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Theater creates spectacle breaking taboos in New Caledonia

In New Caledonia, in the French Pacific region, the issue of independence has become a thorny issue, and it has never been easy to discuss politics. With negotiations stalling between those who support secession from France and those who want to remain in France, writer Jenny Briffa turned to comedy to say the unspoken.

Caledonian writer Louis-Josée Barbanson called New Caledonia payment other than ditto – A country where much is not said.

I can see why.

France planted its flag on the rock in 1853, turned it into a penal colony, and then expelled thousands of indigenous Kanak people from the land to make way for an influx of French settlers. It was not until 1946 that the Kanak ceased to be a subject and became a French citizen.

Tensions between indigenous peoples and European settlers known as Cardochés culminated in a four-year civil war from 1984 to 1988.

As we know, the ‘problem’ ended with the 1988 peace agreement, followed by the 1998 peace agreement. Noumea Accords It set the course for decolonization through three independence referendums in 2018, 2020 and 2021.

All three refused full sovereignty, Latest results Pro-independence parties, which have called on their supporters to boycott the vote, are fighting.

Especially in a small territory of just 170,000 people, few people want to risk fanning division.

But I am also a journalist and a writer. Jenny Briffa They are part of a younger generation trying to cross the historic pro-independence divide.

“I wanted to shake the coconut tree because my country was kind of a taboo land,” says Brifa, who grew up in New Caledonia during the tensions of the 1980s.

After working as a journalist, she found that while people were politically divided, “people were much closer to each other than they thought.”

Brifa wrote a trilogy of plays revolving around the three referendums, each intended to say the unspeakable. and with humor.

Listen to the conversation with Jenny Briffa on Spotlight on French Podcasts

Spotlight on France, Episode 96 ©RFI

her first play Fin Mal Bares! Written in 2018, (To a Bad Start) was a one-man play starring a Kanak actor. Mayte Siwene, It criticized local politicians and media that tended to self-censor.

Brifa believes the combination of Kanak performers and white European writers is a “perfect match”.

“No one can say that you are against independence or against France. I want you to talk to me, and the politicians are sick and tired of not doing their job.’

The second play is Fin Mal Jeres In 2020’s (Poorly Managed), he portrayed another protagonist, torn between a Kanak father and a supporter mother, struggling to decide how to vote.

There aren’t just two roads, there are thousands,” says Character.

Brifa wrote a third play. Phing Bien Ensemble! Following New Caledonia’s third referendum (together). The play features a couple named Marguerite, an independence supporter Kanak, and his supporter Kevin.

“This couple is a New Caledonian fable,” Brifa explains. “A black woman and a white man are married and deeply in love, but fight when it comes to politics.

“They can’t part, they love each other too much. I think that’s who we are.”

cultural patchwork

People who look at New Caledonia from the outside tend to see New Caledonia in black and white contrasts, but “it’s more than that… we’re very complicated,” Brifa says.

The 2019 Census revealed that 41 percent of the territoryof Residents identify as Kanak, 24% European, 8.3% from Wallis and Futuna in the French Pacific Islands, but the rest are Tahitians, Indonesians, Vietnamese and Ni-Vanuatu. , and the rest of the Asian community.

Members of the Ina tribe play a game of petanque in Hiragene on the east coast of New Caledonia on December 19, 2021.
Members of the Ina tribe play a game of petanque in Hiragene on the east coast of New Caledonia on December 19, 2021. © Theo Ruby/AFP

This country is not a melting pot, but cross-cultural interaction is part of everyday life. Brifa explains the custom of serving traditional Kanak food, known as ‘Kanak food’. Bunya, Bami Sugar pork from Indonesia, Vietnam, baguette from France.

“You said, so what? But it’s the little things in life that count,” she insists. “Creolization is in our hearts and we can’t imagine living apart from each other.”

Nevertheless, New Caledonian politicians, whether supporters or pro-independence, exaggerate the differences between different communities and “divide us for electoral gain.” says Brifa.

Hence the mockery. Her plays also highlight Caledonian contradictions. The Kardosians wish to remain part of France, but despise the mainlanders as “”.Soleil” mentioned the sunburned ears. And there are independence supporters who want to leave while clinging to huge French subsidies.

Comedy as Catharsis

The same gag draws viewers from New CaledoniaDifferent communities laugh, says Brifa.More than 17,000 New Caledonians, 10% of the population, have seen the three plays.

Her work has been performed not only in the capital, Nouméa, but also in woodlands and tribal communities, with the idea of ​​supporting the decolonization of the spirituality of both sides. Brifa calls it a form of group therapy.

People pay their respects at a memorial dedicated to the 19 Kanak independence activists killed in the 1988 hostage crisis in Wadrilla, on the island of Ouvéa, part of the French Overseas Territory of New Caledonia, April 24, 2018.
People pay their respects at a memorial dedicated to the 19 Kanak independence activists killed in the 1988 hostage crisis in Wadrilla, on the island of Ouvéa, part of the French Overseas Territory of New Caledonia, April 24, 2018. © Theo Ruby/AFP

“In New Caledonia, we are nervous about identity, but these three plays were a moment of catharsis for all Caledonians,” she says.

“Of course, it was the indigenous Kanak people who suffered the most from colonization. I suffer from neurosis.”

freedom of speech

Brifa’s desire to break taboos started early.

At the age of 12, she realized that the various communities she grew up in were not very mixed, so she started a school newspaper to get more information shared.

By the age of 16 she was a TV show host. She became famous in her 1997 year. dared to ask Loyalist Jacques Lafleur talks about political pressure on the media. Lafleur, who signed a peace deal with Kanak’s Jean-Marie Tjibau in 1988, was also a businessman.

When he dodged her question, she pushed back. “People were shocked and I became something of a symbol of free speech in New Caledonia,” she laughs.

This led her to form friendships with independence supporters. She then became the first white Caledonian journalist to work for Kanak radio station. radio gide.

“We can do things together in a dual culture. That is the richness of New Caledonia today,” says Brifa. “For me, the march of history is what is furthered by this combination of our two worlds, our two civilizations, because we are already mixed.”

Her next play will feature passages from Nyalayu, one of Kanak’s 28 languages, and she considers it her duty to “promote and protect.”

future of independence

Despite their close ties to the Kanak community, Brifa independently voted against each referendum.

“We are not ready for independence,” she argues, citing public services such as health care and education that are heavily subsidized by the mainland.

She does not rule out the possibility of New Caledonia becoming independent in the future, but suggests it. It will be necessary to transcend the politics of past dichotomy.

People arrive to vote in a referendum on New Caledonia's independence from France in Noumea on November 4, 2018.
People arrive to vote in a referendum on New Caledonia’s independence from France in Noumea on November 4, 2018. © Theo Ruby/AFP

“We are at a dead end intellectually, not politically,” says Brifa. “Our leaders have made no effort to think about decolonization now in 2023. What does that mean?”

“It doesn’t mean the same thing as in war.” In the 80s, things changed, the world changed, and now China is everywhere in the Pacific, and there are many interdependencies between nations. So we have to think differently. ”

Asked if France should apologize for its colonization of New Caledonia, it insisted on a “habit of reconciliation” that stems from the Melanesian civilization to which the islands belong. Australia apologizes to indigenous peoples in 2008.

It allows reconciliation, but not repentance, she says.

Brifa left New Caledonia two years ago and now lives in the south of France.

“I couldn’t breathe anymore. Unfortunately, we have a lot of people. But we work for New Caledonia, even though we are far from our country.”

she is currently adjusting Phing Bien Ensemble! For mainland audiences who have a lot to learn about faraway overseas territories.

https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20230625-theatre-makes-a-spectacle-of-breaking-taboos-in-new-caledonia Theater creates spectacle breaking taboos in New Caledonia

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