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As leaders are being received at chefferie (chiefly house) of Wadrilla near center of island, Djoubelly Wea steps forward and shoots pair dead at point blank range. Wea was reflecting a feeling still palpable in New Caledonia that Tjibaou had sold out to French and derailed struggle of independence.
Tjibaou's bodyguard killed Wea, final shot of evenements. Today chefferie of Wadrilla is much same as it was in 1989, a large thatched case surrounded by a palisade of driftwood logs.
Across coastal highway, a large monument has been erected to 19 Kanak martyrs of 1988. Designed with two curving white walls to resemble a cave, monument bears photo, name, and date of birth of each victim.
Their traditional war clubs have been placed on back side of monument and their remains are interred below.
No memorial to Jean-Marie Tjibaou exists on Ouvea but French have constructed a massive cultural center to his memory in their stronghold Noumea.
In fairness, it must be said that Tjibaou only considered Matignon Accords a temporary stop on road to independence. His assassination froze agreement into a sort of permanent solution which French have used to justify continuing colonial rule ever since.
The promised 1998 referendum was never held. Instead an updated treaty called Noumea Accord was signed. This postponed referendum for another 15 or 20 years and promised many things French government has yet to deliver.
For example, a key provision creating a special New Caledonian citizenship status intended to control immigration from France was declared unconstitutional by a French court in 1999.
Metros (metropolitan French) continue to flood into territory (in violation of United nations resolutions on norms of conduct for colonial powers in non-self-governing areas) and Europeans may soon from a clear majority of population.
Toward end of my stay I visited Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center in Tina Peninsula, 12 kilometers northeast of New Caledonia's capital Noumea. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, it was built by French contractors between 1994 and 1998 at a cost of over US$50 million. The center opened on May 4, 1998, 10th anniversary of assassination of Jean-Marie Tjibaou.
No visitor can help but be impressed by spectacular botanical garden interwoven with references to Kanak legends which encircles center's three villages.
A contemporary art gallery, temporary and permanent exhibitions of Kanak and other Pacific art, a library, an audiovisual room, indoor and outdoor theaters, and a large ceremonial area are only some of center's outstanding features.
Yet Tjibaou Cultural Center presents Kanak culture as a regional folklore rather than a national tradition.
Events such as Ouvea Massacre and other murders of 1980s are barely mentioned. A room in Village Three provides photos and texts on life of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, but there's no explanation as to why he was assassinated or background of his assassin.
The 19th century land seizures and muscle flexing and maneuvering that have prevented independence are carefully avoided. The highlight for me was an amazing three-meter-high bronze statue of Tjibaou himself, clad in a Roman toga, on a hill overlooking center.
Tjibaou was last real Kanak leader, and in a land where spirits of dead have an important role in lives of living, his soul must be suffering.
David Stanley is the author of Moon Handbooks South Pacific http://www.southpacific.org/pacific.html which has a chapter on New Caledonia. His online guide to New Caledonia may be perused at http://www.southpacific.org/text/new_caledonia.html