International Journal of Law in Context

Kanak women and the colonial process

Alan Berman a1 1
a1 Griffith Law School, Queensland, Australia

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Kanaks are the indigenous Melanesian population in New Caledonia. This article explores the experiences unique to Kanak women after colonisation, including the impact of French colonial laws and policies on gender relations in the indigenous community. Kanak women have assumed largely concealed roles in the colonial period. Little literature deals specifically with the impact of French colonisation on Kanak women, possibly reflecting the dominant colonial tendency to discount the historical, cultural, socio-economic and political significance of Kanak women in the colonial era. The French colonisers fortified their control by sharpening and maintaining hierarchical differences based on race, class, gender, sexuality and space between the indigenous peoples and the colonisers. The emphasis on discrete boundaries was reinforced by repressive colonial laws, such as the indigenat, an emblem of colonial control exemplifying collusion between an indigenous patriarchy and the colonial administrators.

(Published Online May 31 2006)


1 L.L.M. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; J.D., B.A. Duke University. The author gratefully acknowledges Professor Greta Bird, for her support, advice and feedback, as well as Professor Sandra Berns of Griffith Law School and Professor Bruce Ziff of University of Alberta Faculty of Law, for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this article. The author also thanks Dr Sioban Brownlie for her research and translation assistance and Justin Carter for conforming the references in this article to the style of this journal. The trip to New Caledonia and the interviews were made possible by a research grant from the Socio-Legal Research Centre of Griffith Law School. The author acknowledges the contributions of Dr Peter Brown and Professor Rosemary Hunter in the grant application. The author also acknowledges the assistance of Dr Brown in conducting some of the interviews.