Anthropology of the body and modernity

(David Le Breton)

Among the kanaks (Melanesia), the body takes the categories of the vegetable body. An inseparable part of the universe, which covers and interweaves its existence with trees, fruits, plants [...] “Kara”designates at the same time the skin of man and the bark of the tree. The unity of flesh and muscle refers to the pulp of fruits.

[...] There are no perceptible boundaries between these two lands. The division can be made only through our Western concepts, at the risk of establishing an ethnocentric confusion or reduction of differences. [...] For the kanaks, the vegetal link is not a metaphor but an identity of substance.

We understand that the Western notion of person has no consistency in Melasian society. If the body is linked to the plant universe, there are no boundaries between the living and the dead, death is not conceived as a form of annihilation, but it marks the access to another form of existence.

The body (the Karo) is confused with the world, it is not the support or the proof of an individuality, since it is not fixed, since the person is based on fundamentals that make it permeable to all the effluvia of the environment. The "body" is not a border, an atom, but the indiscernible element of a symbolic set. There is no roughness between the flesh of man and the flesh of the world.


Recently, through a fantastic book by David le Breton (Anthropology of the body and modernity) I learned about the culture of the kanak people. I had never read about this tribe before, a culture of which I was fascinated by just reading a few pages in the book of le Breton. Curious, I wanted to know more about the kanak, about their culture, so I started a little internet research. It was then when I encountered the devastating history of their country and culture, destroyed throughout the centuries by the european colonies and even today in struggle to recover the independence of their land and recover the richness of their language, their forms of doing, of thinking, of living ...

Here is some information I collected from the internet where I briefly explain about its history and its current situation. I also add and recommend a small documentary "We are rebels”, where you can understand better, through the words of interviewed kanaks, their history and their current social, political and cultural situation.


New Caledonia is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean. Before Bristish and French colonization, New Caledonia was a beautiful wild land inhabited by the Kanaks; a number of different Melanesian tribes with distinct crafts, hunting traditions, clothing, arts, beliefs, building styles, and languages.

British arrived in 1774. The land was already inhabited by the indegineous people who were never considered as such. James Cook, the british explorer who “first arrived” named the place as “New Caledonia” because the landscape reminded him to Scotland. 

British, during its colonization, were exploiting the land, which was rich in sandalwoods. When the resourses of sandalwoods were finished, the british replaced the trade of sandalwoods by the trade of Kanak slaves. The trade cesed at the begining of 20th century. 

In 1853 New Caledonia was colonized by France who imposed its religion, language, laws by force upon the original natives of the islands. Europeans broad a lot of diseases to the islands and the population of Kanaks notably decreased in this period.

France has been exploiting the land because its reserves of minerals, specially the nickel which is a material playing a major role nowadays in many “developed” countries – food preparation equipment, mobile phones, medical equipment, transport, buildings, power generation.

Native Kanaks has seen its land destroyed just by economical interests. Europe has ignored and destroyed the original culture and resources of the natives tribes by imposing their own views and economic systems.

Despite invasion and colonization by the British and after the French, and the decimation of tribal populations through slavery and introduced diseases, a great deal of Kanak culture has been preserved over the years. 33 different native languages are still spoken in New Caledonia with traditional crafts, festivals and rituals being practiced today.

Nowadays the country is mostly inhabited by white people, who are the descendents of French settlers from colonization times. The indigenous Caledonian people are a minority group. Europeans dominate trades, businesses, and professions and hold most of the high-ranking administrative posts in the government. Official unemployment tends to be significantly higher among Melanesians than it is among Europeans.

Despite the resilience of the Kanak culture, New Caledonia is in a decolonization process but still a French territory. An independence referendum will be held in New Caledonia, no later than November 2018. Voters will be given the choice of remaining part of France or becoming an independent country.


Press TV documentaries // by Luca Bellino & Silvia Luzi