behind the riots, the ethnic question

behind the riots, the ethnic question

“Here it’s Kanaky! Down with the white people!” This is the slogan shouted by the Kanak rioters, supporters of independence, in Nouméa, capital of New Caledonia, during long days and nights of fires and looting. The population of this South Pacific archipelago, twice the size of Corsica and French since 1853, is nevertheless mixed. The result of a centuries-old history which has seen waves of settlement from all origins intermingle. The Kanaks (or Melanesians) were joined by Polynesians, then, from the 19th century, with colonization, Europeans, Kabyles, Arabs, Javanese, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Reunionese … In the 20th century, the Vietnamese arrived; from the 1950s, Tahitians, West Indians, then inhabitants of the neighboring archipelago of Vanuatu. From the light-eyed children of the Kanak tribes to the dark-skinned farmers with European names, the resulting great mixing resulted in a situation different from that of colonial societies governed by strict ethnic segregation. But the Kanaks do not perceive it as such.

During censuses, each inhabitant of the archipelago must declare their “felt community of belonging”. In 2019, 41% defined themselves as Kanaks, 24% Europeans, 8% Wallisians and Futunians, 8% from other communities. The remainder identify themselves as Caledonian (8%) or “belonging to several communities” (11%). We see from this that in New Caledonia, the notion of community refers more to the socio-cultural group defined by the way of life (the tribe and membership in the clan or the emancipation of the individual) than to a categorization ethnic. French law thus offers Caledonians the possibility of deviating from civil law to manage family affairs according to Kanak custom.

Extreme tensions

An ethnic political discourse has recently burst into this kaleidoscope. “There is not a single “European” today who has never been called a “dirty white person”, testifies MP Nicolas Metzdorf (Renaissance). These insults are new and exacerbated by pro-independence rhetoric, as well as the impunity of social networks. » Last month, before a French parliamentary delegation, the separatist Roch Wamytan, president of the Congress of New Caledonia (the local legislative assembly) and also customary chief of the Saint-Louis tribe, declared that “the threshold tolerance of white people (in New Caledonia) has already been achieved.” Faced with the excitement aroused, he indicated that the notion of “White” was “sociological”. The same man, challenged in 2016 in the local hemicycle by a loyalist (anti-independence) elected official, Gil Brial, from mixed-race families, retorted: “Dirty white guy! Go home to Wallis! » On the ground, the activist branch of the separatists, the CCAT*, which describes the expansion of the electoral body as an act of “recolonization”, refutes any responsibility for the abuses but calls for the “maintenance” of the mobilization.

* Field action coordination unit.

Similar Posts