The four mounted gendarmes line up their mounts next to that of their commander in the courtyard of the common house of the Pothé tribe, on the west coast of New Caledonia. The ceremony of custom can begin.
“I was keen to have a moment of sharing with you”, declares to the small chief of the tribe Major Pascal Tamisier, after placing on the ground a manou (a piece of fabric), a jar of cream to spread and a horse’s hoof, symbolic offerings.
“It is a joy for us to welcome you. You can set foot on the earth because the gesture has been made”, replied Raymond Aï, professor of letters and history at the college of Bourail, and small chief of the tribe of Pothé.
Performing this ritual, central in Kanak culture, allows the gendarmes to “stay in contact with the population”, assures Major Tamisier.
The five soldiers continued their tour by visiting several inhabitants of the tribe, on their mounts, horses of medium size, accustomed to the climate of Caillou, nickname given to New Caledonia, French territory in the South Pacific.
The essential mission of the mounted surveillance and intervention platoon (PSIC) is to “provide intelligence, see the atmosphere in terms of security, also economic atmosphere, because there are many people who have limited means. , so we try to make the connection between the administrative authorities of the territory and the gendarmerie “, explains the major.
If the reception is good in general, this is not always the case, observes David, a member of the Republican Guard stationed in Paris, who is starting his second four-month stay in the unit. “There are tribal leaders who don’t want to see us in their tribe,” he explains.
It happens to the gendarmes of the unit to leave for a week in the mountain range which occupies the center of the island “in nomadization”.
They help other brigades to fight against cannabis trafficking by locating plantations, enforcing environmental laws, looking for missing persons or doing surveillance during large gatherings such as the mandarin fair in Canala, a town located on Grande Terre, the main island of Caledonia.
– “A good contact” –
Various missions for which the common denominator is the working tool: the horse. For the major, “it is a good vector of communication since it is a common link between the different communities”.
In this archipelago of the South Pacific, the horse still holds a special place, both for the Kanaks and for European breeders, even if it is used less and less by the younger generations.
The PSIC is made up of ten people, including two permanent officers, six non-commissioned officers of the National Guard who come for a period of four months and two assistant gendarmes, sometimes from the territory, like Tiphaine who, without being a cavalier before, asked to join this unit which she had seen often patrolling in demonstrations on the Caillou, to “discover it from the inside”.
The gendarmes patrol in camouflage uniforms, without the blue uniform, but keeping a bulletproof vest, on horses bought in New Caledonia, known for their resistance and their hardiness.
“It allows us to have good contact with the tribes and customary authorities,” said the major.
The unit was created in 1986, during the “Events”, a period during which New Caledonia almost fell into civil war.
“Today, there is another way of working, we are in this perspective of the exchange”, notes Félix, from the tribe of Ny, who welcomes the gendarmes at the foot of the waterfalls that cross his land.
For him, their approach is positive: “They take the time to come and share, to come and discuss, it is good as a Melanesian to have these exchanges”.