In La Foa, about 100 kilometres north of Noumea, a monument erected in 2003 is inscribed with the declaration made by a French naval commander on taking possession of New Caledonia for Napoleon III a century and a half earlier. It makes no mention of the indigenous population.
Immediately below it is a second inscription. This one quotes from the 1998 Noumea Accords between the French government and leaders of the indigenous Kanaks, which formalised a staged devolution of power from France to New Caledonia. “The moment has come to understand the shadows of the colonial period,” it reads in part, “even if this era was not devoid of light.”
Even if obliquely and grudgingly, the words are an acknowledgement of the devastation inflicted on the Kanaks by the French colonisers. Indigenous revolts were violently suppressed, land taken and culture trampled. It is a familiar story to Indigenous people in Australia.