Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
After more than a century of French colonisation in New Caledonia, one can no longer talk about a woman's education which is really Kanak or traditional.
On the one hand, as far as the woman who is brought up on the reserve or in tribal surroundings is concerned, one continues to instill in her the respect of the group to which she belongs, her duties towards her community, and a submissive attitude in front of men. For example, she is still advised not to speak to certain assemblies of men, such as the Council of Elders, not to talk to her brothers nor her maternal uncle, and to find a husband in order to have children. She is taught to weave mats and baskets, taught how to work in the fields, how to look after the plantations and the areas around the house, the flower-gardens and the weedings, for example. She is shown how to prepare the “bougna” which is the traditional Kanak food cooked in an oven made of hot stones buried in the earth. She is brought along to gather coffee beans, and to cut straw for the roofs of their own houses. And she learns how to recognise edible shells on the reefs for the tribes along the shore.
However, given that traditional Kanak values are denied by the colonial system, a woman's ‘tribal’ education is an page 41 education designed to make her into a perfect imitation of the white woman. In the bourgeois, capitalist, colonial society, the Kanak child collides with Western values in the primary school, whether it be in the rural areas or in the town: all teaching in New Caledonia, from primary to secondary school, is done in French, with programmes designed for Parisien children. In addition, when teachers tell young Kanak girls to “work hard at school and get your diplomas so that you can get good jobs”, it is purely and simply encouraging them to become good little “civilised” blacks.
In the same way, when Kanak mothers say to their daughters: “Find yourself a husband who has a good position”, they are simply pushing them into the arms of lower-level Kanak civil servants - primary school teachers, nurses, country police or policemen - who have an enviable position for Kanak people in the white colonial society. For the Kanak woman to be looked upon favourably by the white people, she must not only speak good French, be well-dressed, and be well made up, but also be a good housekeeper, a good cook, and must know how to sew, iron and mend clothes. She must also be a good mother, a good wife, a good Christian and an excellent hostess.
In this New Caledonian colonial society where racism is institutionalised, where the superiority of the white over the coloured peoples is set up as a principle, the education system is established in such a way that the person being educated - here, the Kanak woman - cannot refer to herself in order to make judgements, since there are no criteria other than Western criteria to be used. This system of education designed to integrate and assimilate can only force the Kanak woman to renounce her original society and make herself more white than the white woman, and to flee the reserve for the town.
Being a well-educated Kanak woman today in the colony of New Caledonia means that you know the rules of how to live in the white-man's way, that you have had solid learning in white schools, and that you have your diplomas. In school, one is successful or not according to how well one knows the history of France, the geography of France, etc.page 42
The more we forget, the more we deny our identity as Kanak women, the better one is “educated”; that is how it really is in New Caledonia. This is why when it is heard said to a little Kanak girl: “Work well at school so that you can get your certificates and a good job”, it must be interpreted as: “Try to become a good little civilised black bourgeois who won't have anything more to do with her primitive people”. It must be interpreted that way and not otherwise.
But in any case such an integrationist education contains its own contradictions as is demonstrated by this expression frequently heard in New Caledonia: “They have their diplomas, but they are Kanaks”. Indeed, however much one is educated, has diplomas, or tries to be more westernised than the white woman, the colonial system is there showing us every day that the white leaders are not prepared to consider us as their equals, still less as human-beings.
In fact, this Western education is only intended to make us into little puppets, or rather cheap exotic merchandise in the hands of the white master. The intention is to make us into alienated people, so that as mothers we can educate our children in ways still more Westernised, which will thus perpetuate the bondage of our people by the white colonial system.
Now we are going to briefly list some of the Kanak woman's complexes which are the result of this integrated education:
Racial complex: the Kanak woman who believes in the superiority of the white in everything, is ashamed to speak her vernacular language, to meet her Kanak parents in town, to be seen with Kanaks and coloured people in general.
Social complex: denying her original society, that is say the tribal, village world, she prefers to be exploited by a white boss or become a prostitute in town than to return to her original community. Of course, those who live in Noumea, the capital, consider themselves “civilised”, and scorn those living in the village.page 43
Class complex: women who have their secondary school certificates, or who are teachers, nurses, or employed in offices, believe themselves to be superior to the housegirl in town. Naturally there is no question of her joining in with work in the fields, or quite simply of her dirtying her hands working the land.
If she wants a husband, he should at least be a minor civil servant.
If she is married, the mother of a model family, and a practising Christian, she can only regard unmarried mothers, for example, as whores.
In our group - Groupe 1878, which is a mixed group - we are only a minority of women who are trying to start posing the problems of the Kanak woman as being indissociable from that of all our people subject to the colonial domination of France.