Odds and Ends: A Continent Full of Feathers; Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre

A couple of tidbits for the first weekend of November.

1909 National Geographic Map of Africa


Click to expand (3347 x 4264).

This National Geographic map of Africa dating from 1909 has been featured rather prominently in Wikipedia’s Africa article for quite some time now. Not only a political geography map, the map also intended to display the economic potential of the continent at a time when it was still quite a mystery to much of the magazine’s Western audience (just twenty-five years earlier, much of Africa hadn’t even been explored by its nominal colonial holders). Here, the magazine’s cartographers have plastered principal products (or, in this case, ‘Porducts’, according to the legend) of export in bright red lettering across the map.

While many of these products (e.g., rubber, sugar, ivory, gold, copper, tobacco, fish) probably come as no surprise, the predominant resource imprinted on the map is ‘Feathers’. From South Africa to Kenya, Somaliland to Mauretania and most places in between, feathers caught the eyes of Europeans as much as anything else, as they were highly-prized decorations and fashion accessories of the day. Find a formal ladies’ portrait from the Victorian era, and chances are the subjects are wearing large hats bedecked with feathers. Ostrich feathers, in particular, were in demand. In 1882, ostrich feathers were going for US$400 a pound at a time when gold was only US$332 a pound. One ostrich could produce US$250 worth of feathers per year (US$6 000 today). Many other species, particularly egrets, were nearly hunted to extinction. Harvesting of bird feathers was hardly limited to Africa; the first bird sanctuaries in the United States were created during the Theodore Roosevelt administration specifically to combat the deleterious effects of hunting fowl for feathers.

Another notable aspect of this map is the large network of hypothetical railways drawn all over Africa, most of which were never actually attempted, including a massive Cape Town-to-Cairo route proposed by Cecil Rhodes as an all-British transportation link that would span the continent. The project never got off the ground, however, and to this day there are no rail links between South Sudan and either Uganda or Kenya. Most of the proposed rail links across the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain exactly that as well.

Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre

In the often violent progression towards New Caledonian autonomy from France, the 1988 signing of the Matignon Agreements between leaders of the Kanak independence movement and French New Caledonian officials signalled a truce between the two sides in an effort to quell the tensions in the South Pacific land. The agreements included a ten-year cease in the raising of the independence issue in exchange for increased political and economic provisions for the Kanak community leading up to a future referendum on independence. When Jean-Marie Tjibaou, leader of the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), was assassinated in 1989 in the aftermath of the signing by someone who perceived the agreement with France as an act of caving in, the French government ordered the construction of one of Tjibaou’s goals: a Kanak cultural centre dedicated to the linguistic, artistic and cultural heritage of New Caledonia’s indigenous peoples, to be named after Tjibaou. The centre was commissioned under French president François Mitterrand’s Grands projets architectural monuments initiative. Many saw the move as pure political appeasement; others saw it as a long-awaited acknowledgement of Kanak culture. One thing is certain: the resulting complex is one of the more unique architectural constructs to be found anywhere.


Source: F. Schertzer, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tjibaou_cultural_center-Commons_transfer_2012-11-20.jpg.  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Tjibaou Centre is located 8 km northeast of downtown Nouméa (New Caledonia’s capital and largest city).  The complex consists of three ‘villages’ composed of three, three, and four buildings, respectively, that spread over 8 550 m2 (92 000 sq ft) and are linked by a giant enclosed walkway. Each ‘village’ houses separate functions: exhibitions, offices, and arts. Though the size of the buildings vary, they are all encased with vertical shells made of highly-durable Iroko hardwood. The shells are designed to resemble a traditional Kanak hut. From the outside, this gives the impression of an ultra-large-scale Kanak village. The shells are also functional: the lattice-like shells filter the wind into an inner façade of glass shutters, or louvers, which open or close according to wind speed, thus allowing wind to flow through the building for ventilation. The shells were built facing the ocean opposite the direction of the strongest winds. This comes in especially handy during monsoon season, where heavy winds are actually able to pass over the superstructure of the building without inflicting damage. The curving of the shells helps to redirect winds over the roof of the buildings and enclosed walkway below.

Néa Tjibaou chemin kanak

Source: RasBo, http://www.flickr.com/photos/80562474@N00/234791682. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Further Reading

Amelinckx, A. (2013). Old Time Farm Crime: Fleecing Feathers. Modern Farmer, 15 July 2013. Available at http://modernfarmer.com/2013/07/old-time-farm-crime-a-crime-of-a-different-feather/. Accessed 3 November 2013.

Silloway, K. (2004). Jean Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Renzo Piano Building Workshop 1998. Galinsky. Available at http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/tjibaou/index.htm. Accessed 3 November 2013.

Nearby Articles