You might know that AA stands for the Automobile Association of Great Britain, the UK’s largest motoring organisation. And then there’s AAA, of course, the American Automobile Association, a federation of motor clubs throughout North America.
I admit that, until very recently, I also hadn’t the faintest idea that this could possibly be more just than the most natural vowel times four. Oh but there is, believe me!
On my way from Farino to Poé plage two days ago I made a little detour to the town of Bourail. I just wanted to check wether there was anything interesting that I should take a closer look at. And besides, it’s always useful to know the shops, the snack bars, the gas station etc. in your vicinity, and their opening times. Then I saw the following “affiche”:
Ah, now the title of this blog post makes sense at last: so AAAA stands for the “Association des Arabes et Amis des Arabes de Nouvelle-Calédonie”. In other words, the Association of Arabs and their friends in New Caledonia. That sounded interesting. In my Lonely Planet guide book I had already read a little piece of information that there is to this day a small Arabian community in this part of New Caledonia. They are descendants of former prisoners who had been sent off to the South Pacific for various reasons in the nineteenth century. And now this! I decided to come back the next day.
Everybody seemed to be there, really everybody. Including me! And this cute four-legged fellah:
Nobody seemed to take any particular notice of me, so I had to take the initiative myself if I wanted something to happen. So I approached Véro, a wonderful lady who not only gave me free coffee but also answered all my questions.
And then the “groupe de danse”. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined to witness a formidable bellydance performance by an ensemble of eight young ladies, one more beautiful than the other, complete with colourful costumes, chandeliers, golden crowns, sabres and what not. This may have easily been already the highlight of my entire trip…
Do you share my enthusiasm?
But the final blow was yet to come. On the affiche it had said that the programme was to be closed by a “FANTAZIA” (in capital letters). I had no clue what this was, so I asked Véro, my personal guide. She explained that it is a performance by men on horseback, and they shoot in the air more than once. It is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings. But what is the 50th anniversary of AAAA, if not a very special occasion!
When Véro saw the worried look on my face (right after she had mentioned the shooting in the air), she quickly appeased me by adding that, this time, there would be no bullets in the rifles. Ah! Thank you, good to know.
I must say, the show was brilliant. I couldn’t believe my luck (and I still can’t). Everybody seemed to enjoy the show immensely. Thousands of pictures were taken, not counting the 1,119 images on my SD card alone!
This is Kader. He is former president of the AAAA and the person at the very centre of all things Arabian in New Caledonia. Véro introduced me to him, and we exchanged phone numbers. I am hoping to meet him again next week for an in-depth interview and some more photos. He is one of the few New Caledonian Arabs who has actually been to the Maghreb, when many years ago an official delegation visited Algeria, the land of their ancestors.
Kader asked me to take a picture of him together with his cousin. No need to ask me twice for sure. I wonder why they are having such an earnest expression on their faces. Well, I don’t know if that is the reason, but if you look at their family histories and the fact that their Arabian identity was totally suppressed until the late 1960s, you get an idea why. But things have definitely changed for the better, as everybody assured me.
Another scene I found rather touching was when, at the end of the fête, Arabs and Melanesians did the “coutume” together. It is a very traditional practice and one of the pillars of Melanesian (Kanak) culture. Presents are exchanged (usually pieces of cloth, tobacco or cigarettes, and a small amount of money – you can see them lying on the ground in the middle), and words of gratitude and appreciation are expressed by senior members of the group. All this is done in a very quiet, focussed and solemn mood.
Not only did I get an intriguing insight into the Arabian community yesterday, but also into the “Far West” mentality in this part of Grande Terre and into the “broussard” way of life. One of the symbols of it obviously being a decent pickup truck. And some horses, of course. And not to forget, cowboy boots!
What an amazing afternoon this was. I look forward to its continuation next week!
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