New Caledonia

Information about the New Caledonia


The western Pacific was first populated about 50,000 years ago. The Austronesians moved into the area later. The diverse group of people that settled over the Melanesian archipelagos are known as the Lapita. They arrived in the archipelago now commonly known as New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands around 1500 BCE. The Lapita were highly skilled navigators and agriculturists with influence over a large area of the Pacific.

From about the 11th century CE Polynesians also arrived and mixed with the populations of the archipelago.

Europeans first sighted New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands in the late 18th century. The British explorer James Cook sighted Grande Terre in 1774 and named it New Caledonia, after the Scottish highlands, which the Romans had called Caledonia.

British and North American whalers and sandalwood traders became interested in New Caledonia and tensions developed as their approach became increasingly dishonest (an arrogant attitude and cheating became commonplace). Europeans used alcohol and tobacco amongst other things to barter for commodities. Contact with Europeans brought new diseases such as smallpox, measles, dysentery, influenza, syphilis and leprosy. Many people died as a result of these diseases. Tensions developed into hostilities and in 1849 the crew of the Cutter were killed and eaten by the Pouma clan.

As trade in sandalwood declined it was replaced by a new form of trade. Blackbirding involved enslaving people from New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands to work in sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Queensland. The trade ceased at the start of the 20th century.

Catholic and Protestant missionaries first arrived in the 19th century. They had a profound effect on indigenous culture. They insisted people should wear clothes to cover themselves. They eradicated many local practices and traditions.

The island was made a French possession in 1853 in an attempt by Napoleon III to rival the British colonies in Australia and New Zealand. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.

New Caledonia has been on a United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1986.This list includes such places as the American Samoa, the British Falkland Islands, or the New Zealand territory of Tokelau, but which noticeably does not include places like Tibet or Irian Jaya. Agitation by the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) for independence began in 1985. The FLNKS (led by the late Jean Marie Tjibaou, assassinated in 1989) advocated the creation of an independent state of 'Kanaky'. The troubles culminated in 1988 with a bloody hostage taking in Ouvéa. The unrest led to agreement on increased autonomy in the Matignon Accords of 1988 and the Nouméa Accord of 1998.


Political life is complicated by the fact that the indigenous Melanesian Kanak community is now a minority of some 44% (at 1996 census) following earlier population decline and immigration under French rule. The rest of the population is made up of whites (34%), Polynesians (Wallisians, Futunians, Tahitians) (11.5%), Indonesians (2.5%), Vietnamese (1.4%), ni-Vanuatu (1.1%), and others (5.5%). Whites that have lived in New Caledonia for several generations are locally known as "Caldoches". There is a significant contingent of people that arrive from France to work for a year or two and others that have come to retire.

Censuses are extremely critical to the balance of power in the territory, and the organization of a new census has been regularly postponed since 1996. It is estimated that the population has considerably increased since 1996, notably due to arrivals of people from metropolitan (i.e. European) France. Current population, according to the latest census in August 2004, states that the population is 216,494. According to police and airport data, there is between 1,000 and 5,000 people from metropolitan France arriving in New Caledonia every year. This is extremely controversial, especially among the indigenous community. Due to an intervention by French president Jacques Chirac, questions asking for the ethnicity of people were deleted from the latest census, officially because they were deemed to contravene the French Constitution, which states that no distinction based on ethnicity or religion should be made among French citizens. Consequently, it is impossible to know the exact current ethnic balance.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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