Jean Marie Tjibaou Political Mover and Shaker
Political Mover and Shaker for the Recognition, Freedom and Independence of the Kanak People on their Homeland
It was not only the land of New Caledonia that was upset through the arrival of Europeans, through logging and large scale mining but also the Kanak people, the indigenous people of Kanaky as the late Jean-Marie Tjibaou would like his reclaimed land to be called.
The pictures tell you the aims of this charismatic man, his friend Yeiwene Yeiwene and their loyal followers. To achieve change these brave people had to appear to step towards the existing power house of politics to negotiate terms of an agreement to end the years of colonial violence – this led to misunderstanding with supporters on the outside, with fatal results. But first the man.
Jean-Marie was born in Tiendanite in 1936, sounds like a kind of ore itself doesn’t it, on the North East coast of the island, an area we will not have time to visit, sadly, because it is spectacular. Nearby on the coast at Hienghene Linderalique rock formations rise vertically from the lagoon rather like the rocks of the Vietnamese coast. The rich green valleys of the land yield yams, cassava, taro, mandarin oranges, bananas, coconuts, vanilla and lychees and is the heartland of Kanak country.
Today fortunate visitors can stay with the Kanak people in their tribal villages and immerse themselves in the living traditions of the Pacific culture, learn about and taste the bougna food, cooked in the ground on a bed of hot stones, as well as kayak, hike, explore and dive the lagoon. Through tourism it seems there is a step towards independence and evolution of the old ways into the future already. Jean-Marie’s vision;
“The indigenous way of life, rooted in the hearts of the ancestors, is gradually stepping out into the daylight. It is by its essence that the indigenous culture will survive and that Kanake remains and will remain Kanake, Melanesian of New Caledonia.”
At the age of 13 he entered a small seminary and then went to the Isle of Pines for his noviciate, his religious probation period. At 29 he was ordained a priest and exercised his ministry in Noumea Cathedral. However his further education took place in France where he finally started but did not complete a PhD in Anthropology at the Sorbonne. During that time he changed his mind about his future in the ministry and was released from the priesthood in 1972.
Five years later he started his political career when he became mayor of Hienghene under the maxime ‘Taking New Pride’.
Election to Vice President of the Union Caledonienne and in 1979 to the council representing the newly-formed Independence Front and then Vice President of the New Caledonia Governing Council gave Jean-Marie the power and footing he needed to promote his vision.
In 1984 he became leader of the F.L.N.K.S and very soon the President of the Kanaky Provisional Government; it sounds as if he was close to achieving many of his aims but then tragedy struck.
Just before Christmas of that year two of his brothers and ten other Kanaks were ambushed and killed at Hienghene, the booklet does not say who their assailants were.
The colonial experience for the Kanaks under French rule had been a particularly violent one and in June 1988 Jean-Marie did his final act towards his vision by signing the Matignon Accords effectively bringing peace to his country. But distant militants on the Loyalty Island of Ouvea misunderstood his motives and intentions and on 4th May 1989 he and his friend and fellow political mover Yeiwene Yeiwene were both assassinated during a visit there, while his children were still young.
Jean-Marie had a poetic dream one night.
‘O Kanaky, my country, my country!
My country, I salute you!
Your people, sovereign and proud.
Your people born of the land, from the sacred house sights.
One with the eternal ancestors,
United in the same destiny.
Looking towards the future.
To proclaim to the world, to history,
Your sovereign freedom.
Oh Kanaky, my country! Long live Kanaky! ‘
At present the country is under a three separate vote referendum system to review the independence issue. The first referendum resulted in a small majority to stay with France. Hopefully somewhere on some radio station we will hear the outcome of the subsequent votes. I fear the democratic process could well be challenged by the wealth to be made from the mineral rich ground alone.