Island thanks France for 'rescue' from British

12th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 11, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac of France is to be honoured this month with the gift of a bamboo totem, presented by the customary chief of a Pacific island who wants to thank France for saving his people from a British missionary nearly 100 years ago.

PARIS, June 11, 2006 (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac of France is to be honoured this month with the gift of a bamboo totem, presented by the customary chief of a Pacific island who wants to thank France for saving his people from a British missionary nearly 100 years ago.

Chief Iaukalbi of the Vanuatu island of Tanna will hand over the "Kwerrya" on June 20 during the official inauguration of the new Quai Branly museum — a pet project of Chirac's which is dedicated to tribal art from around the world.

The people of Tanna — who today number 20,000 — have felt indebted to France since 1912 when a navy ship sent by the French authorities in New Caledonia helped stop the activities of an unwelcome presbyterian minister, France's Vanuatu ambassador Pierre Mayaudon told AFP.

"This missionary was trying to get the population to give up customs like dancing and the local drink kava, and he had set up religious courts which doled out prison terms for offenders," Mayaudon said.

The dispatch of the gun-boat Kersaint to Tanna sparked a minor diplomatic incident with the British, which resulted in the missionary being recalled to London.

"There is a whole mythology surrounding the Kersaint, this boat which allowed the people of Tanna to preserve their customs," said Pierre-Alain Pantz, a New Caledonia-based photographer who has helped organise the ceremony of thanks.

Situated some 1,750 kilometres east of Australia and 500 kilometres north-east of the French territory of New Caledonia, Vanuatu was previously called the New Hebrides and was jointly administered by France and Britain. It was granted independence in 1980.

The "Kwerrya", a several-metre high totem made of bamboo poles and covered in feathers, has been transported to Paris by boat and airplane. The last feather will be symbolically added by Chief Iaukalbi before he hands it over to Chirac.

France may have made played a deft hand with its defence of traditional practices in the Pacific islands, but curiously one unforeseen beneficiary was none other than the British royal family.

Tanna is the home of the 400-strong Yaohnanen tribe, who — in an offshoot of a local cargo cult — regard Prince Philip, consort of Queen Elizabeth II of England, as a god.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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