Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Sexual Violence and Return in Indigenous Francophone and Anglophone Pacific Literatures: The Case of Déwé Gorodé's L'Epave

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Sexual Violence and Return in Indigenous Francophone and Anglophone Pacific Literatures: The Case of Déwé Gorodé's L'Epave

Article excerpt

So-called 'domestic' or conjugal violence is currendy emerging as a central theme in literatures across the Pacific. Given that brutal treatment of women has been a stereotype of 'savage masculinity' regularly activated in colonial representations for pragmatic imperial purposes, most writers have recognized that any such engagement with critique of domestic violence within indigenous societies is fraught.1 The question of reaction to domestic violence is related both to the imperatives of solidarity with one's partner or group of origin and to the wider questions of the return to (or return of), Custom. This form of female scarification also raises complex and unspeakable questions of the body; of desire, pain and pleasure, of seduction, and of revenge.

In earlier studies, I compared the extent to which the questions of gender were becoming significant elements in the modifications of political and social systems across the Francophone and the Anglophone Pacific.2 Almost all of the writers who have been classed as 'indigenous' present the power relation between the sexes as a central issue but less in relation to current European categories such as sexual equality, sexual and psychological abuse, paedophilia or women's rights than in relation to their own history and society. I conclude that, as Michelle Keown argues for Samoa, the oppression of women and indeed children cannot be seen merely as a result of white hegemony or of repressive indigenous practices but must be considered in the frame of the complex dialectical exchanges between varied cultural systems.3 This leads simultaneously, as Keown demonstrates, to a certain deconstruction of the emotional regimes and texts of love of Western society. It also deconstructs what Linda Tuhiwai Smith has called the 'Authentic, Essentialist, Deeply Spiritual' indigenous Other and the idea of a salvatory, if primitive, original and separate Customary communities.4 A thought-provoking paper by Patrick Evans on Maori writing denounces the effects of what Witi Ihimaera has come to call Takeha-style biculturalism' and examines the gap between 'the facts of material history' and the myth of the 'unharmed', ideal, if 'distant' spiritual indigeneity historically created by Pakeha. This 'compensatory and superior authenticity' constructed within a bicultural frame is seen as invented by the dominant culture and adopted by Maori writers.5

In 2005, some decades after Alan Duff and Keri Hulme's Maori novels, in which a return to Custom ultimately promised a departure from domestic .violence, the first Kanak novel L'Epave (The Wreck) was published in a limited edition in New Caledonia, a French Overseas Country still working its way toward a form of independence and cohabitation of cultures.6 Although its author Déwé Gorodé claims that 'each generation must resolve the return of the past in its own way', her novel appears somewhat less confident than Hulme's or Duffs that return to tradition will provide the solution to the problem of social or sexual violence.7 For, what does return in Gorodé's novel, spiraling forward to future generations and back to founding myths, is the experience of often incestuous violence against very young girls.

Déwé Gorodé, the single published Kanak woman poet and writer, is also an independence activist and Vice-Président of the present 'collégial' Government of New Caledonia. Her volumes of poems, short stories and a novella, published from the 1980s, foreground the value of Kanak women's traditions and daily lives.8 These are self-effacing existences lived in the service of the extended family, although often at the hub of the husband's clan. As in Kanak painter, Paula Boi's painting, Les richesses de la femme, they are also rich and colourful, transmitting or transforming women's traditional arts. The richness women possess, or the riches they bring to the community, are seen as deriving most particularly from women's transmission of Kanak ways of being in the world. …

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