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En route to Ydejele Beach (separate review) I noticed a rather colourful grave set amongst palms and pines, with the turquoise waters of the South Pacific providing a beautiful backdrop. On the return trip to our cruise ship the bus slowed down sufficiently to afford me a better look and the chance to take a photograph.

In 2018 (assuming the vexed question of who is eligible to vote has been solved) the people of New Caledonia will cast a vote in a referendum to determine whether or not New Caledonia becomes independent of France. Were he alive, there is no doubt that Yeiwene Yeiwene would vote for independence.

Europe, or more specifically Britain, first came across the island archipelago in 1775 at which point Captain Cook named it New Caledonia, after Caledonia (Scotland). In the early 1800s the Protestants of London Missionary Society came to New Caledonia followed by the French Catholics in 1843. The two religions squabbled and fought with the Catholics getting the upper hand, leading to the annexation of the islands by France in 1853.

The islanders, or Kanaks, were quickly enslaved with many of them put to work on French plantations, ranches and public works schemes. Many died of European diseases against which they had no natural immunity.

New Caledonia soon became a French penal colony (something akin to what Australia was for Britain!) and between 1860 and 1897 twenty thousand French undesirables were deported to the islands. Most of these settled in New Caledonia and took up employment in nickel and copper mining, which began at that time. This, and the fact that Kanaks had been forced into reserves and now occupied less than 10% of their ancestral land, caused great resentment and lead to the first major Kanak revolt against French rule in 1878. This was quickly put down by the militarily stronger French who put the head of the decapitated Kanak leader on display in the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. I guess it was important that the Motherland be assured that its officials were in control in its far flung colony.

So began New Caledonia’s struggle for independence – a struggle which continues to this day.

During the 1980’s the struggle for independence, under the auspices of the Caledonian Union and the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) became more disruptive and violent. After the death of Éloi Machoro, a prominent FLNKS leader, Kanak activists took 27 gendarmes hostage on the island of Ouvea (1988). The release of the hostages resulted in 21 deaths including 19 Kanaks.

An international outcry followed and the Matignon Accord between the French and the Kanaks was signed on 6 November 1988. One provision of the Accord was that an independence referendum be held by 1998. The Accord was signed by Kanaks, Jean-Marie Tjibaou (FLNKS leader) and Yeiwene Yeiwene ( Tjibaou’s heir apparent).

Within a year Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Yeiwene Yeiwene were dead, assassinated on 4th May 1989 by a Kanak activist who felt that the FLNKS leadership had sold out to the French.

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Yeiwene Yeiwene, who came from Maré, was buried close to where he had lived on the island – a couple of kilometres from the administrative centre of Tadine. Yeiwene Yeiwene is greatly revered on Maré, a staunchly pro-independence island which is 98% Kanak with very little French influence in evidence. There is a small museum/cultural centre dedicated to Yeiwene Yeiwene on the island though I didn’t get to visit it so cannot comment on it.

For completeness, 1998 came and went and there was no referendum. The Noumea Accord of that year, granted minimal autonomy to New Caledonia and provided for a referendum to be held within 20 years. Whether one is held in 2018, as currently planned, remains to be seen.


This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on my trip to Maré, New Caledonia. I suggest you continue with my next entry – La Monique Memorial: Tragedy In Paradise – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – Maré – New Caledonia’s Hidden Gem


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