Nippo-Kanaks in Post-War New Caledonia: Race, Law, Politics and Identity

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Benjamin Hiramatsu Ireland

Abstract

This article interrogates both the legal and social identities of Japanese-Melanesians (or ‘Nippo-Kanaks’) residing in the Free French territory of New Caledonia at the beginning of the twentieth century to the years following the Second World War. The first part of the article details how, fearing an imminent Japanese attack on New Caledonia after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the French Empire began the process of deporting nearly all Japanese emigrants residing throughout New Caledonia to Australian internment camps on 8 December 1941. French officials in New Caledonia sequestered all property belonging to the Japanese émigré community, and later sold it to the French public. Nippo-Kanaks, who were children at the time of the incarceration and deportation of their Japanese fathers, maintained a problematized legal identity as Japanese nationals residing in Pacific French territory. Although the French Empire granted French citizenship to mixed race Kanaks in 1946, French authorities in New Caledonia specifically denied French citizenship to Nippo-Kanaks, who then had to petition for French naturalization. The second part of this article interrogates the social identity of Nippo-Kanaks viewed from the perspective of Jeannette Yokoyama, a second-generation Nippo-Kanak whose Japanese father was deported to Australia. Yokoyama’s father was forcibly repatriated to Japan after the Second World War, but by writing letters he maintained communication with his family in New Caledonia. The letters that Jeannette received from her father allowed her to forge personal memories of her absent father that shaped her social, mixed race identity as a Nippo-Kanak. For Yokoyama’s father, the letters served as a means to enculturate Jeannette as a Japanese daughter from afar. Jeannette’s memories of her beloved father, coupled with the embrace of her Japanese heritage, represent a symbolic resistance to French administrators’ efforts to erase the presence of the Japanese community in New Caledonia.

Article Details

Section
Decolonisation: Ripples in the Asia Pacific Special Issue 2019 (Peer Reviewed)