Building A Kanak House
Building a Kanak House
And it’s alright to stick out your tongue in Kanak Culture!
In Europe evidence of the vital skill of making needles with eyes that could be threaded and used to sew things together like houses, rugs and clothes has been found from archaeological evidence to have been used by early Neanderthal man 120,000 years ago (Europe – A Natural History by Tim Flannery) and the Australian Aborigines had the same skill in their creative pack since the last 80,000 years, so it is not surprising that the Melanesian housebuilders used hard iron wood needles to sew the grass roof bundles onto the stringers of their clan huts.
The giant needle you see in the Case Jinu was made by Norman Song was standing in one of the ten Renzo Piano stylised huts along with numerous wooden doorposts as examples of Kanak monumental carvings. I omitted a picture of the eye at the top of the needle which was a shame.
Rob and I sat and watched an excellent video in the Case Kanake showing the recent building of a Kanak hut, in French, but that didn’t matter because the film explained itself. So we were equipped with some background knowledge before we joined George and the children in the chief’s big hut. The children made themselves comfy on some mats but George had a different timescale and soon they were on their feet again and off to the next hut.
With just one door it was easy to monitor visitors and keep out the tradewinds, something Renzo moved away from with his modern open designs. On the opposite side of the central Houp tree pole was the fire, a shallow hollow in the ground. It must have become very smoky in their homes even with the conical roof. In the photos you can see where the roof grasses have been stitched to the rafters and then strong woven flax rope was used to secure the roof onto the circumference poles. I tried moving one – no chance!
The decorated doorposts are more like a name or number on our houses than a means of support for the roof, the face is meant to resemble the house owner and the sticking out tongue a gesture of welcome to the visitor. The huts are round to protect them from cyclone winds and the structure is known to last over 100 years, the thatch needing replacement every 50 years or so.
In the enclosure young trees you can see in the photos were planted in 2008 on the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Centre and the entire area was enclosed behind a fence of stout wooden poles. The culture of the Kanaks and the knowledge of their skills is preserved and being passed on at this site and it is important within an ever changing world that such custom is not lost but is nurtured as a potential resource for future living along with encouraging the value of history in the minds of modern youngsters.