August 24, 2014

1205 FRANCE (New Caledonia) - A traditional hut in Maré Island

Maré Island is the second-largest of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. The population of Maré is about 6900, of mainly Melanesian heritage (less than 2% of the population is of European ancestry), more specifically Kanak. The traditional hut is architecturally representative of the Kanak culture, its features representing the organization and lifestyle of the tribes. Fitting perfectly into the landscape, enhanced by neatly trimmed grass and coconut palms, the island hut has lasted through the centuries. It is found everywhere: there are no inhabited places without a hut.

Traditionally round, the hut is built of plant materials: wood and straw or, as on Ouvéa, wood and coconut palm fronds. It is the place where a family and others from the same clan sleep. Children usually rest at the back of this dwelling. Inside, a hearth is placed near the entrance. Its special features are seen first in its entrance. An adult cannot step across it without bowing, an attitude that symbolises the respect due to the dwelling’s occupants. The centrepost, with its substantial diameter, represents the clan chief. The outer posts represent the chief's subjects: they lean towards the centrepost and support it to the roof. To hold it all together, there is a basket of woven creeper under the rooftop. It is an image of the group’s social cohesion. 

In tribal villages, one hut higher than the others stands out: the great hut (grande case). Built on a mound, sometimes bounded by large wooden fences, the great hut is the key symbol of the chefferie or chieftaincy, even if the chief doesn't live there. On each side of the door, doorposts in sculpted wood recall the presence of the ancestors. It is the place where elders gather for all collective decisions, and no one has the right to enter this sacred space without being invited to do so. Building a hut is a social and spiritual act. The entire community takes part in erecting the hut, and each group has its role, the successive stages of construction being accompanied by custom rituals.

The Hut - Ile Loyaute

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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