Kuita et le feu

Cina a appâté Kuita avec son maka feke

 

Elle l’a attiré de son cachot sous-marin

son domicile dans le grand wasawasa

 

Kuita a tiré Cina

dans les profondeurs de l’océan Pacifique

 

*

 

Le géant pleure de honte

 

Ta’uvala tissé de tentacules

 

Les tentacules qui avaient lacéré la taille de Cina

laissant sur son ventre des cicatrices

qui ressemblent aux motifs ancestraux

 

*

 

enfermés dans des pans de temps

de feux qui s’enflamment

de chair qui brûle

de cœurs qui se brisent

 

Son maka feke

a détourné la vision de Kuita

a démêlé ses bras

Il l’a accueillie dans son cœur

 

*

 

Il était difficile de se quitter

Ils se séparaient en se fondant

comme les îles

d’Uvea Mo Futuna

 

Kuita a relâché le maka feke

Il a coulé dans sa mer aux profondeurs insondables

Cina s’est élevée en spirale

s’échappant de son monde sous-marin

 

*

Au sa soro

J’y renonce

 

Les échos des abysses

 

Kuita utilise ses tentacules découpés pour tisser un Ulumate

Il grave le mot

« Cina »

dans les murs de sa grotte

les ventouses remplies de dents tranchantes

qui grattent des symboles sacrés

Bati Ni Qio

Des fourchettes des cannibales

jusqu’aux dents des requins

qui descendent sa colonne vertébrale

Des chemins ancestraux

décorés de motifs de Masi

Des histoires ancestrales

qui décorent la peau

Une créature mystérieuse de l’océan

 

*

 

Kuita sombre encore plus dans la fragilité de sa coquille cassée

Il remonte au moment où

Degei a relâché Turukawa

 

Il n’arrive pas à croire

que Degei l’a laissée s’évader

 

Kuita n’arrive pas à croire

qu’il a laissé partir Cina

 

*

 

Cina est remontée à la surface tout près de son waqa

ancré au même endroit

 

Elle a surfé sur les vagues jusqu’à la terre ferme dans son canoë

rinçant son corps élancé dans le wai tui

 

*

 

Meke vula sur le sable blanc

sous la lune noire

 

*

De retour à son bure

Elle protège leur fils

Qio

Un cadeau du Mata ni siga

 

Qio

 

Il est toujours un bébé requin

Il est vuku aussi

Mais il ne le sait pas encore

 

*

 

Preprint later published as:

Kamali, Daren and Speedy, Karin. 2017. “Kuita and the Flame/Kuita et le feu” (poem translated by Karin Speedy), Francosphères, 6(2), 95-102.

Glossaire

* Kuita: le poulpe en fidjien

* Cina: la lumière ou la lueur en fidjien

* Ta’uvala: une ceinture faite d’un fil de noix de coco

* Maka feke: un leurre tongan pour attraper les poulpes

* Uvea Mo Futuna: Les îles du Pacifique Wallis et Futuna

* Masi: le tapa (tissu d’écorce) fidjien

* Ulumate: la perruque d’un guerrier

* Bati ni qio: les dents d’un requin

* Mata Ni Siga: Les yeux du Soleil

* Meke vula: une danse de la lune

* Vuku: intelligent ou talentueux

* Bure: une case fidjienne

* Qio: un requin

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Transformative Journeys

Academic articles take forever to come out. I have one due to be published shortly (touch wood) based on the oral histories of the Aymard and Elphège families, descendants of mixed race migrants from Reunion Island (Indian Ocean French sugar colony) who settled in New Caledonia in the 1870s. (Note: this article has since been published here). The Reunionese had been enticed to New Caledonia to help set up the fledgling sugar industry that local administrators hoped would supply sugar to the region. They were mostly former slaves or free people of colour (of mixed African, Malagasy and French origin) who had become impoverished after the sugar industry collapse in Reunion. Most entered New Caledonia as French citizens, a status bestowed upon them on emancipation

Despite their freedom and citizenship, many of the formerly enslaved Reunionese remained on the outer limits of society in ReunionFacing increasing destitution as the sugar industry went bust, move to a new colony was aopportunity to start afresh for them. The division of New Caledonian society into free settlers, convicts, indentured labourers and indigenous people (free, unfree, and indigenous)allowed all Reunionesesomewhat serendipitously, as French citizens, to enjoy their social status as part of the white settler population. In New Caledonia, the blacks were the indigenous Kanak. They were assigned inferior social status and were subject to extreme prejudice born of 19th-century  scientific racism and the exigencies of settler colonialism. In this climate, the tradition of the non-dit (the unsaid) in New Caledonia assisted the Reunionese to negotiate their new settler whiteness while enabling the colonial administration to populate/occupy the land with French citizens; the silence and silencing allowing for the emergence of settler colonial narrative centring on the white settler/black Indigenous binary.

Despite the deliberate masking of the past, cultural practices, family stories and artefacts were passed on even if this was done behind closed doors. This poem imagines the journeys of those who transitioned from the oppressed in one colonial space to a position more akin to oppressor in a new one.

 

 

#FantasyLives

Fascinating
fabricated
family histories
that create
a certain coziness
in inhospitable
social climes

Transformative journeys
west to east
north to south
black to almost
white
or French
at least

Camouflaging
marks
still fresh
still raw
in shackled flesh
concealed beneath
the frothy skirts
of settler society

Hiding pasts
still manifest
in the
rougail
served with kari
consumed
with relish
but never
questioned

A new beginning
a second chance

Hush
don’t ask
stick together
the seamstresses
will stitch
a new family
tapestry

© Karin Speedy 2016

Colonial Curtains

My dear friend and colleague Alice Te Punga Somerville and I coined the phrase “all roads lead to Joubert” after almost every research project I undertook seemed to involve in some way, shape or form Didier Numa Joubert. Whether he was obtaining land from the New Caledonian governor for sugar plantations (land seized/stolen from local Kanak after they fled from colonial persecution following the killing of the settler Berard), organising a blackbirding expedition to the Pacific to furnish Reunionese sugar planters with slave labour or bringing Pacific Islanders into Sydney to work for the Marists, Didier was seemingly everywhere in and across the Pacific and Indian Oceans and Sydney in the second half of the 19th century.*

My research has mostly focused on the stories of those silenced  or subdued by the exploits of men like Joubert and, while I am loathe to thrust yet another white colonial male into the limelight, I admit that he, the person, has intrigued me. I wondered what this trans-imperial man with his fingers in so many commercial pies, a man who seemed to be at the forefront of every opportunity for capitalist exploitation in the region, could have been like.

The Joubert file in the State Archives in Sydney contains information on the property speculation the Joubert family undertook in Hunters Hill and financial documents ad infinitum. It tells us very little about Didier and his family save they were very interested in the accumulation of money. The Joubert file in the Hunters Hill Museum, however, includes much more family history. Perhaps the most striking finds for me were the images, the portraits of this man. They seemed to speak, to reveal something of the character of this person who was part of Sydney high society despite the numerous scandals that he apparently shook off without too much trouble. On the way home from the archive, his pictures stored on my phone, a poem began to take shape. And this is what eventually emerged…

Didier’s Drapes

There’s a portrait of you

young-joubert

Didier Numa Joubert, Joubert file, Hunters Hill Museum

serious, rather dour

with strangely dead eyes
for such a young man
with a fulsome life
of adventure, toil, scheming, scandal
and some serious money-making
ahead of you
The portrait of you
shirt open like a sea trader
shiftily handsome with your
high cheekbones and masculine brow
and those eyes that refuse my gaze
is now in the Hunters Hill museum
unceremoniously filed
in a yellowing Manila folder
stuffed full of family history
This portrait of you
a watercolour

that you sat for

rock-hounds

Joubert file, Hunters Hill Museum

eyes darkly to the side
with cash transactions
deals and deceptions
swirling around
your businessman brain
was later reproduced
to serve as a Christmas card
“I thought it would interest you
Rock hounds of Hunters Hill”
scrawled on the back
“our warmest wishes to you
for the New Year”
Did you ever imagine that your
pinched-lipped portrait
devoid of joy
would be used in place of
holly or Father Christmas
or sleigh bells or baby Jesus
to send Christmas greetings
your image an emblem of that manicured
sandstone beacon
of French village life
on the edge of the
Parramatta?
I had always known you
in other portraits
or photos
taken in later life
the mutton-chop profile
of a middle-aged man

eyes averted and comfortably bourgeois

old-joubert

Joubert file, Hunters Hill Museum

or the stouter

fully-bewhiskered
grand-père
in a black suit
with your eyes firmly shut
This painted portrait of you
a man in his twenties
clean-shaven, straight-nosed
slightly unruly
coal-coloured curls
teasing your forehead
is different, striking, unnerving
It’s the eyes
those curiously
dead
eyes
for man in the bloom of youth
Yes, in this candid portrait of you, Didier
you had not quite learned the art
of curtaining
your windows
Karin Speedy ©2017
* See the following for details:
Hosie, John. 1987. Challenge: The Marists in Colonial Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Speedy, Karin. 2007. Colons, Créoles et Coolies: L’immigration réunionnaise en Nouvelle-Calédonie (XIXe siècle) et le tayo de Saint-Louis. Paris: L’Harmattan.

Speedy, Karin. 2008. “Out of the frying pan and into the fire: Reunionese immigrants and the sugar industry in nineteenth-century New Caledonia”, New Zealand Journal of French Studies, 29.2, 5-19.

Speedy, Karin. 2015. “The Sutton Case: the First Franco-Australian Foray into Blackbirding”, The Journal of Pacific History, 50, no. 3, 344-364.

Speedy, Karin. 2016. “Constructing Subaltern Silence in the Colonial Archive”, Journal of Australian Colonial History, 18, 95-114.

Interconnections and Mobilities: the Pacific Francosphere

Call for Abstracts for a Special Issue of Francosphères
Interconnections and Mobilities: the Pacific Francosphere

Within nationalist, border-focused frameworks, the Francophone Pacific has been painted as isolated and cut-off from its neighbours due to its linguistic difference. However, French-speaking islands have long established Indigenous connections with other sites and peoples both outside of and within the Pacific. These ancestral and historical connections, often linked to widespread ocean-going mobilities, continued throughout the colonial era and were important in the shaping of populations, cultures, languages and relationships in the region. While these links have been somewhat eroded by the uncompromising imperatives of nation-building, there has been increasing interest in rediscovering and reviving these connections and creating new pathways of exchange between linguistically diverse Pacific spaces.

This special issue of Francosphères invites contributions that reflect critically on the Pacific Francosphere as part of a dynamic, interconnected, transcultural space of moving bodies, ideas and texts. How do Francophone islands connect/intersect with each other, with other Indigenous, Anglophone or Hispanophone spaces in the region or with other Francospheres beyond the Pacific?

In the first instance, we are calling for 250-300 word abstracts for papers in English or French that engage with the theme of this special issue. Please email your abstract and brief bio to the Guest Editor, Associate Professor Karin Speedy, Macquarie University, Sydney: karin.speedy@mq.edu.au by 30 June 2016.

If your abstract is selected, you will need to submit a completed 5,000 word article (including bibliography and footnotes) by 30 September 2016. The articles will then proceed to peer review. The special issue will be published in December 2017.

For more information about Francospères, please visit the journal’s website.

Call for Abstracts Francospheres