Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Another Caledonia

There was once a beautiful country called Caledonia whose mineral riches fed an Imperial state. Her position in the ocean meant that the Empire held sway over huge swathes of sea, vital to the Empire's shipping interests.

The Imperial state did what such states do. They brought in settlers whose farms and sheep displaced the locals onto marginal land. They exploited the underground wealth and the sea. And as is typical with Imperial states, they would not share the riches. The Empire gave trinkets in exchange for vast wealth.

When the Caledonians complained, they shot them. When the Caledonians complained more, they decapitated the rebel leader…

...and stored his head in a drawer in the Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris.


For this is New Caledonia. There, on 1st September 1878, the guerrilla leader Ataï was captured 25 years after the country was colonised by France. He and his traditional healer were decapitated, and the skulls of both sent to Paris where they were lost in the stores of the museum.

On 28th August 2014, France formally handed back Ataï's remains to Bergé Kawa, great nephew of Ataï and Grand Chieftain of the Petit-Couli people.

George Pau-Langevin, Minister for Overseas Territories, with Chief Bergé Kawa

Like the country it is named after, New Caledonia has mineral wealth - in this case the fourth largest nickel mine in the world. It suffered clearances, like Scotland, with its peoples pushed onto marginal lands. Like its namesake it allows access to a huge area of ocean; thanks to New Caledonia, France is second only to the USA in Pacific sea area...with huge undersea mineral potential.

And like Scotland, New Caledonia will have a referendum to decide on independence from France.

Different place. Same story.

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