adrian muckle on indigeneity in new caledonia
From 1887 to 1946, the administrative apparatus known as the indigénat provided French administrators in New Caledonia with a set of exceptional measures to streamline the governing and summary repression of persons defined as indigènes (‘natives’). This paper examines the place of the indigénat, the role of colonial administrators in defining one or more communities of race and the variable status of the category of indigène in New Caledonia in the period to 1946. Particular consideration is given to the influence (or absence thereof) of the science of race on administrative thinking about native policy in New Caledonia, the distinctions drawn between different categories of indigène, the extent to which cultural and political divisions between the Grande terre (mainland) and the Loyalty Islands were imagined or constructed in racial terms and the situation of métis (‘half-castes’). The paper argues that an incipient definition of the indigène as a person of Melanesian, Polynesian, mixed or Oceanian race must be understood in the context of the development of the indentured labour and immigration regimes (the importation of workers from Asia and other parts of Oceania) as well as the ways in which the indigénat was differently applied and experienced between New Caledonia’s mainland and its dependencies (notably the Loyalty Islands), as well as by métis.
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