From 1950, New Caledonia’s largest leprosarium, the Sanatorium Ducos, began to gain recognition throughout the French colonial world. The French journalist, writer and philanthropist Raoul Follereau, whose name the Sanatorium took in 1956, endorsed the institution in his extraordinary book on French global sanatoria, Tour du monde chez les lépreux.1 Follereau wistfully described the beauty of the Pacific site (‘The site is magnificent. A peninsula in the glorious bay of Noumea’); the cleanliness of the patient housing run by the French Sisters of Saint-Joseph-de-Cluny (‘The houses are clean, generally well-kept and decorated with care, a style which is usually the prerogative of fortunate people’); and the unusual and brilliant medical service (‘The medical facilities are remarkable and tribute must be paid to the Health Services for work recently undertaken and particularly to Doctor B … who installed an electrotherapy department in the Ducos laboratory, the only one in the world at the present time’).2 Such utopian depiction was not isolated to ‘the Sana’, as it is still fondly known in New Caledonia. As Follereau’s books demonstrate, all leprosaria of the French colonial world had the apparent capacity to overcome the horror of the disease through attention to care and compassion. Leprosy has been eliminated in New Caledonia, according to World Health Organization criteria.3 Nonetheless, the Sanatorium Ducos remains open today, maintaining a powerfully symbolic role in the territory and combining a complex combination of cultural and theological factors as outlined in Follereau’s description.
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