Louise Michel wrote some of the stories she learnt from the Kanaks in her book Kanak Legends and Chants des Gestes.

The following is an English translation by Mitch Abidor for Marxists.org and is shared under a Creative Commons ((Attribute & ShareAlike) license.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 1

Kanak Legends and Chants des Gestes

Ducos Peninsula (New Caledonia)
June 1875

To my European friends:

You have the Eddas, the Sagas, the Romancero, the Niebelungen; here we have black bards singing the epic of the stone-age.

As was said, as will perhaps always be said, and as our black bards also say when speaking of defeat or death: the songs have ceased.

Your philosophers discuss the possibility of a universal language chosen from among the dead languages; our stone age villages are making and living that language, taking words from the English, the French, the Spanish, the Chinese, the sea-cucumber fishermen, and giving them their own meaning.

When this bizarre dialect, which is called bichelamar – (doe of the sea) taking its name from the holothuria, an object of coastal commerce – will have its storytellers and poets it will become a language like the others. English is dominant in it.

For this all that is needed is the caprice of one of the bards we have been talking about. If Daoumi, a Kanak of genius to whom I owe some of these legends, hadn’t died, he would perhaps have done this in order to give those tribes that each have their own dialect a means of understanding each other. Others will perhaps do this. No ideas are ever lost.

In the meanwhile, bichelamar is limited to an incomplete (but useful) vocabulary. It often has rich constructions: the Diahot of the heavens, the river of the heavens, the Milky Way.

Here is how that universal language from our little tongue of land was born.

The Kanaks had noted that yellow men, with slanted eyes coming from junks, that white men, olive skinned with deep voices coming from ships, worked in concert on many things that didn’t please the tayos (friends). They seized upon the words most often repeated (from no matter what language) of the sea-cucumber fishermen, and since the former helped the latter everyone gave a word to the new idiom (whose paternity the Europeans, of course, claimed).

You have your maps, on which you see New Caledonia projected on an oblique from the Northwest to the Southeast, with a length of about 400 kilometers and a width of a little less than sixteen.

About 400 leagues to the west is Australia; to the east are the Fiji Islands and the Loyalties; to the north the New Hebrides and the Belep Islands.

A double rampart of reefs surrounds us, opening out to the north.

Across the coral reefs and the sandbanks are breaches, two of which are large enough to permit the entry of ships.

For a long time these breaches must have been closed, and whether the debris of a tribe on a piece of land, or fugitives who had traveled from island to island, the inhabitants could believe themselves the first and even the only people on earth.

Under the light of the moon the volcanic menhirs of the western forest stand upright, and the niaoulis with their white trunks twist their arms beneath the cyclones.

Squatting on the sand by the seaside the Kanaks who bring us our victuals cook in a hole (with rosewood) the thin roots of the magnana.

The work of the squid fishers silently continues, and the days spill into other days.

And we, taken hold of by the great silence, by the waters, by the desert, we can barely think of turning over the hourglass at the time of the new magnana.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 3

Escaped from Sight

Around the rosewood fire I learned a few words spread about among the tribes, for example, the phrases by which the tayos salute each other and say farewell.

Anda, ien pe, – Anda diemuna pe (Say, where are you gong?)
Ho la hem! Farewell
Ho ho ho! good bye (like good luck)
Piala – come here, come
Dalaen – How white it is (meaning that’s its beautiful)! Perhaps an allusion to the sudden whiteness of the morning without the light of dawn.
Pe tarou, hurry
Ta? What? sa? Here
Maté – ill
Maté, maté dead
Pe ine, bring me (from the Isle of Pines)
Chamando, many
Mombarou, can no longer be counted
Lélé, beautiful
Théo, thunder generally spread about
Théama, chief
Takata, witch doctor
Néto, thunder (imitative harmony in which we find our very syllables)

A few phrases of one word containing a certain air of the Iliad – boima, I beg of you.

Around the rosewood and sandalwood fire I also learned that on the side that looks out on Kouné (the Isle of Pines), in the Taourou tribe there are three piquinini seas (child seas), a bichelamar expression meaning little seas: they are lakes. They are part of the same current, and like a thread that attaches the grains of a necklace they pass from one to the other in the plains of Yaté at the foot of the mountains.

I know that in following the banks as far as beyond the peak of the dead there are beautiful mountains and pikininis diahot (small rivers), and that under the broad daylight the crevices twinkle in the mountains, sparkling like golden sequins. It was beautiful ammo (yesterday) on the riverside. But némod (today) for the tayos, Ah! Ouach!

On the other side, where Bourail is, there were great tribes! Nemod pas lélé (not good). What can we do about it?

Dalaen nahou, méa neehende, how white it is morning! Red, evening!

The Kanaks who work on the peninsula, coming from various points of Caledonia, each mix their idiom with bichelamar. The cat is sometimes the “pussy” of the English, or couli of the tribes, or “chat.”

Look is louk or kalo.

Some of the words in use appear to be of foreign origin. Piquinini (child), which resembles the Italian, is used as piconino among the black of the Antilles.

Nemo, nothing (woman): Does it not have a Latin origin, and doesn’t it express the general sentiment?

Popinée (equally woman and useful object) can be found in Italy and means doll (popina), the contrary of useful.

Is it not strange that the Egyptian Thoth, the Gallic Teutatès, the Greek Theos, the Samoyed Tabbé (magician), Takaya, the Kanak witch doctor, Théo, the Kanak thunder, Théama, supreme chief of the tribes, all have the same origin? Perhaps we have found an old people instead of a new one?

Another remarkable thing is the great number of Arab words (not meaning the same things but having the same sound) that can be found in the idioms of the tribes:

Anda (hey!) in Kanak
Anda (she will have) in Arabic.

The notes of the scale are scattered in all our melodies, but when one has heard the Arab Cherchel (who guards the goats of the peninsula) and the Kanak of Changouene (who comes to cut down the brush for the military camp), one counting his flock and the other his bails of grass with the same guttural accent, we are struck by the similarity (not of the syllables, this time) but of sound and rhythm.

What is more, one can find in Arab music and Kanak chants the quartertones that the cyclones gave to the Caledonians, the simoun to the Arabs.

A quartertone that tears our throats when we attempt to produce it along with the Tayos, and which we quickly lose the habit of, our ear not being accustomed to it.

Yesterday, as they arrived bent over from the weight of their provisions and left lightened, one of them plucked a large wild clover from the brush and, looking at it dreamily, he walked on, softly singing the words of farewell of the tribes.

Hola hem ho ho ho! He repeated the same syllables, counting off the quartertones like raindrops on leaves.

The others were silent; all lowered their heads and advanced mournfully through the deserted brush; the great niaoulis, their sacred tree, raising over them their white arms twisted by the winds.

They walked slowly, the poor blacks. Does New Caledonia also have its shamrock?

Sometimes, along the shore, one hears one of them whistling a tune alongside the sea, the others accompanying him. Their breath, so weak when they attempt the songs of Europe for the first time, is powerfully deployed here. This desert melody is beautiful.

The Caledonian mountains have different appearances. Those of Nou Island are red and arid buttes, like small mountains. On the opposite side are tormented summits, torn, twisted, some rising up as peaks, others sinking into craters.

The lines of the peaks are in torment; the crests have taken on the shapes of dreams.

Before Nouméa the small mountains in the harbor guard it like sphinxes. Around the city are blue-topped buttes. Further away, the golden mountain crevassed with red earth, with its jumble of chasms, is magnificent.

And everywhere summits behind summits lost in the clouds.

On the side of the golden mountain is a mountain whose summit has opened up as if to form a “V.” The two parts approach each other, and will meet. The ravine on the left, with its overhanging rock, has its continuation to the right. Where the violently torn away rock has left a gaping hole all that is needed is to join the two heights and to put the rock back onto its cavity. It hangs over the void, being nothing but the extreme point of an enormous rock.

The mines, the precious wood – which neither grasshoppers nor cyclones can do anything against – and perhaps the oil of silkworms and the essence of trees and other things which can be essayed on this land where legends live could all be their source of wealth..

On the western point of the Ducos peninsula, on small hills still covered with marine shells and plants more like fucus than grass, is the western forest, plunging to the sea on three sides. Near Tendu is a lava road between the mangroves, and a small hill covered with tiny trees. By the Isle of Nouare are volcanic rocks, standing like the menhirs of Carnac. At low tide one can make a circuit of the forest among these strange rocks.

A few rare spots have preserved their tangle of virgin forest, for in the western forest a large number of trees were removed to build two cities of wood and crude brick at Tendu and Numbo, like those of our fathers. The wood which we use daily also comes from there.

The forest is thus undermined almost everywhere. Nevertheless, at the farthest point, around a rocky cape imitating a fort, the wild vegetation has taken refuge in the savage silence.

Small hairy black bees, who do not make use of their stingers, or whose stingers are too short (like our sea serpent’s fangs) fly upon the pale pink flowers (hairy, too) of the small wild plum tree, in the shadow of lianas that encircle the trees and reach the ground. There fruit bats take shelter during the day, enveloped in their wings as if in a Spanish cloak, and who would resemble enormous pears if their lovely fox-like heads, with sparkling eyes like black diamonds, didn’t move from time to time.

Just as your woods are red with strawberries in the spring, the shaded places are full of little tomatoes as big as cherries that stand out against the greenish black of the crenellated leaves.

In those places where the cut down trees have left naked rocks that have the most fantastic forms – some laying flat, like granite monsters, others like ruined fortresses – one could take it for a destroyed city. On all of this grows the red heather (mossy like your roses) and charming. On all of this are entwined lianas, the richness of the Caledonian flora.

The arid soil disappears beneath the arabesques of leaves and flowers, infinitely various in form, but almost never in color. They are generally white, and some are yellow.

All the flowers you know have their like among the lianas. You’ll find there the flower of the apple tree with the ivy leaf.

A great number have the flower of jasmine, some the leaf. There are imitations of honeysuckle and a wild hop plants extends its branches an enormous distance, mixed in with those of a clematite with its golden flowers. A liana with leaves of vine has as flowers only little stars of a green-tinged white, but its seed is enclosed in a bay, at first of a sparkling green specked with white, and then of bright red. It is covered with thousands of earrings falling on the leaves, standing out like those of the vine (this is the coral liana).

The vine leaf dominates. It belongs to a kind of liana with yellow fruit, elongated, containing guilloched grains, enveloped in a bit of vermilion flesh.

A liana whose cloverleaf, a little thick, breaks like glass has as a flower, suspended by a green thread, a kind of basket that resembles the living flower of the coral.

Another is covered with white fuchsias gathered in bouquets so tight that they seem like snow on the branches.

The golden apple liana, whose fruit has the taste of medlar, has the flower of the orange tree with leaves shot through with a green almost black. Its seed the size of a hemp seed is black and covered with small bouquets of crude lashes.

The silver liana, with its great satin leaves of a silvery white, with its yellow mallow flower.

A wild taro, with its leaves like arrowheads, twists itself among the thousands of lianas. The hop plant, floating on the trees across space crosses great distances. A clematis with yellow flowers and a liana with hemlock leaves, hook onto each other.

Across the ground crawl the magnana with veins as solid as rope, and a mass of vegetation resembling large fucus. Several have enormous violet bunches that resemble sea grapes. If the sea were to take over the forest these plants could live there quite well. Are they waiting for the waters, or have they come from them?

A few large trees have remained in the center; the banyan tree has entwined itself around the block of rock in which it has taken root.

The tree is old, the stone is breaking up, the insects, the wind, time have amassed a kind of humus beneath these arcades. Tribes of red ants dominate the openings of the rocks, but everything can be found there, spiders, millipedes, worms that are only there in order to be eaten.

In the area some ironwood, rosewood, an old red dracaena that will one day bleed its sap under the axe. Thickets of all kinds of yellow flowered acacias, a few varieties of Persian lilacs, an olive tree with lacquered fruits, a multitude of shrubs with lacquered leaves, like gummed silk. Almost everywhere, in the forest as in the brush, a shrub with flowers and potato leaves with little tubercles at their root that seem to be a tree-like belladonna. Nightshade and tomatoes are everywhere. On the slopes, masses of roses with flowers as small as that of the hydrangea are gathered together in bouquets. These flowers are as stiff as paper. A shrub is covered in white carnations as large as forget-me-nots. Dwarf oaks come or go, but the earth belongs to the castor oil plant, the lianas, the heather, the ferns, the lacquered trees and above all to a shrub of a whitish and hollow wood, its branches decorated with crude puffs, whose heliotrope flower is charming, and whose bays in the form of berries have the taste of perfumed cassis.

Towards the middle of the western forest a great tree with smooth bark, with cherry tree leaves, thick and almost black, with light branches, spreads them horizontally across a great space.

At whatever hour of the day there is always a fresh and cool shade there, even though this spot has been denuded of every other tree.

I never saw an insect there, though each tree has one of its own, or should I say several of its own. Perhaps the sap of the trees where no insect goes can be inoculated against insects.

A few mahogany trees with red or yellow fruits shelter enormous brambles whose berry is covered with a white efflorescence like that of sugar.

I don’t know why I prefer to your European fruits our mahogany apples, which smell a bit sour, our figs that smell like ash, the wild plums whose flesh is but a film, and our white berries that smell of nothing, great brambles of the forest.

Perhaps in the city of Numbo the banana trees planted by the deportees will grow despite the dryness of the soil; it is certain that the date trees of Africa will be happy there. This year all our papaya trees had jaundice; four of these trees, vaccinated with sap suffered from that illness and survived. They are doing well.

The mainland is more fertile; the banana trees, the coconut palms, of which we have a few at the sea side, can be found there in great number.

There are many varieties of mangrove that are lovely to behold. Some are loaded down with red almonds, others with packets of leaves rolled up like cigars.

Upon them, between the roots shaped like arches, great crabs take shelter, as do sea serpents with blue and white or black and white stripes, whose fangs are too short to bite.

A big silk spider blocks all roads with conviction, and it is a fact that his cable is very strong for a spider, and of the most beautiful silk in the world; it sparkles like silver.

Here is another spider only as big as a pea, looking like a ruby, transparent as a drop of water.

Yet another one sews a silky cocoon as thick as a nut onto the tree; one would think they were enormous pearls. From within will come its little ones. Some bear that ball with them.

A strange story is told about the brown spider: the little spiders that can be seen in its web are his slaves, it is said; it is they who repair the damaged threads. There are sometimes four or five little spiders in the web of the big brown one.

What would she do with them if she didn’t make them work? Unless she were to eat them, as our forefathers did with captives buried in their caves, and as in time of famine or anger those tribes do that we surprise in their stone age, or the shipwrecked.

We have seen the little spiders at work, the big one being immobile. But we have never been able to surprise what happens at the moment of capture, and we don’t know if they work for their keep in the web of the big one.

And over there are small scorpions, inoffensive for humans, as are all the animals of New Caledonia.

An aspic like those of Africa, but contenting itself with being ugly, and also with attracting insects with an abominable patience. The unfortunate bug must finally arrive; she can fly in circles, delay things, fight, she will still go towards the aspic, which doesn’t move and waits for it to the bitter end.

The blue fly, the size of a big wasp, does the same with cockroaches. They are its servant animals, and it comes looking for them in our huts, pokes out their eyes and, walking backwards, drags them into its hole, where it sucks them.

A charming insect is the leaf fly. One could take them for the extremity of a young branch in spring. They are, I think, the phyllite of burning climates.

Only once did I see, and chase without reaching, an insect as much like a flower as the phyllite is to a leaf, a hundred times more so than the butterfly.

But I wasn’t able to because of the thickets into which it disappeared.

The niaouli has a worm exactly the color of its branches. It must be this worm that becomes the dragonfly of the same tree, with the exact color of the leaves.

The grass itself has its caterpillar that wears its livery, two green lines running the length of the insect.

None of the caterpillars we preserved, and whose metamorphosis we awaited, has yet produced the blue butterfly, the most beautiful of Caledonian butterflies.

We weren’t able to see the white butterfly during the first two years of our stay on the Ducos peninsula, and now they are in great number.

The family of stink bugs is the most varied; they sparkle like precious stones. Everywhere emeralds, rubies, agates are attached to branches; these are bugs. Their name doesn’t do their beauty justice.

Some are guilloched, others covered with a golden sand on their emerald coats. There are some that are crossed with silver bands in the form of an “X.” Not lélé, say the tayos who don’t eat bugs, but who feast on the big white spiders as we do on hazelnuts. It is with pleasure that they also eat grasshoppers, which surely have the taste of shrimp.

Caterpillars, stink bugs, butterflies are non-comestible insects, and for tribes that have often suffered famines these are nothing but contemptible insects.

In a savage state a kind of worm quite rare on the castor oil plant might well be that silkworm that in the Indies produces as much as that of the mulberry tree; it is a silk less fine but very useful.

Can’t the silk, as much that of insects as that of lacquered plants, and the cotton of various kinds, be put to use?

A quite common liana produces cotton so long and soft that it could almost be called a silk. Cultivation will perfect it even more.

This liana is found in the western forest, and doubtless throughout the island.

After the cotton of the liana one can no longer name herbaceous the crude cotton of the brush.

But its flower, like an immortelle, is dear to us.

When one of us is taken to the cemetery, down there by the sea, it is bouquets of this wild immortelle that are thrown on the tomb.

Several trees of the palm family pass their hairy heads under the branches. One is weighed down by a crown of scaly apples of a bright color, almost transparent and with a bitter smell.

Wild sorghum with enormous lacquered seeds move into the shade of the thickets. Cultivated its seed would be bigger still.

There are two kinds of purslan, one terrestrial, with a peppery taste, the other marine, looking like tufts of spinach, whose oily leaves merit being cited in dry countries. They are eaten in salads.

At the summit of the western forest, on the signal masts, there fly swallows in their thousands. Now they descend, flying just above the waters, now they rest or turn about the mast. And sometimes, from the brush or the rocks, an eaglet soars up, following them through the air.

On the sill of our huts, perched in the lianas or on a stick from an abrupt construction, the bird with glasses, curious as a child or a Kanak, comes to look at us, his lively black eyes circled by frames.

It’s a native.

A juvenility as acrid as the sea emanates from all this. And the war chants of Armorica, their wings drenched by the waters, sing the phases of the human epic around the volcanic menhirs.

Access to the northern forest is more difficult than that of the western forest. An authorization is needed, so one rarely goes there.

The silence there seems even more profound. The thickets have also been destroyed, but enormous trees remain there.

Sometimes one can suddenly hear a sound like that of a cannonball falling in the branches, or of an enormous billhook; it’s an old niaouli collapsing.

There is nothing left but a pile of dust and debris in which frantic insects move about.

Some strange ones can be seen there, ones almost like sketches. Others, though insects, seem to be more elevated beings. And then the wind passes, which sweeps away the dust.

The lowing of an ox waiting for the stockmen to push him to the slaughterhouse, the cry of a bird; this is all that can be heard.

It feels good to dream there about the things that surround us; about the takata cutting the adouèque by moonlight; the sacred branch (which is the branch of our fathers); about the dream of the past and the dream of the future.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 2

The Cyclone

Everything here uproots being from itself. The profound silence, the solitude where thought strikes the tormented summits of the mountains with its wings. All of this takes you far, very far from your existence.

Nothing is as beautiful as the sea, except, perhaps, the cyclone.

The heavens and the earth are united in the same night, crossed by lightning bolts, full of the sounds of the wind and the rivers.

Is it possible that the breaking up and the emerging of islands take place in these storms? Perhaps we come from them?

Who knows?

We saw two cyclones: that in the night was the bigger; the other, one that occurred during the day, was more terrible, but less dramatic.

Both were preceded the day before, at sunrise and sunset, by red clouds mixed with enormous black clouds. They floated together, sometimes the red casting a dawn light on the black, sometimes the black casting crepe over the red.

Then they broke up, blurred, mixed, until finally all was black.

A great silence, in which one could not feel a breath of air, occurs before the storm; not a leaf moves, not an insect flies.

Domestic animals follow us worriedly.

The barometer drops, the black of the sky descends to the sea.

It’s in the midst of this immense calm that the storm breaks out.

The sea doesn’t roar, it barks harshly, furiously.

The wind envelops us, striking with a great flapping of wings. On all side the rain falls like a sea, and nothing can stop the wind, the rain, or the waters.

All that can be seen are the claws of foam, white as snow, all with the same aspect, enormous. Climbing the rocks they advance on the banks as if dragging them to the bottom of the waters.

Suddenly, an immense lightning bolt slashes the horizon and lights up the sky for an instant. Now it is red, now it is white.

In the midst of this tumult another small sound can be heard from time to time. It’s a corner of the forest where the trees are breaking, a roof that is collapsing, a breach that is forming in a rock, sending its debris down into the abyss.

The compass is confused, the needle searches, searches. There is anguish in its trembling; it rises it sinks, it seems to remain risen when the water embarking through the window turns everything upside down.

The alarm cannon thunders in the harbor, the boats dance there on their anchors.

The first cyclone lasted an entire night, the second an entire day. Nouméa suffered much, and the peninsula had its huts destroyed as if by a bombardment.

During the second, large butterflies of silver white flying in the storm could be seen in Nouméa. They were leaves of zinc from the roofs that the wind was carrying away.

At first one is taken by the grandeur of the spectacle. nature unleashed sings there its terrible poems.

On those days the wind, the waters, the thunder are war chants.

But the lost ships, the ruin, the misfortunes for so many poor people.

Forgive me, my friends, if I think like this: I am a savage, and the poetry of the tempest took over my heart.

The day after these storms debris of all kinds can be found on the beach.

The sea, profoundly shaken up, has dragged up beings that hide their existence there.

A spring-like freshness has followed the storm; the earth comes from this bath rejuvenated.

The odor of the sea is less sharp; no clouds float in the heavens, but all is broken on the banks besieged by the waters. On the twisted trees hang branches like torn off members, held on by a piece of bark. How could they not have been completely carried off? The wind doubtless has its whims, like lightning.

New ravines have been dug into the mountains; others have been filled.

Far away on the banks marine plants, shells, and madrepores are thrown together. The ones dead for a while, swept up from the depths of the waters, the others dead only since yesterday. There is wreckage from old shipwrecks, a rusted compass hand, so decomposed that moss has attached itself.

You know the verse of V. Hugo:

Oh, how many sailors, how many captains,
Who joyously left for distant travels
Have faded away in these sad horizons.
How many have disappeared, hard and sad fortune
In a bottomless night, on a moonless sea
In the blind ocean, forever buried.

A pink gelatinous substance, animated, which wasn’t thrown too far from the sea, palpitates.

This thing lives and survives beings that are truly animated. Lacking tentacles it spreads itself out sometimes in one direction, sometimes in another.

May it live since it wants to; may it be tossed to the waters!

How many fucus! There are enormous ones. And how many kinds of worm! Some have tufts of tiny hairs, others resemble octopus arms.

There are shells, rough like rock, so old that the marine plants that have attached themselves have been petrified.

A bit of reddish dust has remained sheltered between the branches of a broken tree, dust of infusoires or worlds.

Upon lifting a stone one discovers all kinds of things, coral flowers or debris; beings who put themselves in a place of shelter. Among them a half-dead octopus opens its human eye. May he too return to the waters, this monster with a strange gaze.

Exoskeletons, closed like armor, with depressions on their necks that one would think were made by the thumb of a sculptor are scattered on the fucus. The body, the neck, all hold together; there are but two holes for the eyes. They are a little longer than an ordinary hand and about the same size.

On the very old and ivory-white skeletons are reeds like those one sees on windows when they freeze. And yes, I love this desert, and the cyclones, and the grey snow of the grasshoppers; savage nature, savage tribes.

We are living the legend, the old, terrible legend of miseries and shadow, and down there, on the horizon, is the dawn of a new era.

The hair grass , armed with barbs of a violet brown that twice a year cover the brush like a harvest, are laying flat; all the plants have danced this night the waltz of the wind.

That one will nevertheless shake its grains, for it is vivacious.

That hair grass digs thousands of lances into you, it prevents the colonists from raising sheep. It seems to me that its spike, savage as it is, is full of promise.

Ask this of the scientists: what was the plant that was the forefather of wheat, the aegilops triticoides, if one would like to speak the barbaric language of science, which cannot be done in this young country.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 9

Idara (the Heather)

We said that in Caledonia the woman doesn’t count, that she is called nemo, nothing, popinée, which means a useful object in the language of the tribes. It is she who carries fishing gear or harvest tools, who carries children and serves her lord and master.

In Sifou, where she is less degraded, the race is more beautiful. Once, from time to time there fell from Sifou onto the Caledonian lands a great manhunt. The Sifous were strong. They came to fill their food chests in keeping with their hunter’s appetites: when the human beast is hungry it is terrible.

Daoumi, Kanak of Sifou, this tayo of progress of whom we have already spoken, knows a great number of chansons de geste of his island and of several Caledonian tribes.

We will start with the oldest: the white men, told by Idara, a woman who was a takata, that is, a doctor, witch or, rather, magnetizer.

Idara is a popinée (woman), a nemo nothing, and the tribes still tell her tales while all the while treating their women like animals. Human illogic can be found everywhere, but they have this to be said for them, that they don’t flatter their women in order to better fool them.

Idara, seated beneath the tall coconut trees, scrapes on a palm leaf, which makes a gentle sound, and seated before the huts she tells the song of the evening.

Moving their arms like wings all about her, the young men slowly lead the dance of the fruit bats.

The pikinini (children) sleep on the ground; the elders listen.

Idara knows how to bandage the wounds with chewed up leaves of lianas picked by moonlight; she know how to put people to sleep with the magic song of the niaouli flower soaked in diahot water.

Idara has seen many ignagnes (years); so old is she that her years can no longer be counted, it’s more than cana neu neu dé ri (ninety). The points of her teeth have softened, but her voice is yet strong, one would think it was the breast of the wind.

She tells the song of the white men.

When the whites came in their great pirogues we received them as tayos )brothers), they cut down the great trees to attach the wings of their pirogues; this us no harm.

They ate the yams in the keulé (cooking pot) of the tribe and we were happy.

But the whites set out to take the good earth that produces without being turned over; they brought along the young men and the popinées to serve them, they took all that we had.

The white men promised us the heavens and the earth, but they gave nothing, nothing but sorrow.

They took the inlets on the coast where we put our pirogues; they put up their villages near the rivers, beneath the coconut trees where we put ours.

They march through our fields with contempt because we have only sticks to turn over the earth, yet they needed what we had and they must have been unhappy in their homes to come from so far away, from the other side of the waters, to the land of the tribes.

Who then drives you, white men? What gusts push you?

Will all the tribes one day meld across the seas?

Tayos, strike the reeds, Idara has spoken long enough.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 10

The Legend of the Cyclones

There was a day when the black mountains split apart like a coconut beneath a stone.

The wind blows, the sea spreads across the plain, the sky is black as night and crossed by red bolts; the diahot on high (Milky Way) is about to spill its torrents onto the earth.

In the woods that are coming asunder, the notou cries in a sinister way.

A popinée is seated, her sons on her lap in a mountain ravine: it’s the daughter of Tomaho, the wife of Daouri; they hear the storm more terrible than a thousand wars: it’s the cyclone.

Poor girl in your father’s hut, he will lull the children to sleep, the old white-haired Tomaho. To put them to sleep he will tell them the song of the fathers.

But Paila will nevermore see anyone. Nevermore will she rise up from where she is seated.

Before her the earth has split; torrents without end pour in. Behind her the mountain is torn; to the right and the left are abysses.

And the water rises, rises; it reaches as high as the clouds and the clouds are getting lower. The water from the clouds and the water from the sea mix together, higher than the highest of trees from which the whites make their masts: there they are like mountains of night.

What is going to become of her, Paila the brown haired? On her head is the great rain, beneath her feet the rising sea, around her bottomless chasms.

She leans over the little ones to keep them from the water; her rounded back covers them like a cave. She speaks to them gently so that the oldest one, who understands, does not become frightened.

And the children smile, thinking themselves in safety next to their mother.

Paila looks into the night. There is no more land, and on the water niaouli trunks and corpses pass by to the ends of the earth; men, women, children are laid out as if sleeping, but they’re dead.

The water falls thus for five risings of the moon, but there is no more moon or sun to count. The heavens are black; the water still falls, still falls.

The sons of Paila live because she nourishes them with her milk; she lives on in order to save them.

But the rocks collapse, the mountains are but fringes, the earth is as small as a pirogue.

Paila doesn’t tremble, she looks out with her black eyes; she is the daughter and sister of warriors, she is the wife of a warrior.

Paila doesn’t want to see her sons die, they must become men, they must fight before they fall asleep.

Yet nothing any longer lives in the valley, where at the last moon lived tribes without number.

She wasn’t wrong, Paila the brown haired; her sons live suspended from her neck, they float on her corpse like on a pirogue; the biggest one remembers, his reason has matured.

They dock at a creek where a niaouli trunk bearing the old grandfather had also stopped. He saw the two little ones who quenched their thirst on the blood of their mother.

She had been wounded when rolling between the rocks, and while dying had ordered the eldest to do this.

It was the isle of Inguiène, where the daughters of Tanaoué had also landed, and the old man married them to the sons of Paila when they were grown.

Since this time the great land has been narrow, having entered the sea up to the base of the mountains.

They lived so many moons that it was said nombarou, they can no longer be counted, chamando (many) having passed, a long time ago.

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The Genie Ondoué

Do you know the Faust legend? It exists among the Kanaks as it does among the Germans.

With this difference, that the Faust greedy for science is a woman, Keidée the takata. The spaniel is the gecko, Mephistopheles is the genie Ondoué who gives strength and takes breath in exchange.

As for Marguerite, she isn’t to be found; the legend is nude, like the Caledonian summits.

Instead, magnetic sleep is to be found.

As for the methods of the genie Ondoué, breaking the skull to take the spirit, everyone knows that the shell must be broken in order to eat the nut.

While still young, Kéidée left her tribe and built her hut near the peak of the dead.

She had no fiancé and she had refused so many that no one any longer dared offer her the rosewood comb, and even less to send popinées to her family loaded with necklaces of the hair of fruit bats for the father and bracelets for the mother.

Near Kéidée runs the Ti ondoué (the river of the dead). It is there that the Takata makes his sacrifices.

When she was little Keidée loved the moonlight. The genie Ondoué had blown on her, and the lizard Apait, who announces death, followed her hidden in the grass.

In her sleep she had seen from far away the arrival of the white men; she knew there are to be great wars and that the sagaies will be broken by the white man’s thunder.

Young men wanted to trouble Keidée’s sleep, the red-eyed gecko watched them: from that moment on they no longer drank, they no longer ate and they died laying in the shade.

An old man covered completely with leprosy was sent there to die, at the foot of the mountain of the dead. Keidée covered him with herbs that returned to him his youth and his health.

And over the course of many generations she saw men become white haired who she had seen being born.

But one evening at the rising of the moon the Théamas who came to consult her found Keidée stretched out on her mat, her skull smashed.

The genie Ondoué had taken her away with the spirits.

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The Young Girls of Owié

Is it the sea that comes down from the mountains? The niaouli flowers tossed about by the wind? It is the flowers, pure white under the sun, that the girls of Owié use to crown their hair.

And beneath the feathers, they are darker than night, the girls of Owié.

On the mountain slope they respond to the fisherman’s song.

The men are on the sea.

The sea is covered with pirogues; you would think they were fish beating the water, birds striking the air.

The great nouk (fish) with striped scales leaps across the top of the water. There’s the sea serpent with its blue and black rings. The porcupine fish, all bloated, stands out black between the rocks where the sea crashes in.

The sea blossoms for the tribes; they have but to toss their sagaie, to drive their pirogues across the waters; and yet often the sea gives nothing, the tribes go hungry.

On the banks they sing, the girls of Owié, they sing while striking the bamboo, or scraping the branches of the coconut trees.

They are big, they are strong, and they don’t complain beneath their burden.

The sun departs behind the mountain, the sea foams against the rocks; it climbs them with white claws, the tempest approaches.

Sail on, sail on caraba (pirogues), may the fish go into the nets; strike sagaies, and may the tribes not go hungry for a long while, so they can live in peace.

The young girls of Owié are brave, but they’d rather hear the rumbling of the river than see the blood of tayos.

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The First Ouainth (meal) of human flesh. Several different versions according to the tribes

The whites always say that we put human flesh in our keules (kettles). It’s not always a lie.

A very long time ago we did, indeed, eat men. And then more moons passed than there are stars that we didn’t eat them any more. Afterwards it returned. Sometimes it’s great hunger, sometimes it’s great anger, but for a very long time it only happened rarely and in a war or when fury strikes.

Before the great, great cyclone that ate away the banks a very long time ago, so many ignames ago that they can’t be counted, there weren’t many tayos; there were so many fish and coconuts that no one was hungry.

The old were never abandoned to die, for there were always bananas that ripened on the trees, and everyone was able to sleep in peace seated before his hut.

Those of Sifou hadn’t yet come to make war; there were few of them, too, and they didn’t suffer from hunger.

But the tayos became numerous and there was an old story that was told at night before the huts, of a time when fish caused death because of the coral flower, when the banana trees and coconut palms had been smashed by the death wind. Then those who were strongest and who were very hungry ate the others in order not to die.

This was told without ever thinking that these times would return.

But there were evil ears that listened.

Téchea, whose name has since come to mean evil, bethought himself to eat human flesh and he had an evil desire to do so.

While still very small he took fruit away from his brother Kérou, whose name has since come to mean good, and he ate it in front of him or threw it away when he was no longer hungry.

Téchea often spoke to others who were like him, and old Koué (the rising tide) warned him not to seek anything evil, but Téchea laughed in the old man’s face and continued to gather around him those who were like him. He was so big and strong that a man of his size had rarely been seen. Many more ignames passed without any misfortune arriving.

Téchea and Kérou had tossed the bamboo comb to the beautiful Kaméa, so beautiful that she had been given the name of the sun.

Kaméa took Kérou’s comb and put it in her hair, leaving Téchea’s on the ground.

Kérou would not have done as he did with the fruits; he would have fought over Kaméa with all the tribes, for she loved him too.

It was the igname of the harvests; the pilou was being made near the spot where the diahot throws itself into the sea at the foot of Arama Mountain.

Kérou, seeing that his brother had said nothing, was touched and went towards him, but Kaméa turned away and took all of his men away behind the coconut palms.

People danced, and it was pleasant under the trees to watch the stars shine in the branches.

The old Koué wandered worried. Take your sagaies, he said to those who performed a round about the pilou, something is going to happen. But he wasn’t listened to; the weather was so beautiful that the sleeping fathers raised their heads beneath the earth and listened.

Three times Koué said: take your sagaies, but the first time people danced, the second they sang, and the third it was too late. Téchea and his men had fallen on the tribe.

Their tomahawks were of bird beak; they hadn’t been remarked until then, but since then we make similar ones.

Soon nothing living was left but women and the very old, who were stretched out, unable to move, and the small children.

Kérou’s breast had been opened with the first blow.

Green branches weren’t tossed on the corpses as a sign of mourning; the evil ones wanted to quench their idea. Holes with burning stones at the bottom were made, and the youngest and fattest were put there wrapped in great banana leaves. Téchea had attached Kaméa with lianas to a tree. He had taken her for himself, and wanted to make her his wife.

Far away, the women and little children were seated on the ground, not daring to cry, and the old ones filled their mouths with earth to stifle themselves.

The night had passed, the morning appeared white on the brush red with blood.

Since old Koué hadn’t been killed, he suddenly rose up before Téchea at the moment when the first ouainth (meal) of human flesh was going to begin, and cursed him.

While Téchea pursued the old man Kaméa, having gnawed with her teeth through the lianas that attached her, fled, and since she was the daughter of braves, she threw herself in the Kouindio (reef).

And the old men who had wanted to die, and Koué beneath the tomahawks, cursed Téchea so much that he was frightened and released Koué. Since that day the warriors no longer quit their sagaies during feasts.

The little children have grown, their mothers have told them of the red ouainth and of old Koué, who no one any longer dared touch for he had become a great takatake, told them as well. But nothing availed; man had tasted human flesh, he had drunk blood. He still wanted to drink.

Téchea became the Théama of the tribes, and when he wished it a great pilou was made and, at the moment in the dance when the tayos cross the fire before the circle of popinees, two or three disappeared.

The next day the Théama ate with his warriors.

Many others have done like him, and there were also many Théamas who sold the strongest of their tribes and their most beautiful girls as servants to white men. But may he who awakened the ouainth of human flesh be no less cursed.

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War According to the Kanaks of Nouméa

This legend probably follows after the preceding one.

The Kanaks, lying on their bellies in the grass at night, love interminable stories, and because of this often add to them. This is why the stories vary.

The limping messenger, full of inns where murders are carried out, caused the same shivers in the houses of the Champagne and Lorraine regions a few years ago.

The Kanak story-teller, if he’s in good spirits, if he’s not hungry, and if the night is beautiful adds to the tale, others add after him, and the same legend, passing though various mouths and various tribes sometimes becomes completely different from what it at first was.

This one seemed to to have changed less than others. Charles Malato has a variety of variants of several legends according to different tribes.

While Téchea was alive, his warriors became accustomed to being the masters of the tribe, and since for a long time there were left only women and children, they took what they wanted, and the nemo (women) and the piquinini (children) were hungry all day, while they grew fat.

Two or three white haired elders and the Takata Koué would say: “Be on guard!” but what could they do?

In order to be on guard the red glow of Kaori branches full of resin are needed, and they could barely break off dried branches.

The takata was good at bandaging wounds, but not at making new ones. None of them, the poor old men, could any longer climb the trees, their wrists could no longer hoist them, and their big toes no longer gripped.

Nevertheless the piquinini said: “We will defend our potatoes and no one will any longer come and take our fish from our hands.” But the time passed, their potatoes and fish were taken from them, and the ignames and moons piled up without anything changing.

Nevertheless, war wasn’t being made, because the little ones and the women had ceded everything, and the biggest of them obeyed through lassitude.

But those who had retired to Sifou had become strong; they were hungry and went to hunt the tayo on the great land.

They were always the victors and often returned there.

This was a bad time: outside the tribes had the eaglet who takes away the father; within the grasshoppers who devour all, or the warriors who surrounded the théamas took all they wanted.

They had had hope for a moment. The Thein (son of the chief) was brave, he had gathered together the tayos and all had made a promise to the fathers who sleep under the earth. But he was suddenly struck down as if he had seen the tree that blinds, and he had become weak. His head was completely white and he walked bent over. And yet he hadn’t seen many ignames.

He had been called The Sun, nut he was now only called the Old Man. When his father died the bird was left on his huts, but everyone knew that he could no longer lead the braves into combat.

That igname there was a famine on the great land; the harvest had only given enough to make the pilou, and the next day all were hungry.

Everyone was as thin as those dead who the birds devour in the branches of the cemetery, but Dja (the tomahawk) and Paimé (death) had grown fat.

From time to time a child disappeared. It was said that the fathers called them below the earth. There was such hunger that anything was believed.

If the grasshoppers would have come they could have grabbed hold of themselves, but nothing came but the gecko, which walked about the huts.

Dja and Paimé were still together, but they distrusted each other.

One evening at the seaside a stone fell from a rock and almost hit Paimé. The next day Paime was alone, and Dja was never seen again.

But Paimé didn’t remain long without companions; he set himself up in the great hut of the thein, who was still weak and called to see him whoever he wished.

Every day he made pilou, though they didn’t hunt or fish.

The old and the young who hadn’t wanted to follow Paimé went into the forest. They cut down acacia branches of red wood, each branch of which furnished but one weapon, one of those weapons that grow along the water and whose point remains in the wound. They made sagaies of them, they carved stars at the ends of pennahou (rosewood) clubs. From the waterfalls they gathered heavy, polished stones the size of eggs for their slingshots, and in this way they armed themselves to fight either near or far.

The women brought along necklaces of made of fruit bat hair, shells, and jade necklaces, and went into the caves with the smallest children.

Two sisters, Mika and Kouira, beautiful black haired girls, didn’t at all want to go into the cave. They stayed behind to fight, for their brothers had disappeared. Kaina, their mother, remained with them.

They attacked those of Paimé, and there was a great war. Mika and Kouira, the beautiful black haired girls, fought like warriors. Their tomahawks were red, their arms were red.

Both the old and the young were red with blood, and their mother’s voice dominated like a bugle; she was saying the song of the dead.

It’s not the pale blood of the trees that will flow today, it’s the red blood of the heart.

The cyclone flattens the grass, war lays low the warriors.

“The axe opens skulls, the sagaie buries itself in flesh. It’s war, war!”

Long was the fight, long and terrible. Mika and Kouira, the beautiful black haired girls, fell like warriors, and their mother sang on

But their bodies weren’t cut up into pieces in Paimé’s pilou. He, too, fell; the braves were victorious.

And the warriors, and the beautiful black haired girls had on their bodies the green branches of mourning.

The nemos and the piquininis returned from the caves, but the famine continued. This is why the dead of Paimé’s party served to support the strength of the tribe. It was famine that forced them to this.

But during the meal a school of nos (fish), pushed along by the cold currents, lost its way near the coast. They took as many as they wanted, ate some and dried the rest.

Since then there have been many famines and many wars. Don’t think that the tayos have ever eaten human flesh unless being pushed to it by hunger or anger.

Yes, their hunger and their anger tear, but their recognition is even greater when they are treated like men.

Even a piquinini was able to get from them the lives of men who made war on them, because the piquinini loved the tayos and spoke to them in the language of the tribes.

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The House of War

Like the Romans, the Kanaks had their temple of Mars that was open during time of war.

With this difference, that it was a small hut near a hanging rock, and that within, instead of a statue of Mars there could be found a man under punishment.

In order to amuse himself a young Kanak théama (chief), had decided to prepare a war like those the tribes make when they are hungry or have an insult to avenge. The old ones realized this and gathered together under the moonlight to decide what needed to be done.

War had not yet been declared, and the next day they were only supposed to send warriors to the other tribes along with the apouema war mask.

There were no less than five tribes that were to take part in this, three against two.

Young Daou thought that they had to rid themselves of the théama who deceived them, but that they should make war nonetheless in order to obtain the ornaments of the defeated.

His slingshot stones were polished and put away in his net as if in a nest, the nest of death.

He had a jade axe like that for which, during the first times, a band of men, like migratory birds, went from unknown lands to the great islands of the south.

That axe came from his fathers. Young Daou would very much have liked to have fought; his jade axe would have sparkled in the sun, the stones of his slingshot would have struck their goal.

He also had a sagaie as supple as a snake. No one was as well armed as he.

But no one listened to him. The yams had grown profusely, the coconuts and the bananas ripened on the tees, the tribes wanted to rest as long as possible.

And in any event, all that was needed was for the evil théama to fool the tayos for them to want peace.

And so it was decided that the théama would be taken and that he would be imprisoned in a small hut near a rock so that while the wind blew he could think about what he’d done to the tribes.

This was done and, for three days, the wind battered the hut with all its force.

Within, the théama dared not move. The hut trembled as if it was going to fly away on the storm.

Since the wind still cried, on the evening of the third day, while the tribe ate and slept they had pity on the théama.

They went to the hut to open it and take him out. He had suffered such sorrow that his hair had turned completely white, like that of the old ones.

Since the hut didn’t fall it was left there as long as it lasted. And whenever the stone of war was dug up it was opened at the same time so that the théamas wouldn’t be tempted to imitate he who had been locked up there.

It was thus in the past. Now the tribes aren’t so proud around their théamas, for they do everything they are told.

That one, the legend says, did not live long, so sad were his memories of the house of war

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The Daughters of the Théama of Belep

Yet another war story, and yet more illogic, for the Kanaks of the tribe of the north, having posed as a principle that woman never lies, give in support of this principle the story of a lie told by three women.

A more complete and novelistic version was gathered in Oubatch by Charles Malato. Here is that of Daoumi according to the ancient ones of Sifou.

They made the pilou of the igname at Belep, but the théama was sad, his enemy had already humiliated him twice. The young théama Boiek (the fruit bat) claimed that within three days his tribe would dance the victory dance in Belep.

And at the time of that igname, Belep had already been decimated of its warriors.

The théama had three daughters, one dark as night and big as a warrior; the second pale and small: she took after one who belonged to a race that had departed; the third light as the wind.

They said: it is we who will bring Boiek, and instead of his victory song he will tell here his song of death.

They went and sat on a rock a shout away so that their father could hear them if something bad were to happen to them.

And it was far, for they had chests as strong as warriors, the daughters of the théama of Belep, that is the two oldest ones, for the third had naught but a gust.

They knew that Boiek had gone on a reconnaissance mission, they felt him roaming in the area though no one had been able to meet him.

He, seeing these three sisters seated off to the side on a rock, as if they were fleeing the feast of the igname, approached them.

He was big as a banana tree, and it was said he was very brave.

Why, he asked, aren’t you at the feast of the igname?

The oldest answered: Our father sent us away because we found where he puts his ghis, axes.

Our father, the other said, wanted to kill us because we are afraid of the great war chief who is going to come in three days to make the victory pilou. The third said nothing. He was transported with joy, the young théama, seeing that no one had realized that he was the victor.

Where, he asked, are the ghis for which your father wanted to kill you?

Oh! said the oldest, you wouldn’t dare go to take them.

He immediately asked and warned them they had to take him, not wanting to wait.

They, feigning refusal, marched forward until they were near an ambush that was lying in wait for them.

Then the oldest ones gave out a great cry, but the third said nothing.

This is how the three daughters of the théama of Belep led Boiek to tell his song of death at the pilou of the igname, which filled the heart of the old man, their father, with joy.

But while the round unfurled where all the arms threatening the north stop in order to curse, crying together: Match! Match! Death! Death! The warriors of Boiek, who were following him, heard the war song and, believing him the victor fell upon the tribe of the old théama like a collapsing rock.

But the old théama had the time to pierce the heart of Boiek with his curved tomahawk, his blood flooded the earth like the water in the rainy season.

The théama of Belep and his tribe were massacred.

And the blood of the three daughters of the théama flowed as well, though the third had said nothing.

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The Bed of the Forefathers

The fathers have drunk up life, they sleep on the high mountain; the sons make war, the daughters beat the bark in order to make the funeral coiffe.

Over them grows the muarou grass, which the théama sends to his warriors to prepare them for combat.

They sleep as immobile as the rocks.

All the tribe’s noise, striking all about them, fails to make them raise their heads.

Sleep, oh fathers! Sleep; life is good, but sleep is better.

Sweet are the bananas that have ripened on the tree and the shade of the coconut trees; more gentle still is forgetting. The greatest shade is beneath the earth, there where we are never again hungry. Sleep, oh father! Sleep for a long while; to dream is good, but never to dream again is better.

Not to be is good, oh fathers! But what are you doing, oh fathers!, stretched out like that in the dust, and who then rests there with you?

Who is it then that gnaws your robust arms to the bone; what teeth eat your flesh?

It is no longer the heart that beats in your chests, it’s an uboé (crab) who, raising his claw, seeks his nourishment between your ribs.

A necklace entwines itself around your throat; it’s the blue and white serpent with its shining rings.

Those aren’t your eyes, oh fathers! that move thus, deep in their black holes; it is entwined worms.

But you smell nothing, oh fathers! you see, you hear nothing more.

It is thus that she sang on the mountain of the dead, black haired Théi, whose name means to cry.

She passed the day on the mountain; she passed the night.

Théi had no mother; she had neither father nor brothers.

She lived there, on the fruits that ripen on the trees of the dead, as if they protected her, but the dead can neither see nor protect.

Once the young girls took Théi to the dance, she traveled with them to the valley.

But the wind having risen on the mountain of the dead, she ascended there again on her wings.

The cold hand of Théi froze her companions; they let her go.

Another time Mahoa (the morning), son of the great chief, said to her: Do you want to become my wife? At my father’s house you will have bark mats softer even than the fabric of the white men.

You will be heavy with fat like my mother and sisters; they are never hungry and they remain in the hut instead of carrying axes and slingshot stones.

The most beautiful fruits, the best morsels from the hunt and from fishing are for them.

They have dresses like the wives of the white men, and transparent robes. Do you want to come into the tribe, daughter of the cemetery?

She gently shook her head and descended into the valley.

Mahoa thought that she was going to follow him into his tribe, but she went to the cave of the ancestor.

Mahoa returned to his father’s house, as cold as the dead, following Théi, who had penetrated into the cave, with his eyes.

He looked at her as long as he could see her.

Mahoa walked slowly, slowly; from afar he saw that Théi had left the cave and that she was climbing the slope of the cemetery.

Perhaps it was the wind; perhaps it was the voice of the young girl that he heard still gently singing.

Sleep, fathers, sleep for a long while; sleep is sweet, sleep on. Death is better, oin math lélé lélé (to die, beautiful, beautiful).

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The Gusts

What gust propels you, girls of Owié? Who pursues you? Is it because you passed beneath the tree that blinds that you advance thus, not seeing that each time you pass by the abyss one of you goes missing?

It’s because each time the abyss drinks one up.

The first was Kéa the black haired girl, grand like a niaouli. She reached out with her arms and leapt.

The second was Kéri, the coral flower. She responded: here I am, and leapt.

The third was Lira the aerial one. She cried out: I shall fly there, and leapt.

Who did you reach out to, oh Kéa? Who did you respond to, oh Kéri? Who were you flying to, Lira?

They know not. They went towards the gusts that call, chased by the gusts that pursue.

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The Cemetery Guardian

He is there day and night, old Néchewa, every rising sun finds him asleep, tired out as he is by his work of the night.

Every moonrise finds him across the valley, picking the flower that helps to love and to die, the niaouli flower, and the bouia (citronella) that warms like the sun.

At night in the shade, on the niaouli flower can be seen light like that which surrounds the glowworm.

He is wise, the old noubou, he is the wisest of takatas, he knows how to preserve as long as he wants the spark of life of an old man; and he blows on that of a warrior when it pleases him.

They come from afar to see him, the cemetery guardian.

He lives there, with those who sleep beneath the earth and in the tree branches, he listens in his thoughts, Nechéwa the guardian of the dead.

The bones beneath the wind bang against each other in the tree branches. Do you hear, Nechewa, how the bees pass in the hollow trunks of the trees, how the hives of worms pass with a tiny noise through the flesh?

But he, his dream goes so far that the tongue cannot tell it; all the words of the white men, and even more, are needed.

For he knows the stories of the time before the white men were seen, even the time before the dead were put in the branches.

Before, long before all of this.

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The Kouindio (Coral Reef)

There blossom the living coral flower corals; there swim the great fish that nourish the tribes.

Don’t go there, don’t go seeking the coral for use in making necklaces; don’t take fish for the tribes. There the Kouindio opens its enormous maw, there is death.

It is low tide at the Kouindio, higher than the huts of the great chief.

An old man goes there to die. His teeth were broken and he could no longer bite into the fruit or the roots. His legs trembled. He could no longer walk.

His son didn’t want to feed him, his son didn’t hunt, he didn’t fish, but he ate in the keulé the hunt or the fish of others.

Sometimes the old man asked of him a yam, but he brutally refused. His father annoyed him.

Father, he said one day, you have lived so long that your ignames can no longer be counted; you have broken teeth and your legs tremble. You should go sleep with the dead. You would no longer be hungry. If you’d like, I have a tomahawk that never fails; you won’t suffer.

The old man was afraid of the tomahawk, he preferred to die gently, carried away to the depths of the water. He took a tehiou (robe) he was fond of, put it over his hair to carry it away with him, and left.

He went to the edge of the sea before the Kouindo, washed his trembling legs and felt much better.

So much better that he was able to go to the coral reef and go down with the roiling sea.

There was in the tribe a young girl called Moiek (the flower), no one had ever known her to be sad.

Do the popinées have the time to suffer sorrow?

She ceaselessly smiled, Moiek the beautiful, and ceaselessly she was heard to sing.

One evening, by broad moonlight, Moiek went lightly out to the point of rocks.

She went toward the coral reefs, Moiek the beautiful. To go to Kouindio she had put on a crown of flowers, white papaya tree flowers that her grandfather had given her that morning to dance at the pilou of the igname.

When the sea cast her onto the banks, she still had the white flowers in her hair.

This is what the Kouindio sings in the evening; this and other things.

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Nocturnal tales

It is night; it was hot during the day and the coolness is good. The tribe, stretched out beneath the coconut palms, near the huts, listens to the tales of the story-teller, and the breakers in the distance tell tales as well. The story-teller, half-asleep, half-awake tells while dreaming stories that we listen to while dreaming.

One would think that it is the branches of the coconut tree that move in the air, but it is fruit bats.

Let them fly away in peace, this evening the tribe is not hungry.

Nearby, in the still water, a lone frog briefly and loudly speaks; and then all the others join in.

The notou calls out in the woods; one would think it the moaning of a beast as big as the white man’s ox, yet it is but a bird.

Here come drops of rain, but they are hot; they feel good as they fall on us, lying here on the grass from which we feel the heat of the earth rise.

The white man’s borders are far away, very far away; this is the land of the fathers.

The village is rich; it has a shelter for its pirogues, fields of taro and yam, coconuts; what more is needed?

But here is what is told: once, a long time ago, a tribe went with its sons and daughters to the edge of the sea; it, too, was rich.

The young men whistled, having gayety in their hearts, and the young girls laughed; everyone ate every day.

There were so many young men and young girls that the tribe spoke of constructing a new village.

They set about dancing to the moon, but of a sudden, the mountain collapsed and covered the tribe.

It is because of this that ever since, in a great number of tribes, they never whistle when passing beneath the rocks. But it isn’t whistling that attracts the mountain, it’s happiness.

I who tell this, I’ve seen it many times.

The first time I was very young; I was so happy that I slept as little as possible in order to always feel myself living…

But who is it that is moving about in the branches? If it were the wind it would move about the treetop.

I didn’t see that my mother worked too hard. Because she carried heavy loads she lay herself down tired and died. My father took another wife who beat me every day and I still missed my mother, even if she was but a popinée.

When I was bigger I began to find myself happy again. A former wife of the great chief, who traveled to all the tribes, told me I was handsome, and this made me proud.

The next night instead of sleeping I thought of this and I found myself full of joy. A coconut fell on my face. Since this time I have become frightening to see, like a war mask.

But who then is moving in the branches?

I am beginning again to be happy; it is for this that I am afraid.

And, the branches still moving, the storyteller left.

But it was only the wind that lifted up the branches. On the path to his hut there was a big hole in which the tribe cooked a Boyka (big pig); the storyteller wasn’t thinking of the hole and broke his leg in it.

Fortunately the takata is able; the bones he puts together take shape again like branches.

The other day he removed with a piece of glass the cloth that veiled the eyes of Maina, and Maina again saw the light of day.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 5

Medieval Customs in Caledonia

One is more than little surprised to find, mixed in with the stone age, some of the customs and usages of the Middle ages.

The words “bind” and “unbind,” Kysourouley, are used by the Kanaks of the Isle of Pines in the same sense as our ancestors.

The casting of sorts and witchcraft at cemeteries are as they were seen in France at the time of Urbain Grandier.

The victim of witchcraft is eaten, that is, he wastes away until his next death.

The great chief, high up in his hut looking like a hive, bears the bird and the hand of justice.

Here is one of the golden legends. In the past here, deep in the forests, necklaces of fruit bat hair were made with mystery, and with strange ceremonies shells were harvested that were also precious coin, equivalent to the gold of the white men.

This was many ignames before the arrival of the white men.

The théama Nétho, the thunder, is old; he wants to be rich, very rich.

He needs cords of the hair of the fruit bat in his hut; he needs many of them so he can guard them without touching them. He needs so many (nombarou) that they can no longer be counted, to hide them so that he alone knows where they are – he needs them also to trade them, and he is used to being obeyed. The théama speaks to Monie Kouendi (great wind) the takata, for it’s the takata who knows how to find the shells.

But for the ceremonies, a beautiful nemo is needed who the tribe will never see again.

The takata sets out to find young Koupé (the virgin), daughter of Adaley the scorpion. He says to the child: mangue moamo (come, the sun sets).

Koupé is frightened. She knows it’s the day when the young woman who is to be sacrificed to the spirits who guard the precious coins is led to Ti-ondoué (the river of the dead).

The night is black, the wind blows, it is cold. The takata takes from Koupé her fringed belt. He gives her a skirt of banana leaves that frightens her. It is on this skirt that can be found, at the edge of the Ti-ondoué, the golden coins when the young sacrificial girl has disappeared.

The sacrificed ones go away over the great plain, or into the black land, or onto the pike of the dead along with the spirits. No, they will never again see anything, for the wind blows and disperses the spirits.

Koupé looks upon her father. She has tears in her eyes. Adaley turns his head away and departs.

Koupé thinks about Nama (the banana tree), her fiancé, but Nama is at the war with the son of the théama.

The takata repeats again: mangue moamo! And then Koupé, seeing her last moon arrive, follows the takata, hoping to meet Nama on the road. The war is over, and hope springs eternal.

It is far to Ti-ondoué, and no other route goes in that direction. The spirits await Koupé and Nama has not returned.

The child walks without daring to speak. The sorcerer chases her along before him, worried like a notou (pigeon) who is being pursued.

The moon rises as they leave the hut, a large moon that lets the same things be seen as during the day, with the shadow of the banks cast on the sea, a beautiful fringed shadow.

They walk for a long time. Finally the moon hides itself, and in the darker night Koupé glimpses a whiteness. She thinks she is seeing the day.

No, it’s the pale water of Ti-ondoué.

No one, not even the takata himself, goes to the river of the dead without peril, and always only he returns.

Koupé cries out, she resists like a beast that is going to be killed, but the spirits surround her, the takata pushes her into the current.

The water rises all black, the spirits entwine the child more strongly than the most solid ties, but her mother’s spirit is not there; her mother would have defended her.

The wind rises and covers the victim’s cries…

In the morning, called by the takata, the tribe goes to see the indidio (golden coin) with which the spirits have covered the banana leaf skirt.

The théama had coins without number to hide, and much too much to guard in his hut. He gave fistfuls of it to Adaley to console him.

There is nothing stranger than the takata: a witch doctor, a magnetizer. They are a kind of Cagliostro, before they disappear a curious subject of study.

One of the most remarkable is certainly the one who perished alongside Atai and who joined to his role of takata and that of a kind of jester to the great chief Atai, the bigger role of bard, singing during combat of the braves and the ancestors. His name was Andia; he was a dwarf and deformed, his legs were knock-kneed, his head enormous. He was more olive skinned than black and his hair was straight.

It is during our time that Andia lived and died while fighting, not ceasing to loudly sing in the face of death, and the blacks and the whites have said many things about him.

It wasn’t known to what race he belonged.

Once he had (according to a tradition of his fathers) tried out a kind of bagpipe made of a traitor’s skin. Where were his fathers? Another time he twisted the dried entrails of a wild cat in order to make the strings of a lute that he alone knew how to use.

Did he make things up? Did he remember? Do there remain isolated types of a race with flat hair and blue eyes, for Andia had eyes of a phosphorescent blue.

Two other chiefs had united with Atai in the revolt, Naina and Areki, but their authority over the Kanaks was not as great as that of Atai.

A price was put on Atai’s head. And since according to tradition a chief can only be struck by a chief or by proxy, Noudo, a chief sold out to the whites, gave the power to strike Atai to the Kanak Segou, and the traitor set out on the hunt.

Atai reached Amboa when his encampment was surprised a thousand meters from the neigre huts by the columns of whites.

Segou glimpsed Atai standing nude, his head as white as snow, for he was old. He wore as a crown his rolled up slingshot; he held in his right hand a gendarme’s sabre, in the left a tomakow.

Atai’s three sons fought around him. One was killed at his feet, the two others taken prisoner. The bard Andia sang loudly while fighting, a sagaie that served him as a lance extended from his long octopus arms.

Segou advanced. Atai glimpsed him: Ah, there you are! He cried out.

Segou continued to approach him. Atais menacingly rose up, striking him down with his gaze.

The traitor then tosses the sagaie that passes through Atai’s right arm, the old chief raises his left hand to use the tomakow, but his sons had fallen around him, one dead, the two others wounded. Andia leaps forward, crying tanyo, tanyo (dead or cursed) and falls in his turn.

Segou approaches Atai, gives him a blow in the head with the axe, and another on the right side. Atai falls like a tree that has been chopped down; his hand is still holding his head, half separated from the trunk.

The cry of death was issued by the Kanaks of Canala upon seeing their chief fall. Such is the custom of the tribes.

This cry carried like a moan to the red mountains.

Atai’s head was sent to Paris.

Naima escaped with the remains of his tribe as well as that of Atai. He was killed in the Amboa forest.

Areki retired into the caves and only surrendered when his supplies were exhausted the coconuts and the roots devoured all around the cave, his men dying of hunger. He was sent to the Isle of Pines.

At the Bastille Day feast in Nouméa the next year, those tribes that had surrendered made a pilou pilou in a field near the city. Those who remained from the tribes lit their fires like the others, and then extinguished them with their feet and remained in the same spot all night, listening in silence and with sadness to the chants of the other tribes.

They were thus awake from the rising of the moon until morning.

Like the New Hebrides, Caledonia must have had its craters..

It was a volcanic thrust that produced a natural representation of the fields of Carnac at the seaside under the western forest, between the deep sea and the wooded heights that dominate the signal masts covered with sparrows.

The evening, at the sunset, when the horizon is red and the seas vermilion the menhirs are lit up with a strange light, and then suddenly the sun disappears, the somber Isle of Nou is reflected in black in the sea, the small mountains are fringed with shadow.

The stars shine, enormous, and the light of the moon, which electric light only gives a pale idea of, silhouettes, blurs and sifts through the mass of the rocks and the black cut outs of the trees.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 1

Kanak Music and Dance

During the rounds of pilou pilou the men turn separately from the women, sometimes in the opposite direction; the movement ends by being so rapid that the dancers pass through the flames without being touched.

Once, the elders say, after a time when they didn’t eat each other , there came the time that the grandfathers of their grandfathers didn’t see, and in these times there were wars, famines, feasts where, when the singing and dancing lasted a part of the night, one of the dancers, and sometimes several, would disappear. He had been drunk by the crowd.

Today the pilou pilou ends in frenetic joy and the exhaustion of fatigue.

The next day they sleep.

One of the historic dances, and they have such beautiful ones, is this one.

A row of dancers arrives, men and women, as if they were scouting the field and were taking possession of it. And then they murmur amongst themselves, with quarter tones that are at times so sweet. The sweetest eclogues stimulate the fishing dance, the harvest dance, the wedding dance, the dance of death.

It’s the tribe that lives in the sun and that dies in the shade; and then still others come, strangers, poupouale, they chase and disperse the tribe.

After them there is naught but a song sad and monotonous like the moaning of the wind. The orchestra that accompanies it with palm branches gently scraped harmonizes well with these moanings of a poor savage.

And then silence falls; all deploy along the same line and advance their right hands from the north side as if to threaten or curse, crying out: Match! Match. (death! death!)

Kanak music, with its quartertones, resembles the wind, the sounds of the woods, of the sea; often it is gentle, sometimes hoarse, and sometimes one would think it was drops of water falling on leaves.

Bamboos struck in cadence, a reed flute, the scraping of the palm branch, a leaf they apply to their mouths; such are their instruments.

Often, while an air is being sung they accompany it by whistling or holding a single note; these strung out sounds produce a strange effect.

One evening at the side of the river one of these choirs struck us by its grandeur: perhaps it borrowed from the hour and the site a portion of its beauty. But the most powerful harmony of savage Caledonia, that which best accords with its arid mountains showing the red earth of gold in its entrails, is the cyclones.

The cyclones, striking their wings on the sea that answers from the depths of its abyss, contains forces that will one day, carried afar by electricity, flatten mountains, dig other seas, and throw bridges beyond the distant isles, as man feels the need.

The future belongs to science. May it advance along its route.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 3

The Rat and the Octopus

The tale of the rat and the octopus is remarkable among those gathered on the mainland by Charles Malato.

A rat, a seagull, and a sultan chicken lived together as comrades, and had joined together in order to search for food. It once happened that, lacking food, the two birds and the rodent met to consult together. Let’s go fishing, said the seagull, let’s go to the coral reefs. The sea will soon be low and we’ll get many fish. You’re right, said the sultan chicken. Ah! Sighed the rat, that’s all very easy for you, you who have wings, but I, a poor and meek quadruped, how can I follow you? Let’s build a raft, said the sultan chicken, and you’ll come with us. That’s it, cried out the two others.

“They set to work. The rat gnawed, cut, and dug into sugar cane, the birds put the pieces together in the form of a pirogue; the hull, mast, sail, and helm, everything was made of sugar cane. The work was soon done, and the sultan chicken and the seagull put the boat in the water. The rat joyously jumped aboard and set out escorted by his two allies.

“Having arrived at the great coral reef, which was dry at that moment, the seagull and the sultan chicken said to the rat: Stay here, we’re going to go fishing and we’ll return in a little bit with our provisions. And they flew off and soon disappeared over the horizon.

“Time passed and the two birds didn’t return. Pushed by hunger, the rat began to eat the sail, then the mast, and then, tired of waiting in vain, the helm and finally, the raft. He had just finished gnawing at the last piece when the two birds appeared, holding in their beaks the fish they had caught. Say! Cried out the sultan chicken, we had a successful fishing expedition, but where is your pirogue? Alas, the rat responded, I waited for you a long time, you didn’t return, I was hungry, and I ate it. What, the seagull cried in anger, we worked to build you a boat and you ate it. That’s what our labor is worth! Well, since you’re here, stay here. And then the two birds left, leaving the rat to his sorrow, his cries, and his tears. The tide was already beginning to rise. I am lost, the rat said to himself. Seeing a stone that was still dry he leapt onto it at the moment when the sea began to cover it over. Alas, he murmured, soon the water will reach me here, and I must die. As he was lamenting his fate, an octopus passed who caught sight of him. What are you doing there, little one, he asked?

“I am waiting for death, mournfully answered the rat. The seagull and the sultan chicken have abandoned me, and he told him his story.

“Ah, Ah, said the octopus, who was a good creature. You are in a bad situation, but I’m going to get you out of it. Jump on my back. I don’t go very fast, but I will nevertheless bring you to land. The joyous rat leapt onto the head of the helpful animal. The latter, in fact, did not swim very fast, but nevertheless they little by little approached land and finally they were only a short distance away.

“The rat, having escaped death, was happy as a lark. He laughed and danced like a madman and, showing no respect for his savior, he urinated on the head of the octopus. What are you doing there, said the animal of the sea, who felt the other one wiggle on his back. It’s nothing, answered the rat, it’s the sight of land that fills me with joy. And then, since they were only a few strokes from the banks, the rat, filled with happiness, soiled the head of his benefactor with his ordure as he suddenly leapt onto land. And now look at you, he cried to the octopus, doubling over in laughter.

“The octopus then saw what the ingrate had left him as recompense for his service. Furious, he wanted to hurry off in pursuit of the rodent, but the rocks tore at his long arms and, badly wounded in his efforts, he had to return to the depths of the sea.”

Charles Malato

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How the Takata Bohandiou Made the Rain Instead of Good Weather

Nouméa, June 1884

The takata is a doctor, magnetizer, astrologist and even something of an astronomer. It is he who, like Matthias Landsberg, announces the rain and good weather. But unlike Matthias Landsberg, a takata was sometimes responsible for his predictions. Not all were as fortunate as Bohendiou.

He was renowned for his many and truthful prophecies (always realized). He had so many times examined the sky on the eve and the day of cyclones that he knew all the signs.

So many times had he plucked the mirarou (war herb) by moonlight that he had no need to search in the forest, falling immediately upon the war herb, curly like the hair of warriors.

So many times had he chanted during combat, not being touched while the sagaies filled the air, that he had been nicknamed Bohendiou (the rock). What is more, no one remembered his age, so old was he.

When the takata Bohendiou went out into the forest at night to cut down the Adouèque (reed of the spirits) to make the water that cures he seemed as big as the biggest trees, the spectral reed in his hand.

One evening the tribes were awaiting the announcement of the weather for the morrow in order to surprise in their midday sleep warriors from Sifou who had come on expedition.

The takata Bohendiou remained mute. The next day the warriors of Sifou were still camped in the woods. The tribes were worried, but when the rain arrived it was understood why the takata hadn’t announced anything. The tayos don’t like useless words.

Try to surprise during their sleep the men who the rain whips and keeps awake!

Three days passed without the takata leaving his hut, and the tribes still waited. And always at noon the cloud that split open upon the earth answered them.

On the evening of the fourth day Bohendiou left his hut and said: the sun will shine tomorrow! and then returned to his hut and slept. The tribes prepared their tomahawks, their sagaies, their hatchets. The women ranged the slingshot stones in the net destined for those who would flee in an attempt to escape the massacre.

The horizon was fringed with black, and red clouds floated on the black.

At night there wasn’t a gust of air; the coconut palm branches stopped moving, a slight glimmer roamed across the niaoulis.

The next day there was a cyclone.

The takata slept in his hut where no one dared enter for fear of encountering spirits.

Those tribes that had their huts in the sheltered valleys did not suffer much. But no one ever knew what became of the warriors from Sifou camped in the woods. Their pirogues went far away, some were pushed as far as their island by the violence of the wind, and it was thought that they returned there weighed down with booty, but there was no one on the boats.

When Bohendiou left his hut he rubbed his eyes, so much had he slept.

They barely dared speak to him, remembering that he had promised a beautiful sun. But he began by saying that the sun of the tribes had risen, since their enemies had been destroyed.

Since that day they believed more than ever in the predictions of the takata, for he was less wrong than ever. As a present he was offered twelve necklaces of fruit bat hair along with other precious gifts.

Bohendiou had slept so long because he had taken a strong infusion of niaouli flowers.

In this kind of sleep at first are seen things and events that are leaving; leaving far away in a line like a ribbon unfurling without beginning or end. One dreams a long time of things that are remembered upon awakening, but which are erased afterwards and never return. But one would always like to sleep once one has drunk of this.

Who knows if in the dreams given by the niaouli flower the poor Kanak doesn’t see the earth in that far away time when science shines, where humanity will be strong and great, there and elsewhere.

Will our Europe have fallen, and will a new continent be attached by corals between the thousands of islands and atolls scattered in the great ocean?

Which men will construct the ships of the air, the submarines and the fleets with parachutes and apparatuses that will render shipwrecks impossible?

Which hands, with the assistance of electricity, will use, just as we use a tool that we carry with us, the force of cyclones, torrents, waves, air, sound, all the forces spread about in nature?

Who will walk across the great plains, now uncultivated and rocky? On the mountains that are today arid and that will then be green with forests planted in crushed stone, mixed up with vegetal earth?

Which men will be there when science will know how to purify the air of unhealthy germs, when we will have destroyed them in vegetation as well as in every animal through vaccines.

I, too, oh my friends, love the niaouli flower; I too dream long when breathing in its perfume.

Louise Michel quotes butterfly 5

Aptitudes of the Kanaks; Sunday Lessons

Nouméa, June 1880

After having spoken much about the Kanaks, one is obliged to return to one’s first impressions. The people have the qualities and vices of childhood.

Venom no more exists among them than it does among any Caledonian animal; their cruelty is unconscious, like that of childhood, and is sometimes the result of a violent feeling of vengeance or anger.

Loving the unknown, taken by the great poetry that emanates form it, they can be taught by presenting study to them as a living thing.

And so in the diahot on high (the river on high, the Milky Way) they have instinctively recognized a river of stars, and if we explain to them that their impression is correct they are a little surprised to have gotten things so right, and understand quite well that our sun rolls along with the others in these currents of the sun.

In these globes like drops of water where insects invisible to the naked eye move about, they enthusiastically understand the comparison. Neither the immense invisible, nor the infinitely small invisible surprises them. And if with a stubble of burned grass you arrive at making a small lens through which they can see the tiny animals, then their enthusiasm reaches its height, they’ll ask questions for an hour, and if they don’t immediately understand weeks, months, years later (after having thought about it) they’ll tell you: You know, I understand what you said the other day.

As long as the numbers are very small, they understand questions of addition and subtraction. If one has the time to work with them one should begin the study of mathematics with them with algebra.

The Kanaks have a very delicate ear, since their songs proceed in quarter-tones. The difficulties they encounter in singing like us, in tones and half tones, is no more difficult than that we feel in grasping their quarter tones.

After a short while one is surprised to hear full and sonorous voices come from these throats that at first give out only reedy and difficult sounds.

There are extremely dextrous. After having carefully examined a model (blurred with a finger so that the white chalk drawing forms an relief on the black board) they are able to perfectly sculpt a quite correct copy in relief on a wood plank, and they do this as easily as they trace the line on a blackboard.

A great element in their success is that they are no more frightened in advance than children by the difficulties of a science or an art.

Reading lessons succeed at the blackboard with the assistance of an alphabet, where the pointer indicates now one letter, now another in order to form the syllables and the words of the idioms of the tribes or of bichelamar. Singing succeeds as well, with a scale on the wall and the baton forming flying notes. These methods can only be employed at the beginning.

Once they’ve understood, many develop a passion for books or sheet music.

Sometimes one is swept away oneself by their progress but then, when you have already considered them as having left their ignorance behind, they return you to reality by some childishness embellished with a bichelamar word implanted in the coastal language by some sailor. This isn’t disappointing: don’t children become men? It’s the same for peoples.

And so one of them, to whom I spoke of grain plantations in Africa and of date pits that I was promised were going to be sent to me, was completely swept away by the idea of propagating these useful crops, and since I was showing a certain satisfaction he laughingly answered that will bowl over the white tayos.

Perhaps, feeling insulted by the contempt of the Europeans, they know no better way to express their need to show to whites that they, too, are men; and doesn’t emulation among children often have a goal just as puerile? (Don’t take this comparison wrong, the necessity is perhaps every bit as great). If we were to try to establish a vast school among the tribes, where everything would be taught (that is, the little we know) from the arts and sciences to the crafts that are derived from them, who knows how far these villages could go if they were taught simply. The leap from the Stone Age to our time would be a curious thing to study; many professors would be happy to learn about this.

Later, when the tribes will have been extinguished or mixed, we will perhaps regret not having made note of these notions of the past. But won’t the leap be just as great between what we know and what our descendants will know? One can only hope so.

A short while ago we spoke of the dexterity of the Kanaks, and here is an example: M. Borello, a doctor on the Ducos peninsula, saw one of their surgical operations (for cataracts) done, and perfectly done, with a piece of glass.

Other examples could be cited, but this one is striking.

Nouméa, June 28, 1880

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Fragments of Vocubulary.

Words spread among the tribes


Kanak Salutations

Anda iem pi
Anda diemuna pie say there, where are you going?
Anda dio poura
Hola hem
farewell, good-bye
Ho, ho, ho Farwell (as in good luck, with a hint of sadness, incertitude)
Tayo friend
Pe Do, say, is a kind of auxiliary
Tarou quickly
Pe tarou hurry, do it quickly
Ien where
Ta How
Ien pe where are you going?
Iè pe where is, here it is
Tamé Come
Piala Come her
Mamé give
Boima I ask of you
Maia Wait
Koilo, Louck Look
Dialep Go away
Moomed Tomorrow morning
Inou it is hot out
Chouna Like this
Kop handsome, good
Lélé Good, handsome
Ka kop very handsome, very good
Lejo handsome
Djo handsome
Delaen How handsome it is, how white it is
Hi -chéré Very strong disgust
Ah ouoh! Ah ouah doubt, sorrow
Sa here
Mouy, mouy rest
Cai, cai eat
Caou lem sleep
Modjio work
Kondoue drink
Phina walk
Théo thunder
Théama Chief
Théin son of the chief
Cabo daughter of the chief (little used)
Piquinini child
Canibe child (less widely used)
Hach man
Nemo (nothing) woman
Thebo (nothing) woman
Popinee useful object, woman
Pod hut
Poupouale Foreigner
Iep fire
Konra blood
Hija arm
Mod sky
Kola – koul rain
Oué great water, sea
Koueh brush
Kouleh grasshopper
Koula shrimp
Nani goat
Pouen tortoise
Poussy cat
Takyto watermelon
Kouka watermelon
Toutout the white man’s bugle
Thya apples
Cae pumpkin (since the occupation)
Nou coconut
Samou banana
Bouiek fruit bat
Pouin bouiek hair of the fruit bat
Curava pirogue
Garaba pirogue
Tbin – carabousse prison (since the occupation)
Manigat sun
Moi nouh moon
Piouh star
Payoute earth eaten by the natives
Toul, macao ox (since the occupation)
Key key, new object and word from the English
Togny, toky wire, telegraph wire of the whites
Poylei shirt, tunic (new word)
Mea red
Faraoua bread (since the occupation)
Couka cook
Koe no
Helou yes
Tabou forbidden, sacred
Takata sorcerer, doctor, magnetizer
maté ill
maté, maté dead


Dialect of the tribes spread about the mainland, from the plain of the great lakes to the Bay of Canala. Tribes of This, Ouroué, Dotio, neheli

I garou, gou
You gué, gé
The two of us menva
You (informal)or you (formal) Oune (speaking to the chief)
To drive (one) mekunden
To dorve (both of us) menou
To have kitara
To want nahorii
Today nemod
Yesterday ammo
The day before yesterday Mi korou
Tomorrow occé
The day after tomorrow mi harou
4th day néché
5th day néfoué
6th day neneuneu
when ani
where ou
what ya
morning nakoa
evening tombaré or nechendé
the middle of the day mecamia
quickly mane
slowly pepambou
yes eeu
no sie
pure kiti
unclean, dirty nicha
black takaamase
white euneu
mixed race kouene kchaa
man and young man oneou
woman popinée, peu
young girl peu-neou koupé
father apa
mother ya
sister moundouena, chéneré
brother choarena, doumi, daoumi
grandfather mouiendo
grandson coundo
wind kouendé
great wind mouiek kouendé
river diahot
river nekoué
water koue
ocean koueta
fresh water koueniorou
salt water kouéta
Cloud ko
Rain kougé
Rising tide koué
Falling tide choo
Flood de
Thunder neto
The sky nechea
The earth gumarra co meudo
Mountain bagna or bakoua
Shell erékia
Stone schangge
The stars choueiné
Moon amboniai
Sun camea
Fish no
Shark neu
Crab uboé
Hen doo
Tortoise pouen
Pigeon mono or notou
Cat me
Dog taki
Yam nou-kou
Banana poé banana
Taro moni di
Coconut nou
Sugarcane dé
Wood koa
Tree kouan
Grass kouele
Citronella choua-boua
Rosewood peuhaou
Ironwood embonia
Pipe poapi
Smoke guioue
To sell okouerie
To buy neuna Jeudi
To rest madeu
To cry tei
To cough chego
To work koua
To run pocouno
To wait tandeuou
To take pe
To leave ounna
To whistle koua
To sing ko
To give koumé
To sleep mentiche
To sit tchoue
To wash chopo
To open tioun
Dance pilou
A year an igname
Was dance pilou war
Pirogue carava caraba
Double pirogue pouenou
Simple pirogue corba
Sagaie djo
Tomahawk djia
Rifle kouga
Knife nafe
hamlet chichi
Comb tchiou
Tapa ieu
Shirt, blouse, dress tetnoté (since the occupation)
Door kookoua
Hut moa
Window koaiou
Village koua
Linen koou
Rope koundou
Kettle keute
Good lele-korou
Bad lécha
Ill pai or mate
Liar fé
To take a walk meneefendo
To eat rida or caicai
To say ché
To seek pepelé


Sky dat
Sun mainga
Moon moinouck
Star piouck
Earth dilit
Sea dene
Wind ouriou
Storm apia ouriou
Plant iegaiouk
Flower mouth
Tree tchick
Branch entchik
Fruit poinick
Banana tree tien samoa
Banana samou
Coconut tree nou
Coconut nou
Taro taro
Yam oubich
Cultivation saoult
Man alch
Woman tamoi
Child alou
War puth
Combat andia
To kill angue
To eat cai-cai
To drink ondou
To sleep ind’oulee
Fire naa
Smoke poien
Sagaie do
Slingshot oundat
Stone padu
Pebble ondep
Rock andiouck
Stream poin oue
Hut moin
Axe ghi
Serpentine ghi
Dead math or mat mate
To die pouimath
Pirogue caravan caraba
Caledonian coin enghi enju
White man’s coin monnaie-money


Sky boindiou
Sun caré-nega
Moon faraoui
Star igniau
Earth néva
Sea baraionie
Wind kajir
Storm nakoua, nekouen
Plant kin
Branch koui-kin
Fruit poinkin
Banana tree serou
Coconut tree nou
Taro moi
Yam maa
Cultivation mara
Man komo
Woman coue-nemo, popinee
Child ozari (piquinini)
War paa
To fight ninaka paa
To kill koemi
To eat cai cai
To drink auro
To sleep kourou
Fire kemorou
Smoke pou
Sagaie da
Slingshot beaue
Stone pégou
Pebble boendiou
Rock boendiou
Stream ain ga
Hut moin
Axe ghi
Serpentine ghi
Death mé
To die na mé
Pirogue caravan caraba
Caledonian coin enghi
White man’s coin money


Sky pou
Sun mamgai
Moon niouiouk
Star piouk
Earth dilit
Sea dene
Wind dan
Storm andan
Plant tcheaioue
Flower moutk
Tree tchick
Branch enn tchick
Fruit pein tchick
Banana tree tien samou
Banana samou
Coconut tree nou
Coconut nou
Taro tari
Yam ouit
Cultivation pogat
Man alck
Woman thevoo
Child cambé piquinini
War puath
To fight egnia
To kill anghi
To eat ou
To drink kindee
To sleep kain oulee
Fire ieps
Smoke poum
Sagaie da
Slingshot onandat
Stone peit
Pebble oudip
Rock andiouk
Stream ani-oué
Hut moin
Axe ghi
Serpentine ghi
Death match
To die an match
Pirogue caravan caraba
Caledonian coin enghi, enji
White man’s coin monnaie,money


Sky poa
Sun maingat
Moon poin
Star piouk
Earth dilit
Sea dene
Wind ni
Strom ui-dan
Plant tchek aiou
Flower mouth
Tree tchik
Branch um-tchik
Fruit pointchik
Banana tree tien samou
Banana samou
Coconut tree chepo
Coconut chep
Taro io
Yam coue
Cultivation coue
Man kaiou
Woman no-o-e
Child iaouk
War path
To fight andie
To kill cai
To eat ou
To drink kondouk
To sleep kainga
Fire iak
Smoke ai mou
Sagaie da
Slingshot ouandai
Stone paick
Pebble audip
Rock beune
Stream oin oué
Hut gnan
Axe ghi
Serpentine ghi
Death match
To die oin match
Pirogue caravan caraba
Coaledonian coin tene
White man’s coin monaie money


Isle of Pines
Niaouli yénéde
Petrified liana denjey
Green liana elouey
Noyer de bancoul rio
Nut vagoum
Orange and lemon wia or kie synime
Pine and fir adé
Castor papa aley
Bois de santal kanoum
Mimeas seigou
Rosewood penhaou
Goyavier kay
Bois de gayac metzo
Fig tree woukadey
Fig woutiange
Chenopode woueley
Coconut tree nou
Coconut waanou
Ironwood nanoué
Banana tree nama
Bananan woiey or wouey
Breadfruit tree wouniumy
Pandanus onel
Boabad yadem
Anacaerdier woanoumy
Wood céreilly
Gree wood goiuj
Leaf rounahak
Heather idara
Cabbage cabbage
Sugar cane wouca
Coloquinte wadguiecaillete
Fougere kédée
Mushroom mauney
Grain réné reyty
Gladiola nodekoney
Wild taro oyaka
Grass léyo
Dried beans tzaé
Green beans tota
Maize keidé
Potato koumala
Yam nou
Straw woikédé
Watermelon wouseum
Banana diet woé metiy da
Resin nasoode
Pineapple anenana
Unripe fruit pecaye
Tobacco siéra
Tomato woapounne
Jonc kongou
Coral ya dey dey

Material of beaten Coconut tree used For a funeral

Bonnet gonta
Porcelain woaneykieu
Snail woanem
Argonaut neibeylo
Mussel woymédé
Fish in general, wouagie
Bones donnay
Shark lok
Raie cry pepel
Whale beyreid
Tortoise kievahem
Crab bou
Lizard bouyau
Serpent yekée
Seiche talayreimey raygné
Skeleton otugyou
Chenille meneyau
Miilepied yaoula
Flea otte
Bee waakouy
Ant keddy
Night butterfly woukoung
Day butterfly weapill diakoul
Grasshopper doua
Bird rya
Feathers dey
Plummet menn
Perruche oeya
Pigeon mekey kied
Mouette monin
Martin-pecheur kotté
Duck kouté
Pintade kotée
Cock tyto
Mouse kellé
Fruit bat adail
Hen tyanay or seyne
Little hen boueté main
big hen woitilla
Cat poussy or kouly
Big pig boyka poika or poca
Small pig weyka
Grouin yagnat
Ass myno
Dog pailley
Horse horse

Various numbering systems

I think one will recognize similarities between arab numerals and the following kanak numerals. It exists even more between Kanak numbers and the names of Arabic letters

1. oua, had
2. t’nine
3. tleta
4. arba
5. kamsa
6. s’elta
7. seba
8. stémania
9. tersaa
10. achra
11. hadache
12. t’nache

Others, such as those in the Chio, Ouroue and other tribes have a different allure. They imitate a bit the sound of a spinning wheel.


1. tcheit
2. crou
3. etchin
4. epayt

5. enim
6. enitcheit
7. enindou
8. enindjen
9. enipsait
10. payndo

Choen bouene

1. tché
2. tchelouk
3. tchen
4. poé
5. min
6. etche
7. etchelouk
8. epaye
9. enun
10. paylo
20. boin peylo


1. tchein
2. tchelouk
3. tchein
4. poe
5. nini
6. etchen
7. etchelouk
8. enitchen
9. enipoet
10. paindo


1. cha a
2. karou
3. kasili
4. kafoué
5. kanini
6. kanijakain
7. kanikafoué
8. barourou


1. cha
2. barou
3. basili
4. bafoué
5. banini
6. baniack
7. bani barou
8. bani basili
9. banifoué
10 .paim barou

Tide island

(1st series; up to five)

1. ca
2. djeoue
3. teni
4. ekie
5. seda

(2nd series after 5 by adding ne)

1. ne ca
2. ne devou’e
3. ne teni
4. ne ekie
5. ne sedo


1. ponait
2. poirou
3. poikiet
4. poin pait
5. poin mini
6. poin indien
7. poin poit
8. poinandou
9. pointchick
10. poroupé


1. calins
2. carou
3. caren
4. carpas
5. camen
6. camendis
7. canendou
8. canendiou
9. pouanebas
10. pouarouk


We have noticed that when Kanaks count they first advance one hand and then the other, then one foot and then the other. Their counting always contains a pause, and sometimes a change between these four series.

Those in which other series begin continue using the same method.

None goes farther than the following one:

Thio – Onroué-Néhélé

1. doca cha
2. barou
3. bachi
4. kanafoué
5. kananeuneu
6. kananeuneu doca
7. kananeuneu nombarou
8. kananeuneu nombachi
9. kananeuneu nombafoué
10. kananeuneu nombaneuneu
11. chamangué
12. barou mangué
13. bachi mangué
14. canafoué
15. cananeuneu mangué
16. kananeuneu doca mangué
17. kananeuneu nombarou mangué
18. kananeuneu bachi mangué
19. kananeuneu nombafoué mangué
20. kananeuneu nombaneuneu mangué
40. kambaru douhamourou
60. kambachi deri
80. kanafoué deri
90. kananeuneu deri

After this figure counting is no longer possible.

Chamando (many) the uncountable is rendered by nombarou, i.e., one can no longer count.

Perhaps I am deluding myself, but it seems to me that these numerical systems are curious, and at the moment when the Kanaks like the Australian tribes, like the redskins and many others who will disappear, science should seize upon these vocabularies and numbering systems, seize these living examples of the mores of the Stone Age and we will find within them something of the past.

It can be remarked that in all vocabularies the word axe, ghi, and the word serpentine are the same. It is thus the stone par excellence for axes.

Is this not true for the words némo théo as well?

I deliver these vocabularies for those who like to do research. They will perhaps find something of use here.

That of the Isle of Pines contains an almost complete list of Caledonian plants and animals. It isn’t long, or there are few, and all without venom.

It’s a small parcel of land, but it sometimes good to take up the microscope.

Nouméa June 1882

Source: Légendes et Chants de Gestes Canaques. Paris, Kéva et Co., 1885;
Translated: for Marxists.org by Mitch Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2005.