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New Caledonia Travel Guide

Tjibaou Cultural Center
A botanical garden surrounds the
Tjibaou Cultural Center at Tina.

Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center

This extraordinary cultural cocktail sits on the Tina Peninsula near the exclusive Golf de Tina, 12 km northeast of town. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, it was built between 1994 and 1998 by French contractors at a cost of over US$50 million. The center opened on May 4, 1998, 10th anniversary of the assassination of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the Kanak leader lionized by the French authorities as a signatory of the Matignon Accords. This is a major institution with a large staff.

A "Kanak Pathway" leads through a spectacular botanical garden interwoven with references to Kanak legends. The garden encircles 10 huge case clustered in three villages joined by a central corridor. Inside are a contemporary art gallery, temporary and permanent exhibitions of Kanak and other Pacific art, a library, and an audiovisual room where you can watch videos or listen to music. Other features include a ceremonial area with three grande case, and indoor and outdoor theaters.

A room in Village Three provides photos and texts on the life of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, up to his death on May 4, 1989. No explanation is provided as to why he was assassinated, the background of the assassin, or the Ouvéa Massacre. Other topics the center ignores include the murder of Éloi Machoro, the 19th century land seizures, and the muscle flexing and maneuvering that has prevented independence. In general, the center presents Kanak culture as a regional folklore rather than a national tradition.

For the French, the Matignon Accords which Tjibaou signed in 1988 were a comfortable outcome of the événiments of the 1980s. Tjibaou himself intended the Matignon Accords to be only a temporary stop on the road to independence, not the permanent arrangement they have become. Tjibaou was the last real Kanak leader and the French have managed to transform his legacy into a mantra for continuing colonial rule. Don't miss the amazing three-meter-high bronze statue of Tjibaou clad in a Roman toga on the hill overlooking the center.

The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center is operated by the French-financed Agency for the Development of Kanak Culture and is open Tuesday to Sunday. Guided tours and admission to special performances at the center cost extra. Unfortunately, most of the explanations are in French only—ask for a map of the complex when you arrive.

The center's boutique sells posters, handicrafts (a good place to buy these), T-shirts, videos, music cassettes, and books on Kanak culture and New Caledonia. The center's snack bar serves a reasonable plat du jour lunch Tuesday to Friday. Other snacks and the salads are good value. The blue-line bus will drop you right in front of the Tjibaou Center. Go in the morning and plan to spend most of the day there, because this is one of New Caledonia's top sights.

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