Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Northern Province, New Caledonia

2 June 2015

We left lovely Bourail and continued northward, or vaguely northwest, along the main highway on the west coast of Grande Terre.  Some sources call it the Cook Highway, others call it the Provincial Highway.  Probably the same road, just depends on whether one wants the English or more French orientation.

New Caledonia is divided into three provinces, the Northern and Southern Provinces of Grande Terre, and the Loyalty Islands which are a group of smaller islands to the east.  We've now entered the Northern Province, which seems to have more indigenous people and fewer European people.  But French is still the official language.  However, as we drive along trying to understand the road signs, we've seen more and more signs for various tribal communities.

I'm not sure how the indigenous people prefer to be called - I know the museum refers to the various tribes as the Kanak people.  I suppose it's similar to saying Native Americans in the US, or First Nations in Canada - a general term, with names for specific tribes or nations.  At any rate, there are more Kanak people in the north - somewhat similar to New Zealand, where more Maori people live on the North Island, which is much warmer than the South Island.  (I totally understand, I'd rather live where it's warmer as well!)

So while the signs are French, with odd things like "risque d'inundation" (risk of flooding, we suppose) or "din du poule" (we think this was idiomatic for potholes, since that's what we encountered on the road), we've seen more of the traditional carvings as entrances to houses and businesses.

And finally the flag of New Caledonia!  I've been looking for this, finally saw one flying next to the French flag over the town hall.  In the South Province, we've seen only the French tricolor flag, which of course is the flag of the administrative nation.  But the flag adopted by the Kanak people has the horizontal blue, red, and green stripes with a yellow circle featuring the decorative wooden spear used atop the thatched great house or huts of the traditional dwellings.  So I was excited to finally see this flag.

Of course, there's local disagreement about using the flag - some see the French flag as a symbol of colonialism.  Others see the Kanak flag as divisive and continuing the ethnic separation.  No one has proposed a compromise, such as maybe changing the stripes of the Kanak flag to vertical red, white and blue, so the compromise flag might be a French flag with the Kanak yellow circle and fleche faitiere, the decorative spear, in the center.  (Wouldn't that be a cool flag?) 

Anyway, this is one of those things to be worked out by 2018, when something closer to self-determination is to be established.

The scenery continues to astound - huge hills almost like mountain ranges, bright green farm fields, a mostly smooth national highway lines with beautiful trees, just like the boulevards en Paris.  The sky ranges from aqua to cobalt blue, depending on the angle of the sun and number of clouds.  And tropical flowers dotting the landscape, brilliant oranges and purples and reds. 

We're now in Koné (pronounced COE-nay) - the Frenchified version of the local name, which is more like Kooune.  I should add that the greeting in the local language is "Kia Ora," which is the same greeting as in Maori.  So I suspect that, like many of the Polynesian languages, including Hawaiian, some Kanak words or names have many vowels and each vowel is pronounced separately.  Not what Europeans were used to, so of course the British and French colonists in this part of the world changed the names.  (As someone who has lived in places where Zorzor is pronounced "Zaw-zaw," I get a little frustrated with people trying to spell things in ways that have nothing to do with the pronunciation.  Add hyphens.  Spell it the way it sounds.  It's like the people who took the Maori "F" sound and spelled it with a "WH" - why????  Which, in Maori, would sound like "fie" - see what I mean?  Just one more way to confuse the rest of us until the end of time.)

Okay, rant over.  

So we're in Koné, at a nice hotel, and enjoyed a gourmet dinner at the neighboring hotel.  Food seems to be always French.  I was thinking it might be the places we choose, but we had lunch at a food truck in the park, all traditionally French baguette sandwiches.  So maybe French food is just the most common.  

Anyway, we're heading north tomorrow, and trying to figure out what areas we want to see.  We have a bungalow by a lagoon booked for tomorrow night, but no idea where we'll head after that.

Which, of course, is half the fun!


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