Academic journal article Essays in French Literature and Culture

Conflict and Reconciliation in New Caledonian Theatre

Academic journal article Essays in French Literature and Culture

Conflict and Reconciliation in New Caledonian Theatre

Article excerpt

Conflict has been an enduring feature of New Caledonian history: inter-clanic violence pre-dating French colonisation; the dramatic impact of colonisation on the indigenous population; Kanak rebellions, notably those of 1878 and 1917, and their repression; the material conditions of the establishment of the penal colony (1864-1897). In more recent times, conflict over the question of independence came to a head during the événements,1 the term still largely used to designate the years of quasi civil war in the 1980s.

The Matignon Accords (1988) restored peace, but acts of violence persisted, notably the assassination the following year of the FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou by another Kanak, Djubelly Wéa. The Noumea Accord (1998) laid the grounds for constitutional and social change, proclaiming a destin commun for opposing parties in this Terre deparóle. Terre de partage, the expression that, post-Noumea Accord, became the country's motto. However, in the pays du nondit (Barbançon, 1992), public debate confronting taboo subjects has been historically difficult if not stifled.

In this context, the body of literary works that have been produced in New Caledonia since the 1970s is of special interest. In particular, the island's 'emergent' works for the theatre that arrived with a burst of creativity in New Caledonian society between the Matignon and Noumea Accords represent a privileged locus for the expression of violence and dialogue, inscribed as a form of reconciliation. One significant work pre-dates this period by a generation, however, anticipating the developments to come, including in the wording and spirit of the Noumea Accord. This is the Jeu Scénique that Jean-Marie Tjibaou wrote for the Festival Melanesia 2000 he organised in 1975.2

In the following pages we will consider this Jeu Scénique and three other plays (1975-2011):, two are by Kanak authors, JeanMarie Tjibaou and Déwé Gorodé; two are by non-Kanak New Caledonian writers, Nicolas Kurtovitch and Claudine Jacques. All involve violence and reconciliation, and all feature the spectre of a Kanak chief from the 19th and 20th centuries in dialogue with the contemporary world. In doing so, they also represent a reflection on time, on the past as spectre haunting the present, with a view to possible ways of negotiating the future.3 In their different ways they tackle questions raised by the French historian François Hartog with regard to his concept of regime of historicity which, he acknowledges, "had originally been formed on the shores of the Great Pacific islands" (Hartog, 2005, 9), under the impetus of the American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins. Hartog developed this concept as a dialogue between anthropology and history where the term 'regime of historicity' can be understood in two ways, either in a restricted sense of "how a society considers its past and deals with it"; or in a broader sense where it designates "the method of self-awareness in a human community" (Hartog, 2005, 8). Both of these are relevant in the case of the visions and projections of a number of examples of New Caledonian theatre which also deal with the relation between event and process in the unfolding of structures.

For the pro-independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the Melanesia 2000 Festival was a moment of self-awareness, indeed a watershed, the "première présentation magistrale et officielle du monde kanak" (Tjibaou, 1996, 19). Yet it also aimed at being a dialogue with Europeans where both sides learn about themselves through learning about the other, consider their past and deal with it, to "faire un 'flash' sur notre culture pour le monde blanc, et d'inviter les Mélanésiens à se projeter dans une espèce de grande fête populaire où ils se révéleraient à eux-mêmes et prendraient conscience de leur propre patrimoine" (Tjibaou, 1996, 40). It was thus conceived from the outset as a political and cultural event.

The challenge facing Tjibaou was how to revive the intensity of 'tradition' without falling into the factitiousness of post-hoc reconstruction. …

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