Paris pays a timely homage to the art and 'the word' of the Kanaks

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Just as New Caledonia, the furthest-flung French territory, is about to embark on the final steps for self-determination, the Quai Branly museum in Paris has timely put together a rich and wide-ranging exhibition of the art and culture of the archipelago’s indigenous Kanak population that reveals a people debunking 160 years of colonialism and redefining themselves. Joseph Confavreux outlines the political context of the show, and calls on anthropologist Alban Bensa, an authority on Kanak culture, to decode the exhibition’s vast array of exhibits.

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It is now 15 years since a ground-breaking accord was signed setting a timetable for self-determination for New Caledonia, the French Pacific Ocean territory with a population of just under 250,000. Importantly, the Noumea Accord recognised for the first time the wrongs of colonisation and the human and cultural identity of its inhabitants, the Kanaks.