Gallimard, Editions Verdier, 1998
My daughter Julia recommended this short book, after reading it for a class.
In 1931, natives of the French territory New Caledonia were brought to Paris and put on exhibition at the Colonial Exhibition. The book is inspired by the true story surrounding that event, and also references the New Caledonian independence movement of the 1980s.
Main character Gocéné and other New Caledonians are recruited by the French to go to Paris in order to "visit the city and share their culture." Instead, as part of the Exhibition, they are put on display and forced to utter "savage" sounds rather than words, and the women made to go topless against their custom. More, when the crocodiles from the main attraction exhibit suddenly die right before the big opening day, the French agree to a disgusting deal: a circus in Germany supplies replacement crocodiles in exchange for…some of the New Caledonians. Gocéné's fiancé Minoé is among them, and he defends her with the help of Badimoin, a former World War I soldier from Senegal who besides being useful to Gocéné, serves the reader as a reminder of other French colonial injustices:
“Presque tous les jeunes de mon village sont morts à Vérdun. A cause des gaz…Les soldats blancs ne voulaient plus monter à l’assaut, et c’est à nous, les tirailleurs des troupes coloniales, que le général a demandé de sauver la France… sans masques, poussés par la police militaire et les gendarmes qui étaient protégés, eux, et qui abattaient les frères qui essayaient de fuir le nuage de mort…” p 81
Almost all the young people of my village died at Verdun. Because of the gas…The white soldiers didn’t want to go to the assault, so we, the shooters from the colonial troups, were the ones the general asked to save France… pushed by the military police and gendarmes who, contrary to us, had masks, and killed those our brothers who tried to escape the cloud of death…”
New Caledonian History:
Le 4 novembre 2018, la population de la Nouvelle-Calédonie s’est prononcée par référendum contre l’indépendance et la pleine souveraineté du territoire. 56,4% des électeurs ont voté non à l’indépendance, 43,6% ont voté oui.
La tenue de ce référendum est l’aboutissement d’un long processus entamé par les accords de Matignon de 1988.
On 4 November 2018, the population of New Caledonia voted, by referendum, against independence and full sovereignty. 56,4% voted no to independence, 43,6% voted yes.
The referendum followed a long process begun by the Matignon agreements of 1988.
For more information: