Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

AFRICA NEWS

Ebola: Mali's first case dies

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Queen Elizabeth tweets

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The world this week - October 24 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The world this week - October 24 2014

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Art rocks and shocks Paris

Read more

#TECH 24

Samsung's Gear VR Reviewed

Read more

#TECH 24

How to become a Cyborg

Read more

ENCORE!

Paris rediscovers Picasso

Read more

#THE 51%

Should freezing your eggs be a company benefit?

Read more

France returns skull of New Caledonian chief, 135 years on

© AFP | French Overseas minister George Pau-Langevin (L) and the Great Kanak Chief of the district de La Foa, Berge Kawa, attend a ceremony on August 28, 2014 in Paris, before the return in New-Caledonia of the remains of the Great Kanak Chief AtaiFrench Overseas minister George Pau-Langevin (L) and the Great Kanak Chief of the district de La Foa, Berge Kawa, attend a ceremony on August 28, 2014 in Paris, before the return in New-Caledonia of the remains of the Great Kanak Chief Atai

France returned the skull of a New Caledonian rebel chief on Thursday, 135 years after it was cut off in a battle between the people of the South Pacific island and their French colonisers.

In a solemn ceremony in Paris, France's Overseas Territories Minister George Pau-Langevin handed back the skull of the great Kanak rebel chief Atai to one of his descendants.

"I cannot tell you how emotional I am. I have waited for this moment for so many years. I had started to give up hope," said Berge Kawa, a direct descendant of the chief.

The story dates back to 1878, a quarter of a century after colonial power France had taken possession of the archipelago around 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) to the east of Australia.

Atai led a rebellion of the Kanak tribe, which ended up claiming the lives of more than 1,000 tribesmen and around 200 Europeans.

During a battle, Atai was killed and his head and right hand were chopped off.

At the time, European scientists were fascinated by the anthropology of the islanders and Atai's skull was preserved in alcohol and transferred to Paris, where it was studied and finally placed in a museum.

Kawa seized on the occasion to urge Paris to "finally apply" the 1998 Noumea Accord, which handed more autonomy to France's nickel-rich overseas territory of 265,000 people.

New Caledonia currently holds a unique position as an overseas possession that formulates its own tax, labour laws and trade policy but not defence or foreign policy.

"These remains bring us back to our own reality: we are two peoples, two cultures which have never ceased to clash with each other and still clash today," Kawa said.

"We were ravaged by the French state. It is therefore up to the French state to give us back our property," he added.

New Caledonia is due to hold a referendum by 2018 on whether to stick with France or go it alone.