On Immodesty and Modesty

Clothing Issues and Struggles in New Caledonia, 19th-20th Centuries

DOI : 10.54390/modespratiques.294

Outline

Editor's notes

In its paper edition, this article is presented with illustrations by Olivier Colombard. These can be seen in the PDF associated with the article.

Text

In 2013 at the University of New Caledonia, I was teaching a first-year class of undergraduates reading Oceanian Languages and Culture and made up entirely of Kanak students, when a girl called out to me that the wrong kind of people went to Lycée Lapérouse (Lapérouse High School). Now this establishment is one of the most prestigious in Noumea attracting for the most part young Europeans, whether locals or expatriates. Seeing my surprise, she explained what she meant: the girls dress badly. And what she was talking about, were the far too short, revealing outfits European girls like to wear: mini-shorts and T-shirts showing bare midriffs that are accepted at Lycée Lapérouse but are definitely not found at the Protestant Do Kamo Lycée frequented mainly by Kanak pupils where girls (like boys) are very neatly and carefully dressed but according to different canons.

Kanak girls have adopted knee-length bermudas or jeans and, at the very most, vest tops leaving the shoulders, but certainly not the midriff, bare. Although some junior high school girls dare to wear mini-shorts, this remains an exception. At university and high school, bermudas and jeans are the standard wear generally chosen by girls today, rather than the mission dresses massively used by their mothers, particularly in a Kanak context. For the mission dress in all its varieties is the emblem of Kanak female identity and worn at home, celebrations or work, when this is possible1. But at primary and high schools or university, the young tend to wear “European-style” clothes, as “mission dresses” are a more classic marker of being Kanak and, in fact, sometimes disapproved of by schools themselves but, on the other hand, de rigueur for taking part in customary ceremonies or traditional celebrations. However, the “European style” – jeans, bermudas, vest tops and jackets – worn by Kanak girls is also a marker which identifies them, and “white girls”2 dress differently, in a way often seen as more “indecent” for the former.

On the notion of decency

It could be said that clothing has been the subject of a historic struggle in a country like New Caledonia, as elsewhere in the Pacific islands, and it is ironic that the fact of covering or uncovering the body, as well as notions of decency or indecency, should have been largely reversed during the 20th century3. Let us take a very symbolic example: swimming costumes and dress in general on Noumea beaches in particular. The two-piece swimsuit or bikini is the norm for European girls and women from Noumea (though topless swimsuits are unusual on the town’s beaches). There is only one nudist beach, out of the way on Nouville peninsula. For a long time Kanak people did not go the beaches in the famous bays – Baie des citrons or Anse Vata – preferring to stay relatively amongst themselves on Magenta beach or those of Nouville peninsula. This implicit segregation of space so characteristic of the country and its history has largely disappeared over the last twenty years and groups of swimmers mix with each other on all the town’s beaches but differ in the way they dress. Kanak or, more generally, Oceanian women bathe in boardshorts and T-shirts, sometimes sports trousers, with men in beach bermudas while “mamas” in mission dresses remain seated on mats spread out on the grass bordering the beach, their legs bent under them or pressed neatly together. A young woman anthropologist from France has mentioned the trouble she had learning to sit like this so as to be sufficiently decent and modest4. Clearly Kanak people are modest and can be shocked by bared European bodies on the beach or in town. Another woman anthropologist, American this time, caused a sensation in the 1990s when she went jogging round the neighbourhood every morning in shorts. Of course, things have changed and it is not uncommon to see Kanak men and women in sports gear running along Pierre Vernier Promenade in Noumea or along the bicycle lane at Kone. But the time has not yet come for bikinis, or for men bathing trunks, or the short skirts or shorts favoured by Europeans.

What is it to be naked?

Engraving by la Billardière, 1791-1794.

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The woman a fibre skirt with “the back apron”.

Kanak. L’Art est une parole, Musée du Quai Branly, Actes Sud, 2014, p. 66-67.

Engraving by la Billardière, 1791-1794.

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The man is wearing a vertical bagayou.

Kanak. L’Art est une parole, Musée du Quai Branly, Actes Sud, 2014, p. 66-67.

Men wearing bagayou

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Archives of New Caledonia, Docteur François Album, 164 Fi 145.

Kanak people have always been modest, whether clothed or not, as Patrick O’Reilly and Jean Poirier recalled in 1953: “Nudity was already forbidden by native morality before the arrival of Europeans, but this prohibition only applied to the nakedness of people’s private parts; breasts, which no archaic society ever dreamt of covering and which remain irrelevant to sexuality, stayed bare; on the other hand, great modesty applied to the genitals, and the New Caledonians took an excess of precautions to protect this part of the body effectively.”5 As these two authors remind us, men took particular care to cover their penis with a sheath or bagayou, which seems to have been worn in two forms. The first, for which there is less documented evidence, was an impressively large sheath reaching up to the chest and held vertically against the belly by a high belt which went above the breasts and under the armpits. The other which was more common left the penis sheath hanging between the thighs. It was made of plant fibre cloth wrapped round the penis and extending it down to the knees, calves or right to the ground when it was part of war dress. Women wore a fibre belt from which strips of plant fibre, of different lengths, reached down to the knees. This belt was wrapped several times round the waist and had very long fringes added at the back making it possible to lean over to work the land. But former Kanak dress did not only cover the body’s “private” parts. As we know, men were very careful to cover their head, the noblest part of the body, with bark hats or turbans in various forms according to the context (mourners’ turbans, war headdresses, headgear reserved for elders or chiefs, bark turbans for commoners and everyday activities, wrapped round the head and sometimes forming impressively high structures). In addition there were masks worn at ceremonies, bands for adorning legs and bracelets worn on the arms. Women wore neither masks nor headdresses and had short hair in which they sometimes stuck combs for decoration. On the other hand, they had a virtual monopoly on a wide variety of necklaces with which they adorned their necks; they also wore bracelets. Apart from these decorations, ornaments or headdresses, Kanak men and women also had tattoos (though they were less common than in other Pacific islands), scarifications and pierced ears and, in specific circumstances, coloured their skin or hair. From their point of view, the body was carefully covered and “wrapped” through the wearing of objects which, as we know, were not merely used as ornaments but were also invested with symbolic powers.

Kanak fashion or a liking for headgear, manous, belts and… moustaches.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Nething Album, 148Fi22-137.

Maurice Leenhardt, early on, and more recent anthropological research have clearly shown the many meanings that “ways of covering the body”, different conceptions of “decency” and the perception of “nudity” could have6. The Kanak never saw themselves as “naked” but as covered, “decent” and protected when they appeared before Europeans dressed in bagayou and headdresses. Quite the opposite, according to Leenhardt. They saw the latter as being naked, “with their tunics and trousers”7. “When they had massacred them, they shared out the spoils amongst themselves and called the clothes skins of the gods."8 And Leenhardt states that this expression was still in circulation at the beginning of the century.9

If the Kanak saw Europeans as “naked” beings or ones wearing a second skin and, whatever the case, from their viewpoint, strangely garbed (which did not prevent a certain fascination, particularly for hats and red cloth which were highly prized), it is clear that the Europeans, for their part, saw Kanak men and women as “naked”. In 1862, Doctor Rochas notes that “New Caledonians dress scantily but with studied elegance”10. He specifies however that “this dress does not seriously pretend to hide nudity but merely adorns” with “all the whims of fashion” which he “readily” abandons the idea of “depicting”11. It could be added that De Rochas, like his missionary contemporaries or other observers, saw the Kanak as naked and proud. “It should not be believed that the natives paid little attention to their minimal dress and that at the sight of a European clad from head to foot, they yearned to imitate him. Not at all: prouder of his nudity than a hidalgo with his cape, he considers it utterly ridiculous to wrap up the chef d’œuvre of creation. His desire or need to cover himself reveals in he who has such feelings long contact with Europeans and a beginning of civilization. […] The young whom the missionaries seek to clothe, are often taken to task by elderly people who say to them: “And what now! Are you going to abandon your fathers’ customs for foreigners? Is your absurd garb worth the simple, male dress we gave you? White people’s clothes are, at the very most, good for women.”12

Fashion and the test of colonization

Mention should be made here of the particularly striking contrast between the Kanaks’ “old ways of covering themselves” and the dominant “fashion” in European clothing during the 19th century when bourgeois prudishness and decency prevailed. Those whom the Kanak met were clothed from head to foot, whether missionaries “in black robes” and large hats, soldiers and officers booted and spurred, or colonists in shirts, trousers, jackets and hats and their wives in long frocks carefully concealing their ankles covered by little boots and confining their bodies right up to the neck in pleats, folds and buttons. Then would come the convicts, dressed in trousers and smocks made of rough grey cloth with straw hats on their head or the Commune deportees, landed directly on the Ducos peninsula or the Island of Pines in their Parisian clothes with their companions in misfortune from the Kabyle aristocracy, who had led the great Kabyle insurrection of 1871, dressed in their white burnous. There would also be Tonkinese and Javanese enlisted labourers in simple work clothes and pointed hats or in more sophisticated attire for special occasions. Finally there were the “Oceanians”, Ni-Vanuatu or Kanak people, who for a long while continued to appear “in traditional dress” or very scantily clothed.

Ni-Vanuatu labourers working on a plantation in the vicinity of Noumea. Photograph of 1874.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Mialaret Album, 175 Fi 2.

“La Foa, overseers’ station, 1874”

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Archives of New Caledonia, Allan Hughan Album, 1 Num 23-3064

Of course, the missionaries and military would quicky press for “decency” and the hiding of breasts and genitals they could not bear to see. Women were required to wear a piece of calico to cover their bosoms before the introduction of the “mission dress” which the British evangelists had lost little time in importing from London to Tahiti from the early 19th century on and known in the islands of the anglophone Pacific by the name of “Mother Hubbards”. For men, a simple piece of cloth covering the lower part of the body was deemed sufficient and adopted under the name of manou although it was requested that wearing trousers be encouraged. According to the first official texts after France’s taking possession of the country, in 1854 the chiefs of Balade asked for the introduction of police officers with “clothing to distinguish them”13. This amounted, in principle, to “a red, white and blue band on the left arm”14 and chiefs were encouraged to wear parts of uniform and caps to show their rank at ceremonies organized in praise of Emperor Napoleon III. But for a long time men continued be seen walking around in bagayou or, in the 1870s and 80s, ni-Vanuatu labourers working virtually naked in plantations. A photo taken in 1878 entitled “native police” shows warriors from Canala – recruited as auxiliaries to the French troops in order to put down the insurrection breaking out on the territory’s west coast – dressed in a simple piece of cloth hanging from a belt and handsome headdresses, with a women still bare-breasted and wearing a plant fibre skirt. At the back is a man in a mask. “The native police” seen by the photographer Hughan are, in fact, made up of warriors who have prepared for battle according to Kanak rules, signs and strategies in order to defeat their closest enemies with the support of French soldiers.

But it is true that the island’s evangelization was progressing and, with it, clothing: mission dresses, loincloths sometimes with shorts underneath, then trousers and shirts. A fine photo of plantation workers, a mixture of Kanak, Javanese and ni-Vanuatu men, women and children, taken at Koné in the late 19th century, shows them wearing the simplest of clothing at the end of a day’s coffee picking15. Poverty and wear and tear can be seen as much in the clothes as in their bodies or tired eyes. Besides, at the close of the century, the colony was familiar with this wretched, scant attire worn by contractual labourers, the Kanak and servants, as well as by convicts and ex-convicts (known as libérés). In 1879, the authorities were worried about the rags worn by the latter:

in the light of the ever growing number of ex-convicts and the ever increasing difficulty of obtaining employment, of the destitute state in which these men find themselves […], considering that ex-convicts have up until today been dressed in the old clothes of convicts no longer able to work […] it is important to give ex-convicts clothing which is different from that of convicts.”16

In 1929, a colonial inspector complained that enlisted men did not respect the dress obligations they had with regard to their employers:

Provision is made for a distribution of clothing twice a year; this is difficult to believe when one sees the minimal garb of the Kanak enlisted in Noumea. Yet natives with a little education and in contact with white people generally like to wear European dress. Here again the reproach of untidiness levelled at the natives is an easy excuse to avoid the distribution of sturdy clothing.17

“Native police”, 1878.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island Album, 148 Fi 1-29. Serge Kakou, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island Album, 148 Fi 1-29.

Anonymous photograph 1920.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection, glass plates, 148 Fi 44-11.

Many of the colonists in the bush were themselves of humble origin and few could pride themselves on possessing a real wardrobe. But appearances were important in the centres of free colonization, above all because this was how “respectable colonists” could distinguish themselves from ex-convicts and the natives. They took pride in their appearance and moustaches so as to distinguish themselves from “fallen whites”. In a conversation recorded at Koné in 1990, a woman descended from free colonists said: “My father was a man very proud of his appearance. If he’d seen you with your striped T-shirt, he would have said – “no, I don’t wear those because it’s convicts that wear them.” – You weren’t meant to cut your hair very short because that was for the guillotine’s victims.”18 Another woman from Voh remembered the same concerns with respect to physical and dress distinctions: “My parents were very strict about that, above all in regard to ex-convicts. You couldn’t shave off your moustache. Because my father and brother had big moustaches. The other colonists had moustaches too. Because convicts, the others, they were clean-shaven and ex-convicts had beards.”19 By taking a pride in their appearance when, in the bush, work in the fields, isolation, heat and sometimes poverty tended to encourage people to take off clothes and shoes, “respectable” colonists had a sense of resisting the temptation to “turn native” or even worse “s’encanaquer20 through clothes which maintained the standards of “their civilization”. In Noumea, among the wealthy, white families, there was competition to show off the latest Paris fashions.

End of the day on a coffee plantation, 1900s.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection, Charles Nething photographs, 148 Fi 22-1.

“Ex-convicts and beards”, concession holder Bérézowski in Bourail, circa 1890.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Docteur François Album, 164 Fi 31.

Group of convicts in the Nou Island quarries, 19th century.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection, New Caledonia photographs , 148 Fi 34-37.

Concession holder’s dwelling in Bourail.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Nicolas Frédéric Hagen, 1 Num 3-101.

Between the mission dress and European fashion

In 1953, on the publication of the special issue of the Journal de la Société des Océanistes devoted to the centenary of France’s taking possession of New Caledonia and entitled – and this in itself was quite something – “A century of acculturation in New Caledonia, 1853-1953”, Jean Poirier and Patrick O’Reilly amused themselves by including in their article plates of sketches showing “changes in dress” in the Kanak world. These ranged from plant fibre skirts, traditional bagayou and headdresses to the wearing of manou and, for chiefs, the different uniforms in which they were sometimes decked out and finally to shirts, trousers and hats.

A parallel could be drawn with the “European” fashions represented in New Caledonia and their evolution during the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. Let us imagine those carefully covered up missionaries, officers and soldiers solemnly assembled on 24 September 1853 on a Balade beach in front of Kanak warriors in full traditional dress, to celebrate a ceremony whose significance was incomprehensible to the latter with the firing of cannons and impassioned speeches. Let us imagine those French women of the 1880s disembarking from a whaleboat in long dresses to be welcomed by the very scantily clothed native police and discover the plot of land, promised far away in France in their regions of origin and embodying all their hopes of creating a new life “in the colonies”. Let us also imagine the colonists in trousers, shirts and jackets watching chained convicts clothed in wretched rags and toiling in bush labour camps. Finally, let us imagine the families of Noumea in the 1920s and 30s, dressed in the latest fashion and accompanied by their Javanese male or female servants wearing simple clothes and sometimes their finest attire from “home”. A river or the sea is close by and the “whites” bathe there in oufits that are also changing.

To end, let us imagine, the evolution of fashion in the 1960s and 70s, when skirts were getting shorter, two-piece swimming costumes appearing and young Kanaks’ hair being worn in Afros in imitation of black American singers. Modesty was still expected in primary and secondary schools where a latent struggle was taking place, especially for girls. European girls were fighting for the right to bare their legs and arms. As for Kanak girls, they were still forbidden to wear “mission dresses” in the name of assimilation to French customs, and this was also the case in Catholic and Protestant establishments where Kanaks made up a large majority. Waimalo Waporto, a community activist, recalled the 1970s: “[…] as a child I wore mission dresses made by my mother. It seemed to me perfectly natural to wear such clothing. Later, at Do Neva junior high school, in Houaïlou, I discovered you couldn’t wear these dresses in the establishment. […] This was the time when Billy (Wapotro) and his classmates revolted against the banning of mission dresses in educational establishments […] This ban opened our eyes. Our dress became an identity issue, then a sign of identity as soon as we regained the freedom to wear it everywhere.”21

Costume masculin

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Jean Poirier et Patrick O’Reilly, Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 1953, p. 153.

Costume masculin (suite)

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Jean Poirier et Patrick O’Reilly, Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 1953, p. 157.

Costume féminin

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Jean Poirier et Patrick O’Reilly, Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 1953, p. 153, 157, 161.

Plage de l’Anse Vata, Nouméa. Postcard.

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Private collection.

Plage de l’Anse Vata, Nouméa, 2015.

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NikO VinCent

As as dressmaker from Ponerihouen underlines, “the mission dress represents the Kanak woman of today. But you see more and more women of other ethnic origins wearing them.”22But this depends quite clearly on the context for few are the European women, even today, who adopt the mission dress apart from in special circumstances, such as when invited to a marriage. However, some elderly white women from the bush, descended from colonists, do so to show how deeply they are steeped in the “country’s customs”.

Conversely, as the same seamstress remarked, “that our girls also want to wear European clothes is understandable, it doesn’t shock me.”23 So mission dresses are reserved for customary events. Nonetheless, as emphasized at the beginning of this text, Kanak girls’ fashions are different from those of European girls. And the fact of baring one’s body remains carefully calculated. A tendency to wear the mission dress shorter or as a top over jeans can be noted. But modesty remains mandatory on the beach where swimming costumes are worn under shorts and T-shirts.

Deportees from the Commune and the Kabyle insur rection, 1876.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Allan Hughan Album, 1 Num 23-3158, “Island of Pines, Kuto Bay, military ground”.

The manou (piece of cloth).

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ANOM

“Stockman” fashion in the 1930s.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection. 148 Fi 37

A European woman dressed in 1930s fashion in front of a “tribal chief’s house”, 1929-1935.

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ANOM

Press cartoons

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Fiji Sun, 1978.

In certain circles, connected to the Christian religion, there would seem to be actual disapproval of Europeans’ attire, considered inde cent, as demonstrated in the Fiji Sun newspaper in 1978.24 The irony of this cartoon is disturbing. It turns the accusation of indecency, formerly levelled at those presumed “savages”, back against our own contemporary clothing practices, or rather the authorized, gradual exposure of the body throughout the 20th century. In the 19th century, the cultural shock in New Caledonia set a Kanak society which clothed or adorned certain parts of the body against a European society influenced by the puritan morals of its times and quick to forget the 18th century’s freer attitudes to nudity.25 For Europeans in the colonies, clothing was one of the many tools of a “civilizing mission” aimed at subjecting the colonized to Western customs and gradually bringing them to appreciate our ways of dressing, according to our criteria of decency or indecency which evolved with our own fashions. For the Kanak, dress was a struggle. It was first the sign of submission and, in appearance at least, acceptance of the rejection of their culture and former ways of life marked, for those who converted to Christianity, by the image of “darkness”, savagery and cannibalism. In the second half of the 20th century, it became on the contrary the sign of an assertion of identity, in particular with regard to women’s clothing and the mission dress. The political use of dress is less obvious among men even if it is possible to see Afro and Rasta hairstyles (and the pronounced taste for Reggae music), the return of the manou in customary ceremonies, the wearing of Hawaiian shirts, Bob Marley or Kanak flag T-shirts or the woollen hats of the young, as symbols of proudly sported Kanak fashion. There is not one fashion in New Caledonia but several, with everyone following their own cultural, community and historical references.

The historical distance we have allowed ourselves in this article was deliberately intended to avoid any fascination with exoticism, in a principled refusal to limit our investigation merely to the way “the other” – that is to say the traditional or colonized Kanak whom in the 19th century people liked to take studio photographs of in cleverly arranged settings or poses – was seen. On the contrary, the breadth this study afforded us has enabled a mirror analysis of the Kanak, Europeans or even Asians and others who lived together in the villages and valleys of New Caledonia, all dressed according to their norms, or those gradually imposed on them, or their social position. We have endeavoured to highlight the relative conceptions of modesty and indecency and their evolutions during the 19th and 20th centuries with, ultimately, the reversal of a logic of “covering and uncovering” the body which can be seen today on the beaches of Noumea. But we also wished to emphasize the inadequacy of clothing common to all workers, Kanak or not, and the poorest Europeans, those of both the penal and free world, which up until the 1960s made it all but impossible for many to envisage “following fashion”. For others, however, dress played the essential role of distancing them from the danger of “turning native” and from the marks of the penal colony, linked to a sense of belonging to a superior civilization, of which French fashion could be a form of expression. Although dress codes have greatly changed and over the years may have coincided or diverged, they nonetheless remain influenced by identity logics and feelings of belonging which all wish to claim. In New Caledonia, behind fashion, that from France and elsewhere, lie concealed fashions that can only be understood in the specific context and history of this country.

Marie Aconley with Melanesians, all seated, Noumea, 1937.

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Archives of New Caledonia, Marie Grano Collection, 171 Fi 5.

Tonkinese family, 1944.

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ANOM

Sunday in a tribe, natives coming home from church, 1929-1935.

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ANOM

Women and girls in mission dresses, 1953.

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ANOM

Javanese servants in a Noumea street, 1929-1935.

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ANOM

1 As Anna Païni has stressed in an article published in 2003, there has been relatively little recent research on clothing and dress in New Caledonia

2 A common term in New Caledonian everyday language.

3 This is the main theme of the work Clothing the Pacific (2003) which, however, does not deal with the specific case of New Caledonia.

4 Anna Païni, “Rhabiller les symboles”, op. cit., p. 239.

5 Patrick O’Reilly and Jean Poirier, “L’évolution du costume” in Un siècle d’acculturation en Nouvelle-Calédonie, 1853-1953, Journal de la Société

6 Apart from the descriptions left by the first missionaries and observers of Kanak society in the 19th century, Maurice Leenhardt was the first to

7 Ibid., p. 4.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Doctor Victor De Rochas, La Nouvelle-Calédonie et ses habitants, productions, mœurs, cannibalisme, Paris, 1862, p. 149.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p. 151.

13 Request of Philippo Boueone, chief of the Pouma tribe. BONC, 7 February 1854, p. 11. Reiterated by Uarebat and Hyppolite Bonou, chiefs of the

14 Code of the Pouma tribe, BONC, 9 February 1854, p. 13. Code of the Muélébé tribe, BONC, 15 February 1854, p. 19.

15 I take the opportunity here to warmly thank Christophe Dervieux from the team at the archives of New Caledonia and Manuel Charpy, in charge of the

16 Isabelle Merle, Expériences coloniales. La Nouvelle-Calédonie. 1853-1920. Belin, Paris, 1995.note 44, p. 432.

17 Inspection Coste, 1929, Service des Affaires indigènes et main d’oeuvre océanienne, CAOM, 1AFF-POL, 746.

18 Isabelle Merle, Expériences coloniales, Ibidem, p. 359.

19 Ibid.

20 Term specific to New Caledonia.

21 Mwa Véé 69, 2010. Conversation quoted on the site http://www.adck.nc/patrimoine/mwa-vee/archives/245-mwa-vee-nd69

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Clothing the Pacific, op. cit., p. 3.

25 Jean-Claude Bologne, Histoire de la pudeur, Paris, Hachette, 1986.

Notes

1 As Anna Païni has stressed in an article published in 2003, there has been relatively little recent research on clothing and dress in New Caledonia and this has been primarily concentrated on the wearing of “mission dresses”. Chloé Colchester who the same year edited an work entitled Clothing the Pacific states that this relative lack of interest in the literature devoted to clothing studies in other colonial fields, holds good for all Pacific islands. Anna Païni “Rhabiller les symboles: les femmes kanak et la robe mission à Lifou (Nouvelle-Calédonie)”, in Journal de la Société des Océanistes, Musée de l’Homme, Paris, 117, 2003-2, p. 233-252, Chloé Colchester, Clothing the Pacific, Berg, Oxford, New York, 2003. Since then note Mélanie Paquet’s thesis: “Regardez comment nous sommes vêtus. La robe mission sous différentes façons à Nouméa (Nouvelle-Calédonie)”, supervised by Pierre Lemonnier, Université de Provence, MMSH, 2006. Note also the exhibition which took place at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, “Robes missions, un art de la rue” as well as the special issue of the MwàVéé review in 2010: “De la robe mission à la robe Kanak” (MwàVéé, 69, Noumea, 2010).

2 A common term in New Caledonian everyday language.

3 This is the main theme of the work Clothing the Pacific (2003) which, however, does not deal with the specific case of New Caledonia.

4 Anna Païni, “Rhabiller les symboles”, op. cit., p. 239.

5 Patrick O’Reilly and Jean Poirier, “L’évolution du costume” in Un siècle d’acculturation en Nouvelle-Calédonie, 1853-1953, Journal de la Société des Océanistes, Musée de l’homme, Paris, 1953, p. 151-169.

6 Apart from the descriptions left by the first missionaries and observers of Kanak society in the 19th century, Maurice Leenhardt was the first to devote a real analysis to the subject in “Pourquoi se vêtir?” in Journal de la Société des Océanistes, no. 58-59, vol. 34, 1978, p. 3-7.

7 Ibid., p. 4.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Doctor Victor De Rochas, La Nouvelle-Calédonie et ses habitants, productions, mœurs, cannibalisme, Paris, 1862, p. 149.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p. 151.

13 Request of Philippo Boueone, chief of the Pouma tribe. BONC, 7 February 1854, p. 11. Reiterated by Uarebat and Hyppolite Bonou, chiefs of the Muélébé tribe (Puebo), BONC, 15 February 1854, p. 16.

14 Code of the Pouma tribe, BONC, 9 February 1854, p. 13. Code of the Muélébé tribe, BONC, 15 February 1854, p. 19.

15 I take the opportunity here to warmly thank Christophe Dervieux from the team at the archives of New Caledonia and Manuel Charpy, in charge of the review Modes pratiques, for their invaluable aid in putting together the photographic corpus presented in this article.

16 Isabelle Merle, Expériences coloniales. La Nouvelle-Calédonie. 1853-1920. Belin, Paris, 1995.note 44, p. 432.

17 Inspection Coste, 1929, Service des Affaires indigènes et main d’oeuvre océanienne, CAOM, 1AFF-POL, 746.

18 Isabelle Merle, Expériences coloniales, Ibidem, p. 359.

19 Ibid.

20 Term specific to New Caledonia.

21 Mwa Véé 69, 2010. Conversation quoted on the site http://www.adck.nc/patrimoine/mwa-vee/archives/245-mwa-vee-nd69

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Clothing the Pacific, op. cit., p. 3.

25 Jean-Claude Bologne, Histoire de la pudeur, Paris, Hachette, 1986.

Illustrations

Engraving by la Billardière, 1791-1794.

Engraving by la Billardière, 1791-1794.

The woman a fibre skirt with “the back apron”.

Kanak. L’Art est une parole, Musée du Quai Branly, Actes Sud, 2014, p. 66-67.

Engraving by la Billardière, 1791-1794.

Engraving by la Billardière, 1791-1794.

The man is wearing a vertical bagayou.

Kanak. L’Art est une parole, Musée du Quai Branly, Actes Sud, 2014, p. 66-67.

Men wearing bagayou

Men wearing bagayou

Archives of New Caledonia, Docteur François Album, 164 Fi 145.

Kanak fashion or a liking for headgear, manous, belts and… moustaches.

Kanak fashion or a liking for headgear, manous, belts and… moustaches.

Archives of New Caledonia, Nething Album, 148Fi22-137.

Ni-Vanuatu labourers working on a plantation in the vicinity of Noumea. Photograph of 1874.

Ni-Vanuatu labourers working on a plantation in the vicinity of Noumea. Photograph of 1874.

Archives of New Caledonia, Mialaret Album, 175 Fi 2.

“La Foa, overseers’ station, 1874”

“La Foa, overseers’ station, 1874”

Archives of New Caledonia, Allan Hughan Album, 1 Num 23-3064

“Native police”, 1878.

“Native police”, 1878.

Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island Album, 148 Fi 1-29. Serge Kakou, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island Album, 148 Fi 1-29.

Anonymous photograph 1920.

Anonymous photograph 1920.

Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection, glass plates, 148 Fi 44-11.

End of the day on a coffee plantation, 1900s.

End of the day on a coffee plantation, 1900s.

Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection, Charles Nething photographs, 148 Fi 22-1.

“Ex-convicts and beards”, concession holder Bérézowski in Bourail, circa 1890.

“Ex-convicts and beards”, concession holder Bérézowski in Bourail, circa 1890.

Archives of New Caledonia, Docteur François Album, 164 Fi 31.

Group of convicts in the Nou Island quarries, 19th century.

Group of convicts in the Nou Island quarries, 19th century.

Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection, New Caledonia photographs , 148 Fi 34-37.

Concession holder’s dwelling in Bourail.

Concession holder’s dwelling in Bourail.

Archives of New Caledonia, Nicolas Frédéric Hagen, 1 Num 3-101.

Costume masculin

Costume masculin

Jean Poirier et Patrick O’Reilly, Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 1953, p. 153.

Costume masculin (suite)

Costume masculin (suite)

Jean Poirier et Patrick O’Reilly, Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 1953, p. 157.

Costume féminin

Costume féminin

Jean Poirier et Patrick O’Reilly, Le Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 1953, p. 153, 157, 161.

Plage de l’Anse Vata, Nouméa. Postcard.

Plage de l’Anse Vata, Nouméa. Postcard.

Private collection.

Plage de l’Anse Vata, Nouméa, 2015.

Plage de l’Anse Vata, Nouméa, 2015.

NikO VinCent

Deportees from the Commune and the Kabyle insur rection, 1876.

Deportees from the Commune and the Kabyle insur rection, 1876.

Archives of New Caledonia, Allan Hughan Album, 1 Num 23-3158, “Island of Pines, Kuto Bay, military ground”.

The manou (piece of cloth).

The manou (piece of cloth).

ANOM

“Stockman” fashion in the 1930s.

“Stockman” fashion in the 1930s.

Archives of New Caledonia, Serge Kakou Collection. 148 Fi 37

A European woman dressed in 1930s fashion in front of a “tribal chief’s house”, 1929-1935.

A European woman dressed in 1930s fashion in front of a “tribal chief’s house”, 1929-1935.

ANOM

Press cartoons

Press cartoons

Fiji Sun, 1978.

Marie Aconley with Melanesians, all seated, Noumea, 1937.

Marie Aconley with Melanesians, all seated, Noumea, 1937.

Archives of New Caledonia, Marie Grano Collection, 171 Fi 5.

Tonkinese family, 1944.

Tonkinese family, 1944.

ANOM

Sunday in a tribe, natives coming home from church, 1929-1935.

Sunday in a tribe, natives coming home from church, 1929-1935.

ANOM

Women and girls in mission dresses, 1953.

Women and girls in mission dresses, 1953.

ANOM

Javanese servants in a Noumea street, 1929-1935.

Javanese servants in a Noumea street, 1929-1935.

ANOM

References

Electronic reference

Isabelle Merle, « On Immodesty and Modesty », Modes pratiques [Online],  | 2018, Online since 09 janvier 2023, connection on 27 janvier 2023. URL : https://devisu.inha.fr/modespratiques/294

Author

Isabelle Merle

CNRS

Translator

Deborah Pope