Friday, July 2, 2010

The Kanak Apple Season: Dewe Gorode

The Kanak Apple Season is a book of short stories by the Kanak writer Dewe Gorode. The book is a selection of short stories written in French by this prolific national figure and one of Pacific’s powerful woman in politics, Dewe Gorode. She was born in 1949 at Ponerihouen on the central east coast of New Caledonia.

The Kanak Apple Season is an anthology of selected short fiction penned by the Francophone speaking Melanesian of New Caledonia, whom I had met briefly in a conference on Indigenous epistemology in Suva, Fiji back in 2006. The book was published in 2004 by Pandanus Books for the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies in the Australian National University. Peter Brown translated and edited the collection with the assistance from Australian Research Council, Australian National University, as well as the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in New Caledonia and the French Embassy in Australia.

The Kanak Apple Season interested me for a very good reason. For a long time, the syllabus on Pacific literature in our regional universities has not included any of the Indigenous writings from the Francophone speaking Pacific countries. As far as I know this has been the case until this decade, we began to see the emergence and exposure of the literature of our French speaking Pacific brothers and sisters such as Ma’ohi writer of French Polynesia: Henri Hiro, Chantel Spitz, Flora Devatine, Loiuse Peltzer, Taaria Walker (Mama Pere), Titaua Peu, and Celestine Hitiura Vaite; Ni-Vanuatu writers such Grace Molisa, Sam Ngwele, and New Caledonian writers such as Dewe Gorode, Wanir Welepane, and Pierre Gope. It brings home the point that the Pacific Ocean is home, to both English or French speakers, that our discussions of Pacific writing, cultures, and knowledge systems must include Indigenous authors in the French speaking countries as well as English speaking nations. Reading the writings of our fellow Pacific Islanders, whether these are in French or English, we can come to understand and appreciate each other’s social, cultural, and political conditions and experiences. The answer to the question how much do we do each other as Melanesians or as Pacific Islanders is possible through reading books by Indigenous authors.

Dewe Gorode has a lot to do with the resurgence of Kanak cultural consciousness. Her first volume of poetry Sous les cendres des conques (1985) appeared in the midst of the troubled years of New Caledonia. Gorode was heavily involved in the political history of New Caledonia. In the late 1960s and 1970s she became politically active by joining the Foulards rouges (Red scarves) movement, set up by Nidoish Naiseline, a grand chef from the Loyalty Island of Mare. She later formed, with the Elie Poignoune, the Groupe 1978, in memory of the Kanak revolt of that year under chief Atai. In 1976 she founded with others the political party PALIKA (Pari de Liberation Kanak), and has remained a leading member of the party. She was interned twice, second being for inciting violence and armed revolved through the publication of a tract written in the wake of the death of a young Kanak protestor.

Gorode continued her political work in PALIKA, with a special attention to the setting up of schools designed as an alternative to the French education system to teach Kanak children about their culture and in their own Kanak languages. In 1984, after the formation of the FLNKS, she became a representative for external relations and as such made many trips to speak at international conferences of developing countries and the non-aligned movement, United Nations’ committees (New Caledonia was pit on the UN decolonization list in 1986) and women’s groups. After the Noumea Accord in 1988 she formally entered politics at the territorial level, in May 1999, as an elected representative to the New Caledonian Congres, where she assumed the portfolio of Culture, Sport and Youth Affairs. Since April 2001, she has been Vice President of the New Caledonian Government.

Introducing Dewe Gorode now is important to me. Dewe Gorode continues to conduct a dual career that is cultural and political in her life that just reading the stories she wrote in The Kanaky Apple Season, I am reminded of the committed writing, in the sense of writing being a political tool, that is used to address particular political concerns of a writer.

Peter Brown, in his introduction, to Gorode’s writing says: “Indeed, her writing, like her career as a teacher, is an act of cultural politics. Her double heritage, Paici and French, can be seen in her texts, which reject exoticism and facile dichotomies in favour of a critical evaluation of and creative engagement with culture that often involves her in a transgression of boundaries….Her writing is a mise en scene of kinship relations within the Kanak world, an attempt at a reinterpretation of history, and an interplay of aesthetic forms that catch the unfamiliar reader off guard…, multiply narrative perspectives and to some degree ‘kanakise’ the French language.”

In reading Gorode’s The Kanak Apple Season a strong sense of kinship among Melanesians holds us together, inspite of the political history and geographical dispersals we find ourselves in. I kept thinking about an experience I had on Ovea, meeting a chief who made sure to register with me that we are brothers even though we live in two different countries with different histories. And in some sense, being in New Caledonia in 2007, felt like a strange country, but the kinship recognized through the Melanesian identification renews that ancestral connection.

The Kanak Apple Season is a remarkable collection highlighting the ethnic complexities of the colonial past of New Caledonia. Dewe Gorode draws her inspiration from the heritage of blood-line, family, cultural traditions and colonialism. Peter Brown sums up this collection nicely: “Modernity and tradition, kinship in Kanak village setting and the problems of contemporary urban contexts, women’s liberation and custom, political action and explorations of being, are all at stake for Dewe Gorode in this collection of stories.”

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