, were also among this receiving party as well as most of the village’s schoolchildren from Arama’s Catholic primary school. Maala Whaap, the landing place where they waited for the Belep boats is also called Pu Daan which can be glossed as the “origin/beginning of (several marine) pathways”. This is also where the Catholic priests are said to have first arrived in Arama. Bearing the date 186018, a small monument topped by a concrete cross overlooking the coast (photo 4), commemorates this event.

  • 19 He was both an Arama dignitary and active in the parish.
  • 20 He is a high status member of the receiving clan of Arama (Monnerie, 2005: 74-75).
  • 21 The statue of the Virgin on the left is not the one I mentioned above as the Madonna.

15In the boats had come several Belep dignitaries as well as their catéchiste. The formal reception of these representatives of Belep which then took place involved exchanges and circulations of speeches, goods and persons. In the first sequence, one of the Arama men who owns the pathway to Belep joined the side of the arrival party of Belep men and made a brief ceremonial speech in Nyêlâyu describing the pathway and asking the Arama people to receive the visitors and the cross. Then he handed the ceremonial gift brought by the Belep arriving party to an Arama man on the receiving side. This gift was a banknote wrapped in a cotton cloth. He then went back to the receiving side of Arama people. The second sequence of the reception followed immediately. Another Arama man19 put a ceremonial gift of banknotes wrapped in a cotton cloth on the ground (photo 2) and made a welcome speech for the reception of the visitors and the cross. In a third sequence, after taking the gift from the ground, the catéchiste from Belep answered with an arrival speech and gave three coins to a man20 from the receiving party. In the fourth sequence, the catéchiste from Arama explained the organization of the ceremonies to be held locally (photo 3). All those present then started singing hymns and chanting prayers in French and Nyêlâyu. The cross was next taken and carried at the head of a procession of men, women and children walking towards the church, singing and praying all the time (photos 4 and 5). On each side of the cross, two men held flags of Kanaky. The procession stopped twice: once in front of the Arama cemetery, then, just before getting to the church, the cross was placed under a second decorated bamboo arch which had been erected especially for this event. During these stops, more prayers were chanted and hymns sung. Then the procession with the cross and the flags entered the Church (photo 621). There the mass was celebrated by a Catholic priest from New Guinea. Part of his sermon was devoted to recounting personal religious experiences which had taken place in Belep and to glosses of the carvings covering the cross, several of which depicted aspects of the Kanak world.

Photo 1. © Denis Monnerie.

Photo 2. © Denis Monnerie.

Photo 3. © Denis Monnerie.

Photo 4. © Denis Monnerie.

Photo 5. © Denis Monnerie.

Photo 6. © Denis Monnerie.

  • 22 Note that I could not witness it since I was in Balade at the time; it was described to me afterwa (...)
  • 23 He is the man mentioned in note 19 above.
  • 24 To be noted also is that Belep is Hoot, whereas Balade and Arama are Whaap.

16In Arama, the following days were given over to prayer meetings, exchange ceremonies and large meals which were in direct relation with the forthcoming commemoration of the 150th anniversary in Balade. On December 18, the departure ceremony for the cross was performed in Arama22. Bondé dignitaries and their catéchiste drove to Arama to fetch the cross. The departure ceremony was held in front of the church gate. A series of ceremonial exchanges and speeches were made “to say good bye” (ba-olaer) to the cross and “to let it go” (ba-panuer). Here are the comments made in Kanak French by one of the Arama men who described this procedure23: this departure “is not really a customary procedure (coutume)” and also “it wasn’t done in the customary way between parishes, because normally we should have taken the cross to them”– which is what the Belep people did between their home island and Arama. These two assertions imply that the church’s process of acculturation has led to a “customary way between parishes” which is not exactly that of Hoot ma Whaap but derives from it. The following comment was made about the reception ceremony “it is a sort of customary pathway, the cross follows the pathway of the gospel and religion”. My interlocutor immediately mentions a conflict dating back to between 1843 and 1860. This is because, after arriving first in Mahamat and spreading to some other parts of Hoot ma Whaap, “the gospel went from Balabio to Belep, without reaching Arama”. Oral traditions have it that the gospel and religion were brought directly to Balabio island by converts. As Balabio was part of local Arama society the “gospel and religion” should have been received by the whole of the great house. Taking it straight to Belep was a dramatic breach of procedure and etiquette, which led to the expulsion of the people of an Arama clan living on Balabio to Belep – where they remain to this day24 (Monnerie, 2005, 2008a).

Religion and colonization in a Kanak perspective

  • 25 However, it should be stressed that, by nineteenth century colonial standards, the violence of Fre (...)

17Thus Arama people tend to gloss simultaneously about their history and their contemporary social life and ceremonies. I am going to argue that here we neither have “bricolage”, in the sense of Claude Lévi-Strauss (1962: 26-47, 198), nor syncretism, to use a time-honoured but rather vague concept. What we have in this adaptation to the Catholic Church, and by it of the regional procedures and notions of reception, assemblage and departure of Hoot ma Whaap, implies both curbing the Church and putting it to good use through involving it in the web of Kanak relations and their etiquette. Oral history stresses the fact that following this Kanak etiquette in regional relations was the only way for the Church to be accepted. Ignoring this led to at least the one breach of procedure I have just mentioned, resulting in grave conflict, before the Church was finally accepted in Arama in 1860. All this took place at a time when French colonization was beginning to enforce its military and administrative superiority. This was sometimes accomplished with much bloody violence, including, in Balade, the often evoked use of the guillotine in front of forcibly assembled villagers25. Today most Arama people consider that the Church brought strength to the Kanak and believe that the Catholic Church, in spite of some shortcomings, had a positive role in helping their ancestors and themselves withstand some of the worst excesses of colonization.

  • 26 It is necessary to say a word on politics here. Arama as a village tended to vote for the Union ca (...)
  • 27 Monnerie (2005: 147, 226).

18I mentioned before that during two meetings of the Hoot ma Whaap customary council some dignitaries had expressed rather diverging and sometimes hostile views on the celebration of the 150th anniversary. For these men – none of whom represented Arama26–the Church was instrumental in the colonial enterprise which subjugated the Kanak world. Thus, among the Kanak people of Hoot ma Whaap, there are important differences of opinion on the role of the Catholic Church in New Caledonia. However, after two meetings, a final consensus prevailed and the celebration of the 150th anniversary was accepted by the customary council who took charge of the reception and departure ceremonies. On December 16, silently but eloquently, the carriers of the Kanak flag flanking the procession which took the cross into the church expressed the Arama position in these debates about colonization, independence and the role of the Catholic Church: namely that one can both be for independence and a Catholic. A few days later, the Arama orator asserted in a ceremonial speech at Balade that the Kanak world had two sources of strength (uje), one being regional relations, the other the Christian God27.

Interpretations of the past and contemporary ceremonies

19My interpretation of this ethnography will lead to the idea of reciprocal acculturation and aims at eliciting some of its principles. I use the expression reciprocal acculturation to define a broad domain which describes and qualifies both (i) the way Arama has become an original part of the wider contemporary Catholic world – as shown, for instance, in relations with other parishes – and (ii) the historical processes which led to this – as described in local oral history as well as in written history.

20This approach hinges on the fact that the understanding of the present situation–of which the performance of ceremonies is an important aspect – entails an understanding of the past and vice versa. With regard to the past, most of the information I have concerning Arama and its relations with the outside world, and certainly the most relevant for my purpose in this article, comes from Kanak oral history. This stresses the ancient and autochthonous aspect of the Hoot ma Whaap system of regional relations and the fact that respecting its procedures was a highly valued aspect of social life at the time of christianization and colonization and before. Oral history was conveyed to me – as it is to the Kanak young and repeatedly expressed in conversation when such topics arise – through narratives (or fragments of them), comments and glosses which were proposed by several of my Arama interlocutors on various occasions and, significantly, with respect to specific places. A good example of this is the comment which was made along with the description of the departure ceremony for the cross (see above). Written sources dealing with the spread of Catholicism confirm some aspects of this oral history – especially as regards dates – but usually they stress other aspects of it. It is these discrepancies between Kanak oral history and Catholic inspired written history which I want to address in the following paragraphs.

  • 28 This was made possible by the acquisition of Arama land as early as 1852 (Rozier, 1990: 242-3, 199 (...)
  • 29 The priests’proclivity to sainthood or martyrdom, or rather some nineteenth century version of it, (...)
  • 30 Though in Mortelier (1993: 47) one finds a puzzling reference to “Amabili, chief of Belep”. This m (...)
  • 31 In another aspect of social life, the “genealogies” collected by the French gendarmes (country pol (...)

21I have underscored that, as regards the arrival of Catholicism in Arama, Kanak oral history puts forward one aspect of the process: the importance for the Church of respecting–or ignoring – the etiquette of Kanak regional relations. In contrast, written history, mostly from Catholic sources, develops four very different aspects. First, for the Catholic priests, coming to Arama in 1860 is a result of “their hierarchy’s intention and decision”28. Second, this decision was aimed at spreading Catholic influence more efficiently in the north of Grande Terre and sprang from the necessity of anchoring the Church in key villages – some of them Whaap, some Hoot, in order to reach a homogenous coverage of the far north of Grande Terre. Third, this was made easier by the fact that Nyêlâyu – a very difficult language which the priests had had great difficulty mastering – was also spoken in Arama and Belep as well as in Balade. Fourth, the names and personalities29 of the Marist priests who brought the Church to Arama – Fathers Gagnière, Gilibert and, later, Guitta – are important. But the four “young Arama natives”, who were instructed in the faith in order to help the priests, remain nameless shadows (Rozier, 1997: 146; Mortelier, 1993: 3430). For the understanding of the christianization process, the discrepancies between Kanak oral history and Catholic inspired written history are significant in that they reflect strongly diverging views. More generally, important discrepancies between oral and written sources characterize most of my information on aspects of Arama’s past31.

22These discrepancies not only help one to understand some aspects of past and contemporary Arama society, but also highlight specific features of French Catholic representations of cultural and social life and of history. This is especially striking for the quasi heroic mini-legends created by Catholic inspired writings surrounding almost every step of the missionary enterprise and also some of the priests, named individuals who devoted their lives to it. This is done while never forgetting to underline the extreme centralization of the Catholic decision process. This combination of praise for the value of (some) individuals within a highly centralized hierarchical context – of the chain of command type – strongly recalls aspects of European military history. Some of the Catholic priests are like heroic soldiers of God whose actions are praised for their individual originality and personal value within the limits firmly set them by a chain of command hierarchy. The latter, in turn, is supposed to serve a higher and ultimate purpose, in the present case, the Catholic Church and God (and, in the case of military history, the Army and the State).

23These differences in representations of past processes are well worth looking into. As is often the case, the written sources also express disagreements over some facts and/or their interpretation. However, the Kanak oral version (s) always has/have differences with regard to the written ones (i.e. “European” ones) which I consider more meaningful than mere disagreements because they develop on an altogether different level: it is their frames of reference and social and cultural values which differ. This shows that a common history is not a shared history and, at the same time, that specific modes of historicity characterize specific social worlds. Even more than the pluralization of history and its sources – which is necessary but insufficient – this sort of material underlines: (i) the importance of confronting and articulating the different representations of the past and (ii) the fact that precise anthropological knowledge of the present helps us understand these differential representations of the past – to some extent.

Some principles of reciprocal acculturation

  • 32 Several of which have been deeply modified by christianization, colonization, the creation of rese (...)

24I now want to develop two aspects of the process of reciprocal acculturation of the Catholic Church and the Hoot ma Whaap network of regional relations, again stressing that this is an ongoing process and that what I am commenting on here concerns the period 1843-2005 as apprehended on the basis of oral recollections dating 1992-2005. What I consider the building blocks of the acculturated network are (i) the parishes (instead of the local societies: houses or great houses in the classic network), (ii) the pathways, (iii) the doors and passages. My interpretation is that the main change concerns the first element, especially as in several cases – such as Tiari and Arama – the social and geographical extension of parishes does not coincide with that of local societies32. Further in this paper I will suggest how the liminal notion of door, or passage, is rather flexibly adapted. As for the pathways, what can be elicited from the ethnography and oral history of Arama suggests only minor changes but this is not necessarily so for the whole of a large region, many parts and aspects of which to this day are yet to be studied by anthropologists or historians. For the performance of ceremonies within this acculturated network, we have already seen that there is both what we can call a ceremonial canon – arriving sides should be formally received with exchanges of goods and speeches by the inviting one, on its own land, in a reception ceremony – and, again, a lot of flexibility. The Kanak Catholic participation in the groups of representatives which form the arriving and receiving sides is strongly linked to the notion of parish. Hence the importance of the role of the catéchiste; but, if necessary, he can be replaced and represented, in a way reminiscent of ceremonies in the classic Hoot ma Whaap network (Monnerie, 2005). Other Kanak dignitaries of the parish attend, especially the owner(s) of the pathway(s). When priests and nuns attend, as representatives of the Church’s hierarchy, they represent a “universal”– i.e. not localized – element encompassing the regional network. Finally, during these Catholic ceremonies the Kanak goods which circulate tend to be similar to those which circulate during regional ceremonies. The carved cross of 1993 comes as an addition to these contemporary goods, but if we follow Guiart we might (wildly?) speculate that it may be reminiscent of the former circulation of ceremonial axes (often called haches ostensoirs in French sources; Guiart, 1966, De jade et de nacre 1990: 141; 152-154; 211; 229-31).

  • 33 Compare with the articulation of the great house and the marché (Monnerie, 2008b).

25All this draws attention to an important aspect of Arama society – and, I suggest, of other Kanak societies in this region – namely that they are multifaceted, made up of several “exchange complexes” which are actualized in different contexts. I have coined the expression “exchange complex” to refer to the combining of a system of exchange with a form of sociality and, often, language use. I have proposed a model of Arama society and its external relations in which several exchange complexes are articulated. Each one accounts for one of the variable configurations of Arama society (Monnerie, 2008b). In a similar way, in the context of regional relations with the Catholic Church, reference to the parish comes to the fore whereas, in the classic contexts, reference is to the great house. This has local implications and also, prominently, implications as to who are the privileged agents in the specific exchange complex at work in a given context. When dealing with the Church, the local extension of parishes, the local people as parishioners and the catéchistes come to the fore. Thus the acculturated network, with its Catholic elements – especially parishes and catéchistes – has not replaced the Hoot ma Whaap network but has been added to it, inspired by it and articulated to it33. In a context of relations with the Catholic Church, the former comes to the fore whereas in other contexts the latter predominates.

26Now to turn to another aspect of this acculturation, let me go back to the oral interpretations of the past and their relations with the contemporary world and to Arama’s specific mode of historicity. One striking feature of the form of reciprocal acculturation I am dealing with here is the way contemporary ceremonies linked to the Catholic Church re-enact and recall some aspects of past processes. This is especially true of the performance of formal reception ceremonies and the use which is made of the notion of pathways. Clearly, two important aspects of Arama society and the Hoot ma Whaap regional network which are at work in the ceremonies I have been concerned with are (i) the successive stages of formal receptions and (ii) the concepts or notions of pathways, doors and passages. Thus the Catholic Church is construed as having (eventually) been received through classic Kanak social procedures, involving notions which prevail(ed) within Hoot ma Whaap. With the above-mentioned transformations, this is re-enacted and recalled whenever important events happen which concern the Church. When we compare the acculturated network with the classic one and the relations inherent in them, the resulting picture is a mixture of continuity and differences. The latter are most heavily apparent in the local anchoring – parishes vs local societies – which is directly linked to who the representatives acting in the ceremonies are– catéchistes vs the dignitaries representing great houses called teâma. I shall also suggest that the liminal notion of door or passage tends to operate differently.

27Here one can draw a parallel with French colonization, the first sequence of which is locally construed as having been a formal reception by Kanak dignitaries of a French admiral (in 1853), this first reception defining relations between the receiving autochthonous people and the newcomers. The later developments, which were dramatic for the Kanak people, are taken as a betrayal of this reception process and relations by the French colonizers. In 1994 (Monnerie, 2003b, 2005) and 1998, the Hoot ma Whaap customary council organized ceremonies whose procedures and meanings were aimed at helping to reverse the contemporary colonial situation resulting from this betrayal. One of the differences between colonization and christianization can be understood here. Although the arrival of both christianization and French colonization is construed in terms of reception processes, the former needs to be reversed, the latter does not.

Dynamics of past and present

  • 34 This idiom of re-enactment, also rather widespread among large religious systems, may be among one (...)

28This analysis leads to a more general contextualization of the ethnography, as regards the past and the present. In Arama, the past is not seen as a closed or completed process. A backdrop to this is the fact that, with the flow of generations, through the practice and experience of giving renewed life and agency to some of the ancestors’ names by bestowing them on their grandsons (and sometimes great-grandsons), the personal name system tends to create interactions with the past which have strong significance, are highly valued and are very efficient in the present (Monnerie, 2001, 2003a). Within a narrower span of time, most accidents and diseases I knew of between 1992 and 2005 were interpreted as resulting from past ceremonies having been wrongly conducted. After these errors had been identified, generally thanks to a “seer” (Kanak French: voyant; Nyêlâyu: noga) living in the villages of Bondé or Gomen, a correct re-enactment of the ceremony or ceremonial sequence would be held to cure, or help cure, the disease and prevent further problems. These zigzag movements between “past” and “present” are certainly not unknown in other societies, including our own. It is rather their domains of application and the ways they are performed and represented which are specific to one particular social world. In France, two recent and well publicized examples, when strong interactions between the past and the present came to the fore, are well-known: at the end of the twentieth century it was the case for the celebration and reappraisal of the French Revolution and, more recently, for the voting of a law concerning the teaching in French schools of the positive aspects of French colonialism. In such circumstances, the French tend to “rewrite” history – to the point of voting specific laws for the purpose (Rémond and Azouvi, 2006)–or to create new historical interpretations, debates, monuments or museums aimed at re-evaluating a legacy, or heritage, which is construed in terms of “patrimoine”. The latter has become a key notion in relations between the past and the present in French civilization. It has been the focus of much emphasis (cultural, political, economic, tourist) and many debates in recent years. The government has created and financed specific institutions for the preservation of the French patrimoine. In contrast, in Arama ceremonies are re-enacted34. In this specific Kanak mode of historicity, just as past beings (ancestors: hulac) and contemporary ones (the living, the elders who are also termed hulac) have a definite degree of interdependence (especially through bearing the same names), the succession of generations, past procedures, past processes and contemporary ones also have a recognized degree of interdependence. This is locally the subject of much discussion and reflexion.

Dynamics of inversion

29Let me end with suggestions for what I believe is, for an anthropologist, a problematical and significant aspect of the process of reciprocal acculturation of the Kanak and the Catholic worlds. It is a fact that what is happening inside the church, where the Kanak element is subaltern, is an inversion of what is happening outside it, where the Kanak system tends to prevail. In several respects, this is reminiscent of Bourdieu’s famous analysis of the Kabyle house. Bourdieu notes that “the two symmetrical and inverted spaces are not interchangeable, but inverted, the inside space precisely being only the inverted image, or reflection in a mirror, of the masculine space” (1969: 81-2). Bourdieu’s stress on form is a characteristic of the then dominant structural anthropology, though it is combined further on in his text with a rather low-key allusion to dominance which, later, would become one of the hallmarks of his approach. Another model which could be used here is Louis Dumont’s “encompassment of the contrary”. Again there is a strong structuralist element in this, but here it is combined with an attention to values which takes us away from the model of a mirror image and renders the idea of inversion more complex (Dumont, 1966, 1983). These models suggest much but do not apply here directly. What is special about this Kanak case? To answer this question, one should turn it around: these models were custom-made for the Kabyle world or for the Indian caste system and, arguably, the “modern European” worlds whereas what we need is a model tailored for the Kanak world of Hoot ma Whaap and its relations to the Catholic Church and colonization.

  • 35 Through which the cross was taken into the church, but especially as the place where the departure (...)

30In order to understand the processual and dynamic aspect of this inversion, let us now turn our attention to the long anthropological tradition of analysis in which thinkers, such as Van Gennep (1981 [1909]), followed by Victor Turner (1967, 1968), have concentrated on the analysis of the social acts usually called rituals (in the Kanak context, I prefer the word ceremony) and their forms, dynamics and meanings. Their works account for the liminal role of some elements of the Kanak regional system and reception process. Pu Daan, i.e. the place where the reception of the Belep dignitaries and the cross takes place, the bamboo arches which were specially built close to the landing place and the church (photos 1 and 3), and the gate of the church35 are “doors, passages” (phwâ). They can be construed as liminal spaces, or thresholds, in Van Gennep and Turner’s vocabulary. I suggest they play a role in the relation of inversion between what takes place outside the church – where the acculturated but predominantly Kanak inspired regional system of relations between parishes takes over – and what takes place inside the church – where the Catholic Church’s own procedures prevail. Does going through these doors, passages, these liminal spaces, account for these relations of inversion in the same way? It seems to me that in the acculturated regional system, the first two sorts of “passages” (Pu Daan and the arches) recall the “barrier gates” (phwâ xayot) of the classic Hoot ma Whaap regional system (Monnerie, 2005: 98-99, 174, 209). Arriving from Belep, the cross and the Belep dignitaries, in order to formally enter Arama, go through them and, with Arama dignitaries, perform the liminal ceremony of reception. Later, as they get near the church, they go through the second arch, which signals to the procession that they are about to enter a different social and architectural space where other procedures prevail. However, it is only when entering the gate of the church that the inversion becomes fully fledged. Hence doors and passages operate in different ways. This makes me underline again the flexibility of the basic notions of the Hoot ma Whaap regional system. It also shows it is necessary to complement the formal approaches of Van Gennep and Turner – the latter in his generalizing theoretical work – with other considerations, namely of context and also of local meaning.

  • 36 Éloi Machoro acted as the Union calédonienne’s war leader whereas, in the same political party, Je (...)

31For the participants in these ceremonies, this form of reciprocal acculturation often entails attitudes which are context dependent, strongly predicated on specific social and cultural moments and, especially, on relations. This, of course, varies according to people but one’s “identity” as a Catholic can be, contexte oblige, put in the background and, for instance, political and cultural ideas favouring independence then come to the fore which are certainly not congruent with the position of the Catholic authorities in Nouméa. This was the case for a man who was both deeply involved in the Church in Arama, as a catéchiste, and, at the same time, was politically an admirer of éloi Machoro, a famous Kanak militant leader whose politics included resorting to arms against the French in the 1980s36. Interestingly, this is precisely the sort of dual positioning which is collectively expressed by the Arama people during the liminal procession towards the church and during most of the meetings of the Hoot ma Whaap council and the ceremonies for the 150th anniversary of the first mass.


  • 37 Hypothetically in the whole Kanak world.

32Relations of reception, with groups and people becoming integrated in succession – and in the long term – are among the key principles of social organization in Arama and, I suggest, in the Hoot ma Whaap region37. In one of the many variants of James Fox’s notion of Austronesian “precedence” (Fox, 1988a, 1988b) and Marshall Sahlins’ concept of “firstness” (Sahlins, 1985), the stress on reception in Arama is associated with the valorization of what I have called “relative firstness”. This is linked to a display, in many ceremonies, of the combining of the pervasive social and cultural principles of reception and relative firstness with ceremonial precedence. It is seen most clearly in reception ceremonies, which are at their most complex, explicit and valued in that great regional form, the thiam (Monnerie, 2001, 2003a, 2005). The congruence between and replication of (i) long term “historical” processes of reception, social organization and (ii) the ceremonial idiom is striking, but also partial. It can be construed as fractal, or holographic. However suggestive, these metaphors merely stress the formal side and the replication of these phenomena; but this does not suffice. Here I have analyzed the intricate idioms of Kanak ceremonies, the sociability attached to them and some of the rich meanings they convey in terms of “exchange complexes”.

  • 38 This is also the case for the arrival of the first colonists, which is construed in oral history a (...)

33My suggestion that a common history is not necessarily a shared history springs from the comparative study of Catholic written history and Kanak oral history for the first years of the christianization of Arama and Hoot ma Whaap. The latter stresses reception procedures and contemporary reception ceremonies which reenact former relations38. Wrapping the most important Catholic celebrations within a flexible, but strongly established, Kanak inspired system of regional relations has several advantages. It allows to distinguish, associate and consolidate two different expressions of strength: regional relations and relations with the Catholic God. In other words, receiving and adopting the Catholic Church has created yet another facet, another exchange complex, in Arama society and the Hoot ma Whaap region. This entails a differentiation of context which leads to a differentiation of meaning and value, at the same time relating and contrasting what is happening inside the church and outside it, while putting both of them to good use for the common welfare. There is yet a further level to this – another layer of wrapping – stemming from the Catholic church’s ambition for universality. I believe this is mostly felt when priests and nuns – many of whom come from distant places – are physically present in the ceremonies. Kanak pilgrims returning from faraway holy places, such as Lourdes, also fit this universal dimension.

34The responses of this society to christianization show a double movement. First, a tendency to preserve – and adapt – Its classic autochthonous regional system of exchange and refer to it above all other considerations when recalling, re-enacting and interpreting both the history of the Catholic Church in Hoot ma Whaap and contemporary relations. This concerns past and present: hence contemporary procedures, and especially ceremonial procedures, play a major role in Arama’s mode of historicity and vice versa. Second, a tendency to add the Catholic procedures to the Kanak ones while differentiating them – in a process I have characterized as “wrapping”. This is to stress the fact that, both spatially and temporally, the Kanak ceremonies encompass the Catholic ones. What we have here is a process in which the colonized use some of the procedures of the colonizers while preserving some of their own, those which are considered essential. These processes of adding and wrapping at the same time make it possible to relate to the Church and, in some ways, to resist it while integrating its religious aspects and the strength it brings to the Kanak. Characteristically, they have been systematically pursued in terms of exchange or circulation complexes.



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1 In the 1980s, the independence movement adopted the work “Kanak” to refer to the autochthonous people of New Caledonia. It is a convenient word, now widely accepted. In the field, the best definition I could find of what it is to be Kanak was an answer given to this question by an Arama man: “We Kanak practise customary procedures, or ceremonies (coutumes)”. For a comparison with the Island of Maré in the Loyalty Islands, east of Grande Terre, see Faugère (2002).

2 Thanks to Gérard Glanard for developing and printing my pictures and to Agnès Clerc-Renaud for her suggestions on a version of this text. Different versions of this paper were presented at the conference La christianisation en Océanie, Paris EHESS, 26-7 May 1999 and at the sixth conference of the European Society for Oceanists; Session: Dynamics of Pacific Religiosity, Marseilles 6-8 July 2005. During this ESfO conference, a belated session dealing exclusively with New Caledonia was convened. Researchers on New Caledonia who had already registered for other sessions were not invited to participate in this New Caledonia session. This made it the only session of the conference not thematic but dealing with one, and only one, country of the Pacific. In reaction to this attitude, my view is that anthropology in New Caledonia does not need more endogamy but, on the contrary, more cross fertilization by research from the many shores of Oceania and Indonesia, the anthropological community and the social sciences at large.

3 Thus, many of the contemporary goods used in ceremonial exchanges, though they are modern substitutes for the ones which were once used, are often referred to in ceremonial speeches by the local word designating the original item (Monnerie, 2005: 250, 255, 2008b).

4 Although out of anthropological fashion for the time being, acculturation is a handy word here. In the use I am making of it in this paper, its meaning is explicitly or implicitly qualified by the term reciprocal – this will be a key feature of my argument. Reciprocal acculturation refers: a) to an ongoing process; b) to social as well as cultural phenomena which, following the French anthropological tradition, I do not separate.

5 This lasted from July 1992 to October 1994.

6 All local words, when not in Kanak French (i.e. the specific form of French spoken by the Kanak) are in Nyêlâyu. For a dictionary of Balade Nyêlâyu see Ozanne-Rivierre 1998. Following the transcription system recently adopted in Arama, I now use accents on all nasalized vowels.

7 Despite an increase in population, regular attendance at Sunday services has decreased somewhat between the 1990s and recent years. This partly coincides with Sunday masses – solemnly performed by a priest in full regalia, which remain popular – being replaced by prayer meetings, led by the male catéchiste or other well-known local men and women, which draw a limited attendance. Between 2001 and 2007 my impression was that attendance at services by young men, and to a lesser extent, unmarried young women had tended to decrease even more than for other age groups (children, married adults, old people).

8 More generally the sale of such printed T-shirts is a popular way of financing and marking important aspects of Kanak social, religious, political, cultural and sporting life (this is also true, but to a lesser extent in the far North, of other segments of the New Caledonian population).

9 A teâ becomes teâmâ after an installation ceremony; the suffix – is a collective which at the same time adds a nuance of magnification to the word it modifies. The value attached to collective entities, actions, etc., is often stressed by my Arama interlocutors.

10 Some Hoot ma Whaap societies may be construed in yet other ways; for instance Paimboas, or Teâ Maalum, is also construed as “The Bone and the Breath”, which is the title of Dominik Bretteville’s PhD thesis on this society (Bretteville, 2002).

11 James Cook landed at Balade in 1774, French Catholic priests settled in Balade in 1843, France took possession of Grande Terre in 1853, also at Balade. Balade, or Teâ Puma, is a Hoot ma Whaap great house.

12 They were first labelled conseils consultatifs. Their name was changed with the 1998 Nouméa agreement in order to coincide with the widespread local Kanak French expression, which from the beginning was conseil coutumier. In 1998, these councils’ federative institution became the Kanak Senate (Sénat kanak) – bearing the name of a French political parliamentary institution.

13 Balade lies about 20 kilometres south-east of Arama as the crow flies. It was fairly easily reached on foot or by boat. Today cars are preferred but the modern road is much longer.

14 For instance the Teâ Aâôvaac great house is divided into two parishes, one for Arama, the other for Tiari (Monnerie, 2005).

15 The Church (Archidiocèse de Nouméa) also had scarves and wall hangings printed with the names of all the parishes and the dates of their christianization. The Belep-Arama sequence described here corresponds to the fact that Belep Island was christianized before Arama (see below).

16 In this picture, the northern tip of the island of Balabio can be seen on the right.

17 One generally owns a pathway through bearing a given name in a given sub-clan, which is in charge of one or several pathways.

18 Two missionaries, Father Guillibert and Father Gagnière, were sent to found a “new mission” in Arama in 1860 (Rozier, 1997; Mortelier, 1993).

19 He was both an Arama dignitary and active in the parish.

20 He is a high status member of the receiving clan of Arama (Monnerie, 2005: 74-75).

21 The statue of the Virgin on the left is not the one I mentioned above as the Madonna.

22 Note that I could not witness it since I was in Balade at the time; it was described to me afterwards.

23 He is the man mentioned in note 19 above.

24 To be noted also is that Belep is Hoot, whereas Balade and Arama are Whaap.

25 However, it should be stressed that, by nineteenth century colonial standards, the violence of French colonization in New Caledonia was not in the same league as the worst forms which were commonplace in other parts of the Pacific and the world. Thus, in New Caledonia, there was no systematic genocide on the scale practised against American Indians, Australian Aborigines or the Tasmanians.

26 It is necessary to say a word on politics here. Arama as a village tended to vote for the Union calédonienne. Its representatives on the customary council certainly were sympathizers or members of this party whose foundation involved two Christian groups, one Catholic, the other Protestant (U.I.C.A.L.O. and A.I.C.L.F.; Kurtovitch, 1997). Some of those on the customary council who opposed the commemoration tended to be sympathizers of another party, PALIKA, which, originally, had marxist leanings. Both parties belonged to the pro-independence coalition F.L.N.K.S. (Monnerie, 2005: 119-132).

27 Monnerie (2005: 147, 226).

28 This was made possible by the acquisition of Arama land as early as 1852 (Rozier, 1990: 242-3, 1997: 34).

29 The priests’proclivity to sainthood or martyrdom, or rather some nineteenth century version of it, are suggested (Rozier, 1997: 160; anonymous, 1993). Also I would like to stress the fact that in their correspondence generally the Marist priests in the North of Grande Terre (many, like Father Dubois, were active in other parts of New Caledonia as well) attach a lot of import to petty rivalries among themselves as well as among villagers. Personal psychological considerations also tend to be important.

30 Though in Mortelier (1993: 47) one finds a puzzling reference to “Amabili, chief of Belep”. This may be linked to the above-mentioned conflict: one reason why Arama and Belep were selected among other villages was that, by 1860 the priests had mastered the local language, Nyelâyu.

31 In another aspect of social life, the “genealogies” collected by the French gendarmes (country police) for administrative purposes and the descriptions of families (I use this rather vague term on purpose as the theoretical questions raised by Kanak kinship are numerous and difficult) given by my Kanak interlocutors show very strong discrepancies indeed. This will be dealt with in other publications.

32 Several of which have been deeply modified by christianization, colonization, the creation of reservations, local conflicts and movements of populations, in the period between 1843 and the present.

33 Compare with the articulation of the great house and the marché (Monnerie, 2008b).

34 This idiom of re-enactment, also rather widespread among large religious systems, may be among one of the reasons why the Catholic Church was adopted in Arama in the first place.

35 Through which the cross was taken into the church, but especially as the place where the departure ceremony took place. Over the years I have seen many ceremonies performed in front of Arama’s church gate; it is said that the former teâmâ used to perform the yearly yam ceremony there.

36 Éloi Machoro acted as the Union calédonienne’s war leader whereas, in the same political party, Jean-Marie Tjibaou acted as a peace maker. The former was killed by French troops in 1985, the latter by a Kanak separatist in 1989.

37 Hypothetically in the whole Kanak world.

38 This is also the case for the arrival of the first colonists, which is construed in oral history and contemporary ceremonies as a relation of reception (see above).

Table des illustrations

Légende Photo 1. © Denis Monnerie.
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Légende Photo 2. © Denis Monnerie.
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Légende Photo 3. © Denis Monnerie.
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Légende Photo 4. © Denis Monnerie.
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Légende Photo 5. © Denis Monnerie.
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Légende Photo 6. © Denis Monnerie.
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Professeur d’ethnologie à l’Université de Strasbourg et membre du Laboratoire Cultures et Sociétés en Europe. Son travail se développe dans une perspective comparatiste explorant formes, dynamiques et significations du social. Après des voyages et enquêtes en Asie, il s’est plus particulièrement intéressé à l’Océanie où le cadre de ses recherches est dessiné par les articulations entre les sociétés locales et leurs relations externes. Ceci d’abord à Mono-Alu aux îles Salomon du Nord-Ouest, avec des recherches d’ethnohistoire concernant les XIXe et XXe siècles. Depuis 1992, il travaille sur le terrain à Arama et dans la région Hoot ma Whaap, au nord de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. Il a publié notamment Nitu, les vivants, les morts et le cosmos selon la société de Mono-Alu (Îles Salomon), Leiden, Center for Non Western Studies (Pays-Bas), (1996) et La parole de notre Maison. Discours et cérémonies kanak aujourd’hui, Paris, CNRS Éditions et Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (2005).

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