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Magical Maurice Bay on the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

by Silke Elzner

Maurice Bay is named after the statue of Saint-Maurice which has been erected right here to commemorate the first Catholic service ever to take place on the island. This was on the 15th of August 1848, three days after two missionaries set foot onto the Isle of Pines.

Since then Catholicism has celebrated a huge success story with the native Kunie people. However, it is beautiful to see how the Christian faith has been accepted and incorporated into the local culture, and there is no other place on the Isle of Pines where it would become more obvious than in Maurice Bay.

The statue of Saint Maurice in surrounded by tribal carvings – totems that depict wild animals and birds. Each one of them a gift from the different tribes and families around the island. They surround the statue of the saint like a palisade, protecting it from the outside world. More totems can be found closer to the water, forming a fence or a barricade which acts both as a backdrop and a protective border.

The totems are beautiful and you can spend hours just working out the features and forms, the different symbols and shapes. The wood is weathered and pale, creating a lovely contrast to the bright colours of the rainforest and the deep blue sky.

Below Saint Maurice there is a plaque which commemorates the lives of the first soldiers that left the island to fight in the Great War for France. 16 names, all Christian, have been listed. Young men that made the ultimate sacrifice for the big mother country on the other side of the world.

One cannot help but wonder – why did these young men, J√©rome, Fernand, Michel and their mates, enlist to fight? Did they really understand what they were getting themselves into? Did they realise what they were leaving behind? Was it a sense of adventured that encourage them to fight, was it curiosity? Did someone promise them eternal life, a veteran’s life of a hero, were they curious to see where the missionaries and colonial administrators were coming from? Did they feel the cold, missed their food?

Looking at these names in this idyllic setting you realise how senseless wars are. What a waste. I do hope these young men did find in some way what they were looking for. I hope they carried images of their beautiful island in their hearts when they fell.

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Totems watching over the statue

St Maurice on the Isle of Pines

This is the place of the first Catholic service

Carvings of animals and birds