Monday, November 21, 2011

Paris - Reconciliation

Thanks to a grant from the EU's Grundtvig fund, I spent a great couple of days in Paris at a conference on Indigenous Festivals and their role in processes of Reconciliation, organised by the Indigeneity project at Royal Holloway. This is an amazing research project, run by Helen Gilbert, who we've been consulting with for years, and who has also helped us with many aspects of Origins, including some funding towards Marie's workshop this year. For the next Festival, Helen and I are discussing a plan to work together very closely, as it will coincide with the final exhibition at the end of her project. That's too good a chance to miss.

The conference was a great chance to meet some people I'd heard about but never actually encountered before, and to renew some old acquaintances. There were people there who had been at Origins, but who I'd never actually spoken to. Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal was there too - a very exciting Māori scholar and musician, who is working to recreate the performance forms that existed before contact with Europeans. He spoke very eloquently about the need to move indigeneity beyond the passive experience of suffering, and to see it as "a gift to the world". That prompted me to some thoughts in my own speech. There were also some really fascinating French contacts, whose involvement could broaden the remit of the whole festival. And they introduced me to New Caledonia.

I knew very little about this land, and its indigenous Kanak people, although we did have a poem by Kanak writer Paul Wamo in the last Origins programme book. There was a struggle for decolonisation as recently as the 1980s, led by Jean-Marie Tjibaou. After he had achieved an agreement with the French government, Tjibaou was assassinated by the more radical figure Djubelly Wéa, who felt he had compromised on the aim of absolute independence. Fifteen years on, through a ceremony of reconciliation which exists in Kanak culture, it became possible for the widows of these two men to embrace. The process through which the reconciliation was achieved, and the extraordinarily moving ceremony which it involved, was the subject of the film Tjibaou, le pardon, which was screened at the conference. And Marie-Claude Tjibaou herself was there to talk about it with us. It's a very special film indeed - and you can watch it here.