August 13, 2014

1182 FRANCE (New Caledonia) - A Kunie child ready to dance in Isle of Pines

New Caledonia, a special collectivity of France, consists in an archipelago located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, in Melanesia, at mid-way between Australia and New Zealand. Among its islands is the Isle of Pines (French: Île des Pins; Kanak name: Kunyié), nicknamed "l'île la plus proche du paradis" (the closest island to Paradise). The inhabitants of the island are mainly native Melanesian Kanaks and the population is 2,000 (estimated 2006). The origin of Kanak people is unclear, but ethnographic research has shown that Polynesian seafarers have intermarried with the Kanaks over the centuries.

Kanak society is organised around clans, each having between fifty and several hundred members. The clan could initially be made up of people related through a common ancestor, comprising several families. Common markers of national identity include the cultivation of yams and taros, a hierarchy that differentiates high-ranking persons (masters of the soil and chiefs) from lower status persons, kinship relations, the practice of nonmercantile ceremonial exchanges between clans and chieftainships for marriages and funerals, and belief in ancestors' presence among the living.

The indigenous Kunie people are formed into eight tribes, each with their own ‘little chief’ and governed as a whole by a High Chief. The island is divided rather like a cake and the Kunies live scattered around the island in their own tribal area, mainly in order to cultivate their yams. Many of them also live in the only village, Vao. Dances are performed during the traditional Kanak gatherings with the objective of cementing relationships within the clan and with ancestors. Dancers paint themselves colourfully to please the ancestors watching over them.

Wooden masks made of local materials such as bark, feathers and leaves adorn them representing a physical link with the invisible world. Of the various dance forms, the pilou-pilou dance is a unique dance form of the Kanaks, which recounts many stories of the clans. It was so named by the early French missionaries and involved stomping with bamboo tubes and beating of bark-clappers accompanied by singing in duets with shrieks and whistles of hundreds of dancers. It has a very strong nature, with a trance-like status attained by the dancers.

About the stamp
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Isle of Pines (New Caledonia) - Wikipedia
Kanak People - Wikipedia
Kanak Culture - Virtual New Caledonia
The Kunie People - Isle of Pines official website

Sender: Philatelic Bureau of New Caledonia
Sent from Nouméa (Grande Terre / New Caledonia), on 24.07.2014
Photo: Pierre Alain Pantz

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