Poster Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Strategies of survival: Leprosy and the Indigenous population of New Caledonia (#432)

Ingrid Sykes 1 , Charles Wea 2
  1. La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia
  2. FLNKS, Noumea, New Caledonia

Charles Wea (Kanak/Melanesian Cultural Leader, FLNKS, New Caledonia) and Dr Ingrid Sykes (Australian Research Council Future Fellow, La Trobe University, Melbourne) present their collaborative work on the physical and psychological impact of the European-introduced disease, leprosy, on the Indigenous people of New Caledonia, as well as continued Indigenous practices and strategies of survival. They have recently completed groundbreaking oral history/testimonial work on the Loyalty Islands where the local Kanak population, still largely silenced by the French administration, remain traumatised by the system of leprosaria implemented by the French between 1900 and 2016 in an attempt to control the disease. Kanak survivors and their descendants as well as those who were ‘enlisted’ by the administration to guard and assist the malades (Indigenous leprosy affected people) now have much to say about the violent and invasive impact of the French colonial approach towards the disease on their communities. Though the leprosaria system is now finally closed, it has left precious Kanak ancestral sites permanently fractured and contaminated with toxic waste. In their work, Wea and Sykes emphasize the power of Kanak philosophies and practices of health care developed throughout the twentieth century towards those within their own community struck by the disease, as well as highly sophisticated modes of dealing with former leprosaria sites in the present day.