New Caledonia finally buries Atai’s remains

Reconcile the memories of this violent land. This is one of the challenges of maintaining peace in New Caledonia, the gradual decolonization of which will be marked on December 12 by a third referendum on self-determination. A few months away from this crucial deadline, is preparing for the 1is September an unprecedented ceremony around the first Kanak revolutionary: the warlord Ataï. “This is the first time that we are going to celebrate a divisive figure together”, confides Nicolas Metzdorf, town hall of La Foa, stronghold caldoche. “We must allow all the ethnic communities of this country to unite around this Kanak national emblem”, answers Cyprien Kawa, descendant of the historical insurgent.

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Kanak icon, Ataï took the lead in 1878 of an uprising which for several months set fire to the colony where France exiled its prisoners and tried to settle the pioneers. On all sides, the colonial administration is cutting the land, pushing the natives to the bottom of infertile valleys. When it monopolizes the Fonwhary region on the west coast, it comes up against the resistance of a mosaic of clans established around mounds symbolizing the carnal and spiritual link with the natural space. The wandering of the cattle of the colonists, which tramples and devours the crops, and the theft of women complete the exasperation of the spirits. On June 25, 1878, at dawn, Ataï, a native of the Daweri clan, and warriors armed with spears, arrows and puzzles, stormed the La Foa brigade, massacred five gendarmes and seized all the weapons and ammunition of the post. Then they invest farms and assassinate all their occupants, men, women, children.

United by matrimonial bonds, the tribes of the west coast rise one after the other, causing a merciless raid on the colonial army. To overcome mobile insurgents with perfect control of the terrain, the military called on Kanak auxiliaries from the Canala region. 1is September 1878, when Ataï is surrounded, one of them shoots an arrow in the arm of the warrior and finishes him off with an ax. Immediately his head is cut off and then sent, in a jar of carbolic alcohol, to the Anthropology Society of Paris. The revolt left 1,000 dead in the ranks of the Kanak rebels while all the surviving clans were displaced all over the archipelago.

“We found a balance”

One hundred and thirty-six years later, on August 28, 2014, the state returned to their descendants the skulls of Atai and his Dao (” Wizard “). Long claimed, they were said to be lost, before they were “found” on the shelves of the Natural History Museum in Paris. Since then kept in Petit-Couli by the tribe of the Kawa clan, the coffins housing the skulls will join, on 1is September, a mausoleum on the occasion of a ceremony, which, as indicated by its granite plaque, salutes “The memory of Chief Ataï and the victims of the 1878 uprising” : insurgents, soldiers, gendarmes, Kanak auxiliaries and settlers.

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