Jean-Marie Tjibaou

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Jean-Marie Tjibaou (January 30, 1936 – May 4, 1989) was a leader of the Kanak independence movement and a politician in New Caledonia. The son of a tribal chief, Tjibaou was ordained a priest but abandoned his religious vocation for a life in political activism. He was appointed mayor of Hienghène in 1977 and the head of the pro-independence Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front in 1984.

A graffiti portrait of Jean-Marie Tjibaou on a wall in Hienghène, Northern Province, New Caledonia

On 4 May 1989, he was assassinated in Ouvéa by another Kanak. A cultural leader in the promotion of the indigenous Kanak culture, the modern Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, is named in his honour.

Statue of Jean-Marie Tjibaou on the grounds of the Jean-Marie Cultural Centre in Nouméa

During the 1970s, he undertook a thesis in ethnology at the Sorbonne. While he did not complete his studies, he became engaged in cultural and ethnicity issues on New Caledonia. In 1975 he arranged the Melanesia 2000 festival, which emphasized the Kanak identity.

Tjibaou made his way into politics when he ran for the municipal election in Hienghène in 1977, where he was appointed mayor of Hienghène. In 1979 he was made territorial councillor in the newly formed Independence Front. In 1984 he was appointed head of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front and later that year also president of the New Caledonian provisional government.

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