Museum of NC 1
The Museum of New Caledonia
Beez is clean, Australians Visas printed, it was really time to go to the museum, just over the road there was no excuse not to. Bear got in for fifty Francs and I had to pay two hundred for having less grey hair. Grr. So here we were facing the guardians of the house for less than three pounds.
Very pleased to say that most looked quite welcoming, even smiling. Behind Bear we could see a round house.
The “Big House” or Men’s House. Of all the traditional constructions known in New Caledonia, the “big house” remain witness to the most majestic of Kanak architecture. Its height could reach twenty metres and its construction thus required the participation of many people. All groups of people related to and dependent on the chefferie [main chief’s area of influence] were represented in this work, the men undertaking the main part, whilst the women collected materials for the roof. Although since the beginning of the last century, the big hut has disappeared from housing settlements, today we can still conjure up a picture thanks to certain remains, to old descriptions or oral traditions and to old peoples’ knowledge and memory of traditional techniques.
Reserved for the oldest chief of the group and symbol of social organisation, the large hut usually stood at the top of an alley bordered by araucarias or coconut palms. At the bottom end of the alley stood the younger brother’s smaller round hut and between them, all along the alley, were the huts belonging to family members. The central alley is the place where festivities and custom ceremonies took place. It symbolises the opening of the group to the outside world.
We took our shoes off and went in. Inside the hut, which we thought looked diddy from the outside, was in fact huge. The workmanship was so neat. The floor was covered in the woven mats we have seen on son many islands. The door frame was much shorter but the head space inside was so spacious.
The weaving was incredibly strong. The threshold had segments filled with coral. Very safe if you needed to build a fire, keep out creepy crawlies and dirt.
The framework of the Big House. This consisted of the same pieces used for today’s round house: Centre post.
The main, larger posts around the hut, serve as supports for the roof rafters. The secondary, smaller posts around the hut, serve to support the materials composing the construction’s vertical wall.
The purlins at the top of the main posts, serve as support for the rafters, which come together at the top of the main post.
The cinctures, which in a smaller way to the purlins, serve as support for the interstitial rafters and link them to the main rafters. Their number varies according to the height of the roof.
The rafters, of the same number as the hut’s posts are fixed to the purlins and to the edge of the corbel at the summit.
The corbel, fixed at the top end of the central post, on which the rafters are placed. This technique characteristic of the Kanak architecture, varies according to region.
Gaulettes are small sticks placed horizontally from the base to the top of the structure.
Models of different huts.
Houses: The Kanak house comprises different forms of construction, described by term case [hut]. The round hut is the most common on the main island, as in the Loyalty Islands. Roof heights vary according to regions. The rectangular house has a roof with two slopes. One of the sides overlaps the rooftop, leaving a space for smoke to escape. Men, and also women, met there for work [tool making etc.] or simply to chat. Its framework is similar to certain Polynesian houses. The oblong hut is the women’s hut, where they sleep and cook.
Statuettes: Anthropomorphic statuettes are cut from hardwood. Of an average dimension of 30 cms, they may be mistaken for statues to be planted, which have come away from their mount.
They always represent a man or a woman in a standard position: hands placed flat on the top of the thighs, pectoral muscles and legs showing pronounced corpulence. On the other hand, the carver was given free rein with the details of the face.
The functions of these small figures remain uncertain. According to old witnesses, they were used for magic practices [calling for rain, requests for protection.....] but, without their protective envelope and accessories of tapa and leaves.... they become ordinary objects, which could then be easily given away or exchanged.
Bits and pieces, many we have become familiar with.
Man in a full ‘skirt’. Money in the form of beads – colour represents the various values and a ladies money skirt.
Money skirts. These valuable skirts are made from fruit bat hairs or vegetable fibres, which are rolled into cones. It takes many days and much patience to make them. Their aesthetic quality depends on the regularity and the alignment of the fringes. They are exchanged among women at birth, wedding and mourning ceremonies and symbolise the home. Associated with Kanak money, they have a greater value.
The Myth from the Wedoye Chefferie at Hienghene recounts: “One day when the sun was running its usual course, it saw a man on the earth. He was a solitary chief. He did not have a wife. The sun decided to give him his daughter in marriage. She accompanied him one day and saw the chief. He pleased her and she asked her father for permission to go alone to visit hi, She went down, found the chief and they decided to stay together. The sun was thrilled.
Then one day, the sun decided to seal this union. When it reached its zenith, he let his daughter down by a rope. When she arrived, she sat next to the chief and the rope wrapped itself around her like a skirt. The skirt was of flying fox hair.” Rightee-oh then, moving right along.
The next gallery was all about sailing and fishing.
This lobster, crab, fish trap looked diddy until I asked Bear to stand next to it. Fishing equipment similar to several islands we have visited.
Rat shaped lures for octopus fishing, made from stone, shell and woven coconut fibres.
A traditional canoe.
Sewing on the hulls, how the deck planks are fixed and the sail attachment.
Models of different types of canoe.
Pots and pans came next.
We were both fascinated to see the Incubator or Medicinal Cradle. A simple one, a statuette of one in use and one taking on the look of a Moses basket. Used for only eighteen days following the birth of a baby, after which it is destroyed. It is made of banana leaves, bourao fibres and niaouli bark. Gophapin, Poya, New Caledonia.
In Kanak society weaving is above all a symbol of life. It starts with the birth of a child and accompanies him all his life until death. During ceremonies following a birth, the maternal uncle gives a woven mat to the newborn. At the time of a wedding, woven objects – mats, money skirts, bags and baskets are given to the bride and groom as a contribution to the start of their life as a couple. And when a person dies, his body is wrapped in a woven mat before being returned to the maternal clan. In day to day life, woven goods are used for carrying, for the preparation and keeping of food, for fishing and hunting, but also to store clothes and personal goods or as playthings for children, as well as adults whistles and windmills. Different materials permit a diversity of objects to be made. The most common is pandanus, coconut leaves, certain forest liana and rushes.
Next, we looked at the usual weapon, brain pickers and clubs we have seen in the museum in Suva, so upstairs we went.
On the way up the stairs, we stopped and looked out of the window. There was a gentle looking man very carefully grading, sorting and bundling grass. In the distance we could see he was building a Great Hut, that’s a must to visit when we have finished on the top floor.
ALL IN ALL A THOROUGHLY ENJOYABLE MUSEUM