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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2

New Caledonia

New Caledonia

The woman as the life-source of the clan in the pre-colonial Kanak system

Life in traditional Kanak society rested on two fundamental bases: the women who produces the child, and the land which feeds the tribe. Thus there is an identification between the women and the land, as in many societies - they are both sources of life, and they both have a reproductive function. A sterile woman is an arid land - they were the same in the eyes of the Kanak people in pre-colonial times.

The woman's task, then, was to produce children for her husband, to bring up her sons to the age of adolescence, when ritual forced them to leave their paternal roof for the house reserved for young bachelors. As for her daughters, the woman had to look after them up to the day of their marriage. In addition to her reproductive function, and her role as educator, the woman maintained the plantation and did all the household duties.

As for all Kanak people in the traditional society, the life of the Kanak woman did not belong to herself, but belonged to the community, whether the society was seen in terms of the family, the tribe, or the whole group. Her education, her actions, her work, were carried out as a function of the group of which she was a member. In fact, she didn't exist as an individual but always as an inseparable part of the whole which makes up the tribal community.

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As a source of life of the tribes in the society, she submitted to the prohibitions which regulated and stabilised that society. Some examples of these prohibitions on Kanak women:
  • she had to bow in front of men, give them right of way, humble herself before them;

  • she could neither approach the chief nor speak to him, nor allow herself to be seen by him. She had to adopt the same attitude in regard to her brother and her maternal uncle;

  • she could not participate in the meetings of the Council of Elders which revolved around the chief and which made all the important decisions for the tribe.

The education of the Kanak woman in traditional society was solely designed to make her a mother, a woman capable of producing children, above all else. By her marriage, always outside her paternal clan, she guaranteed alliances between groups and perpetuated the life of these groups.