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Bourail (Municipality, New Caledonia, France)

Last modified: 2016-04-02 by ivan sache
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Flag of Bourail - Image by Jens Pattke, 20 August 2015

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Presentation of Bourail

The municipality of Bourail (5,444 inhabitants in 2014; 79,760 ha; municipal website) is located on the western coast of the Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, 170 km of Nouméa. A stronghold of the broussards (bushmen), Bourail is known as the New Caledonian Far West, still counting 400 farms and 25% of the territory's cattle stock. The inhabitants of Bourail are nicknamed pattes jaunes (yellow legs), following the introduction in Bourail of a yellow-legged bird, the common myna (Acridotheres tristis). Introduced in different parts of the world, the "grasshopper hunter", is, ironically, listed among the world's most invasive species, being "the most important pest / problem" in Australia.

Bourail, located on a narrow lagoon served by two wide passes, is among the oldest known places of settlement in New Caledonia. The beach of Nessadiou Bay was colonized 3000 years ago by Lapita sailors. The Lapita civilization, best known for characteristic pottery, is believed to have emerged on the Bismarck Islands (Papua-New Guinea) and to have spread to several archipelagos (Solomon, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Wallis and Futuna). The Bourail colonists soon established a series of hamlets along the beaches and at the foot of the Déva hills. Recent excavations performed in the Poé sand dune have revealed a succession of more recent fishers' settlements, established from 850 BC to 1000. The great stylistic diversity of the pottery and tombs found there implies that the history of the colonization of Bourail is much more complex than early believed. The Déva dune yielded similar sites, however not permanent because of the advance of the sea shore.
In the second millenary, most settlements in Bourail were established at a distance of the seashore. Big villages were built in the plains and on the hill slopes by Kanak farmers growing yam and taro. The irrigated taro gardens of Bourail were once known as New Caledonia's "taro barn".
There are today six native tribes (villages) on the municipal territory of Bourail, part of the Ajië-Arho customary area: Ny, Pothé, Azareu, Bouirou, Gouaro and Ouaoué. Bourail is named for the words "bu rhai", meaning "the lizard's tail" in Ajië.

The town of Bourail was founded in 1867 by Governor Guillain, as a penal colony. Inaugurated with 40 convicts, the colony counted 79 of them the next year. The colony was fully established in 1870 with a urban structure including the commander's hall, the men's penitentiary, the women's penitentiary, the military post, the officers' housing estate, food stores, a brickyard, a kiln, a school, a post office, the released housing estate, streets and a port. For long, the colony could be acceded only by sea, as remembered by the Gouaro lighthouse that signalled the entrance of the bay. The population reached 1,650 inhabitants and 400 families. The growth of the town was stopped in 1894, when the French government stopped the convict's deportation to New Caledonia. The penal colony was closed in 1922.
Part of the effort of "rehabilitation", a penal farm was founded around 1870 to teach agriculture to the released convicts or those showing good behaviour. They were conceded pieces of land, which progressively developed agriculture and cattle-breeding in Bourail. Convict women who volunteered to found a family in New Caledonia entered the convent, also established in 1870; after a period of "rehabilitation", the ex-convicts could choose a wife, under the "guidance" of the nuns managing the convent, and start a new life.

Some 2,000 common law criminals of Arab (indeed, from French Algeria) origin were deported to Bourail from 1864 to 1897. Several of them settled on concessions granted in Nessadiou and Boghen. The Muslim cemetery of Nessadiou was founded in 1897 around the tomb of Marabout Sidi Moulay. During the Second World War, the New Zealand 3rd Division set up on 11 November 1942 the main Anzac camp in New Caledonia. The number of soldiers raised from 3,000 to 18,000 in April 1943 with the arrival of two battalions from Norfolk and Tonga. The camp was organized with an hospital (600 beds) in Boghen, a transmission center in Néméara, a supply depot in Téné, a petrol station in Bacouya and a bakery in Nandaï. The War Cemetery, inaugurated in 1943 close to the Arab Cemetery, hosts the bodies of 242 soldiers; the companion memorial lists the names of another 449 men killed in action.
The most famous member of the Arab community of Bourail is the "Caliph", Jean-Pierre Aïfa (b. 1935), Mayor of Bourail from 1977 to 2001 and from 2008 to 2014. A successful cattle-breeder, AÎfa initiated the Bourail Fair, famous for its rodeo and fantasia, led by the Caliph himself. Member of the autonomist party Union Calédonienne since 1959, Aïfa founded in 1977 a splinter party, the Union de Nouvelle-Calédonie. The set-up of alliances with other parties allowed him to be elected three times President of the Territorial Assembly (1978-1980; 1981-1982; 1983-1984).

Ivan Sache, 20 August 2015

Flag of Bourail

The flag of Bourail, hoisted in front of the Town Hall (photo, photo, photo), is white with the municipal coat of arms.
The coat of arms of Bourail is "Azure a bend argent charged with a bird sable legged or a cross azure and a crescent gules and cantonned by a bovine's head or and a wheat garb of the same. The shield surmounted by a vegetal crown or. The shield supported by two traditional doorframes proper. beneath the shield a scroll argent fimbriated gules inscribed with the name of the municipality in capital letters sable".
The bird represents the common myna, alluding to the nickname of the inhabitants. The blue cross stands for the New Zealander cemetery, while the red crescent represents the Arab population. The bovine and wheat stands for cattle-breeding and agriculture, respectively. The doorframes represent the Kanak population.

Jens Patke & Ivan Sache, 20 August 2015