Accepted Paper:

has pdf download Forms, imaginary and identity: some material culture dynamics of the Kanak tombs  


Aurélien Baroiller (Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will show how kanak people impose their own cultural imaginary on tombs that are bought on the Nouméa market. Subject to little aesthetic modifications, the tombs are reinterpreted through their symbolic construction during the ritual which thus inserts them into local representations.

Paper long abstract:

Among the kanaks (New-Caledonia), tombstones, which have recently been introduced into local material culture, have become culturally invested objects that are central in the making of one's good life because of their connection with the ancestors, who constantly help the livings. They are however not made locally, nor much personalized. Therefore, this paper will show how an item that is not the product of local design can still end up being considered as a traditional artifact ("objet coutumier" in local French) and imbedded in local imaginary. After having developed the imaginary focused on the tomb, I will show the very limited aesthetic modifications of the item that those representations might sometimes imply. To understand how this item came to be so culturally invested and yet little personalized, I will analyze the place of the tomb in the funerary ritual. This will reveal how, by symbolically constructing the tomb during a ritual cycle of one year, the kanak substitute to the actual fabrication of the item a symbolic one, giving it a "ritual biography" that is the key of the tombstone reappropriation. Finally, by comparing briefly the institutionalization of the tombstone meaning through ritual with the one that the "chaîne opératoire" achieves, I will try to explain why the ritual biography can't make some ambiguities of the item disappear, that tend to surface when the kanak take a reflexive posture and speak about themselves to those they want to differ from : the caldoches and metropolitans.

Panel W018
Confronting uncertainty: imagination in art and material culture