In Polynesia, adapted military service has become essential

Welcome day for new recruits to the Adapted Military Service, in Papeete, French Polynesia, in October 2019.

Sabrina Tiatoa entrusted her 5-year-old son to the love of her grandparents. To escape from “a big family problem”, she left without hesitation the wooded mountains of the island of Raiatea, in Polynesia. Nearly 1,000 kilometers away, at the other end of the territory, on the atoll of Hao, in the Tuamotu archipelago, the 21-year-old young woman pushed the door of military service adapted to ” become independent “. This somewhat special regiment, with a vocation for professional integration, is his lifeline. The hope of a life. For her.

In Mere Teihotaata’s family, on the island of Tahaa, the girls stay at home. At 24, a volunteer like Sabrina, Mere hears “to fend for yourself”. She joins the army with her early childhood CAP in her pocket, against her mother’s advice. “With us, there is no work. All children think of enlisting in the army. I want a stable life. »

The day begins at 4:30 a.m. at the Hao camp. The ceremony for raising the colors is held at 5:45 a.m., the activities begin at 6:30 a.m., singing at noon under the orders of the non-commissioned officer on duty… No weapons, but discipline. No war, but battles against a difficult fate.

“I’m going to do something with my life”

The formula of the adapted military service regiment (RSMA), born in 1961 in the West Indies to respond to a serious social crisis, survived the end of conscription, in the overseas territories. The army has taken root there since playing at the vocational high school, offering 18-25 year olds various technical training courses requested by local companies, driving licenses, a salary of 300 euros per month, social support. “I screwed up, I dealt paka [du cannabis] ! No more youthful bullshit! », launches, laughing, Hoani Pater, 25, arms crossed on his trellis. The boy from Moorea has never lived with his parents. “Since I was 11, I’ve been on my own with my sister, supporting us. We looked for odd jobs, we went fishing. I’m not going to commit myself, but I’m going to do something with my life, in Tahiti. »

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The RSMA must travel at great expense to the scattered atolls of Polynesia to find interns, because the government of the territory wants their children to take this chance to become autonomous adults. In Tahiti, the island-capital, the good reputation of the system has led it to run at full speed – attracting five times more candidates than places.

In this very political role, the army has made itself indispensable by building consensus, far from the debates on the “nuclear debt” owed by France for having tested its atomic bomb in the Pacific from 1966 to 1996. “The post-CEP burden”the Pacific Experimentation Center, responsible for testing, “turned out to be very heavy to bear”recalls the anthropologist Bruno Saura, in History and memory of colonial times in French Polynesia (Windward of the Islands, 2015). “Socially and economically, urban challenges have accumulated on an island of Tahiti where, breaking with their traditional activities, tens of thousands of people from other islands had come to settle in one generation”he writes, referring to “the legacy of a slow and lasting poisoning of society”.

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