Storytelling and discovery at the Centre Culturel Tjibaou
By an unexpected turn of events, we were privy to an old Kanak story this afternoon. The Centre Culturel Tjibaou was free and open to the public as part of the Journées du Patrimoine (or “Heritage Days“) and as it was a cloudy, rainy day, we decided to go along. One of my absolute favourite places in Nouméa, I was keen to share it with my husband and son (who’d last been when just weeks old).
Little did we know various events had been set up for both adults and children at the Centre.
Our first stop was a storytelling session with the lovely Melanesian man pictured left. He loved his story and entreated us several times to listen carefully. It was a story for the young and old alike. The story was about two birds, one who worked hard and one who enjoyed flying above the mountains. It was a cautionary tale about the importance of working hard. At the end, he explained that for the children it is a story about the importance of working hard at school, to get qualified, and go on to university, to aim high and accomplish much. If they didn’t work hard, they would be empty-headed like the bird who did nothing but flew over the mountains. This of course struck me as odd, as my own time is so far away from having to encourage children to go to school and work hard. I also do not think children are tabulas rasas, or that we have to fill their heads with knowledge (rather I think we should be encouraging them to discover all that they already know, but call me crazy).
My husband was verily relieved when I did not disagree with our storyteller.
The other part of the story was for adults – he explained that we too have to work hard, all of our lives. How curious, I thought. My culture is so consumed with reducing stress and overload. And here was a culture pushing us toward it. (But as one spends time here, one begins to understand the whys and wherefores of this Kanak story.)
After the story, we were treated to a guided tour of the permanent collection. This was magnificent! We were not allowed to photograph the pieces (to protect the artists’ copyrights). There was a beautiful exhibition wall that came alive with light, sound and colour (called My Garden) along with stunning totems and sculptures. A sizeable and enchanting collection that I plan to revisit again and again. We were then taken behind the scenes, where we saw the storage areas, the temporary exhibition areas, the transition areas, the exhibition build areas and the receiving area. We had no idea that the centre had such massive and complete exhibition areas underneath it!
We then went to visit one of the other stunning parts of the Centre – the Kanak “cases” or living areas. We loved them – for their beauty, size, simplicity and symbolism. Each case has certain plants at its entry, each pole inside is carved. Each case has a cooking area and mats for the tribe members to sleep on. We are looking forward to visiting the tribes in the north during our stay here to see more of this up close. We have so many questions – and I have so much research to do! If any of you out there are deeply familiar with the Kanak culture or can point me in the direction of more information, I’d love to hear from you!
And thus ended our visit, but we plan on going back this week or next to learn more about the Kanak traditions and customs. Do stay tuned …