Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
New Caledonia — Liberty, Justice, Equality for whom? For a coloured Neo-Colonial elite or for our people of the Pacific and for all oppressed Peoples of the world?
Liberty, Justice, Equality for whom? For a coloured Neo-Colonial elite or for our people of the Pacific and for all oppressed Peoples of the world?
Before beginning my paper, I would like to thank, on behalf of the Groupe 1878, the organizers of this Regional Conference of the Women of the Pacific who provided the tickets for my comrade Lucette Neaoutyine and me, and who have taken very good care of us.
First, I would like to make some comments on the economic system and the political role of the chief and the woman in the Kanak traditional society. I will then discuss the condition of exploitation in which the Kanak woman lives under the colonial and capitalist white Caledonian society. I will end by spelling out some ideas on what I consider to be the role of the Kanak woman in the struggle for national liberation and by posing some questions on the kind of struggle that we as women want to get involved in here.
Before talking about the present condition of exploitation of the Kanak woman, of her condition of slavery - since after all we colonialized people only serve as cheap manpower for the white capitalist - let us quickly point out the ways in which the economic system of the traditional Kanak society had nothing to do with the exploitation of man by man or with the exploitation of woman by man. Lucette told you yesterday that the two essential bases of the Kanak traditional society were the woman, who perpetuated the life of the group, and the land, which feeds the group. The traditional Kanak society rests on fishing and agriculture, but especially on agriculture, i.e., on the tilling of the land and the products of the land, in short, the LAND. This economic system is established on the exchange of goods between groups. If a certain clan offers taros or fish to another clan, the latter should offer ignames, for example, in return.
As for the woman, source of life of the clan, she assured the political alliance of the clans by her marriage. When a clan marries a woman into another clan, the latter must page 106 find another woman who can then marry into the first clan. Since, by the marriage, a source of life is removed from a clan, another woman must be sent in order that she can perpetuate the life of the deprived clan. There must always be an exchange of wealth. If a man takes a woman from a tribe and does not return her or find a woman to replace her in the tribe from which she was taken, it is tribal war. In this regard, in 1878, when in the month of June, the venerable Atai, the great Kanak chief, leader of the greatest insurrection against the French in New Caledonia, decided to launch the armed struggle against the whites, it was just after the removal of a woman from her tribe by a settler. Formerly Atai had attempted several times to make the settlers understand that he would not permit the expropriation of the land. For example, when the authorities came to tell him to construct fences around his fields so that the settlers' animals would not trample them, he answered: “When my taros go to eat your cattle, I will construct fences, not before.” And another day, before the governor, Atai poured out to one side a sack of earth, saying: “This you take from us,” and on the other side poured a sack of stones, adding: “This you leave us.” The insurrection of 1878 was a struggle for the LAND unleashed at the moment when a woman, source of life of the Kanak community, had been taken away. Atai understood that, in whatever manner, the whites had come to HIS HOMELAND to take from his people their RIGHT TO LIFE.
With that said, if the work of a Kanak woman consisted of raising her children, the upkeep of the property in and around the house, cooking, weeding the gardens, weaving mats, clothes and baskets, that of men in traditional Kanak society was to deal with the hardest tasks, such as clearing and ploughing the terrain for the fields and building the huts. Because the Kanak woman had to be self-effacing before men or didn't have a voice in the Council of the Elders, one must not conclude too quickly that there was in that the exploitation of women by men. I am saying only that under an economic system of bartering, there is not an accumulation of profits by an individual or by a rich minority, as is the case in the capitalist white society.
If today, at the tribal level, the Kanak woman is hemmed page 107 in with work: housework, weaving, education of the children, construction of the huts, work in the fields, it is because the Kanak man spends his time drinking, fighting, and fleeing his responsibilities. But who introduced alcoholism into New Caledonia, who profits from it? Why is the Kanak man reduced to renouncing his human dignity? Who is responsible for the decline of the Kanak people and the degeneration of its society?
In the city, that is, Noumea the capital, there are some Kanak women who are involved in prostitution, frequenting bars, dancing-spots and night-clubs. The great majority of those who work are housekeepers, in other words, good at doing every thing and underpaid - in brief, real slaves of their white bosses. Those few women who have gone to high school are nurses, teachers and office workers. With that, they consider themselves happy because certain whites call them “Madame” or “Mademoiselle”. Accustomed to being treated as “dirty nigress” for more than a century, they think that today, hearing the titles “Madame” and “Mademoiselle”, they have equality with whites.
As for Kanak women who are doctors, lawyers, professors or elected to the municipal council or the Territorial Assembly, there are none. Presently in France, there are only two Kanak women who are taking advanced studies. I am the only woman to have a university diploma, professor of literature; I am not at all a representative. And, like the other Kanak who have university diplomas, I serve as an alibi for the colonialist who claims: “But there is equality between the whites and the Kanaks; the proof, she has completed university studies”.
With respect to the men, there is presently in New Caledonia for those who have university degrees: two pastors, one teacher, one sociologist, one administrator. The sociologist and the teacher in question are Nidoish Naisseline, and Elie Poagoune, who are participating actively in the anti-colonialist struggle in New Caledonia. Of course, Naisseline, Poagoune and I have been thrown in jail because we have chosen once and for all to be Kanaks rather than being the nice lit- page 108 tle valets of the colonial administration. Today, when part of the youth and the elected Kanaks demand INDEPENDENCE, we are told: “But you don't have any cadres.” But whose fault is it if we don't have cadres after 122 years of French presence in New Caledonia? And first, cadres formed under what economic system, the capitalist school? And then, this question of cadres, of elites, intellectuals, why are we asked this each time? Does the struggle for the liberation of a people concern only the elite or does it concern ALL the people? Furthermore, where has one seen a real struggle for national liberation or a revolution reach its goal without the masses?
Now, with regard to all the subjects that have been on the programme of this Conference, I would like put forth several comments using what is happening in New Caledonia as a frame of reference.
The family, culture, religion, the law, the educational system of traditional Kanak society have been destroyed by the introduction of bourgeoise Christian western values. For the family, the whites tell us that it is not the clan or the tribal group which counts; it's the individual. For culture and religion, it's simple: first, it is claimed that in 1853 we didn't have a civilization or a culture, we were “savages”; thus, our land had to be taken to give them to the civilized whites, settlers, military, missionaries and administrators. Today, in 1975: for a Festival of Melanesian Art, called “Melanesia 2000”, the colonial administration gave 25 million CFP. For the colonialists, following the so-called “liberal” politics of Giscard d'Estaing, are discovering all of a sudden that we have a culture. But when we say to them: “Without land, there isn't any Kanak culture; we want first our land”, they put us in prison.
Everything in New Caledonia: the law, religion, culture, the media, education, the family, is in the hands of the colonial power, between the claws and the bloody jaws of the capitalist system for which we are only manpower that they exploit at will.page 109
It follows that the struggle of the Kanak woman must be inseparable from the struggle for national liberation of the people. It is as a people that the Kanaks are oppressed: it is not as women alone or as men alone, or as individuals. We must act as a people: KANAK INDEPENDENCE concerns ALL the Kanak people, the men, the women, the old, the young and the children.
Our cultural identity or our identity as women, our human dignity, we will NEVER have under the capitalist system. I have no illusions on this point: I know what this system has done to my people and to all people that they colonialise. We are not going to struggle only for political independence vis-a-vis French capitalism. A Kanak independence with the retention of the capitalist system, the interests of the big mining companies, doesn't interest us. We do not want a NEO-COLONIAL independence, which would make us the local valets, nigger kings or Uncle Toms, on sale for the western capitalists whether they be Australian, New Zealander, French, English or American. We don't see how, with the TOTAL independence that we want, we would be able to establish for example commercial exchanges with the Australian and New Zealand capitalists who exploit the Aboriginal and Maori people.
Presently, all the countries of the Pacific are economically subservient to the CAPITALIST system. If, as women of the Pacific, we want our people to be REALLY FREE, we must also think of putting an end to western capitalism implanted in the Pacific. For me, the struggle against colonialism and the struggle against capitalism is one and the same. No longer am I in any way inclined to believe that the family, culture, religion, education, the law, the media, must be separated from POLITICS. I think that it is absolutely necessary that one gets it in his head once and for all that it is the economical system of a country which determines its politics, that is to say, its culture, its existance, its justice, its liberty, its law, etc.
If we want to struggle, we the women of the Pacific, for equality, justice, liberty, are we going to struggle to put these back in the hands of a coloured neo-colonial elite which accepts the capitalist system? Or do we want these REALLY for all oppressed peoples of the world?
I thank you for listening.