World > New Caledonia
Asians, descendants of those who came to work in the nickel mines here about a century ago, are mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian.
New Caledonia is a country.
New Caledonia is a special collectivity of France located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, 1,210 km east of Australia and 16,136 km east of Metropolitan France. The archipelago, part of the Melanesia subregion, includes the main island of Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines, and a few remote islets. The Chesterfield Islands are in the Coral Sea. Locals refer to Grande Terre as "Le Caillou" .
New Caledonia has a land area of 18,576 km . Its population of 268,767 consists of a mix of Kanak people , people of European descent , Polynesian people , and Southeast Asian people, as well as a few people of Pied-Noir and Maghreban descent. The capital of the territory is Nouméa.
The earliest traces of human presence in New Caledonia date back to the Lapita period. The Lapita were highly skilled navigators and agriculturists with influence over a large area of the Pacific.
British explorer Captain James Cook was the first European to sight New Caledonia, on 4 September 1774, during his second voyage. He named it "New Caledonia", as the northeast of the island reminded him of Scotland. The west coast of Grande Terre was approached by Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse in 1788, shortly before his disappearance, and the Loyalty Islands were first visited in 1796. From then until 1840, only a few sporadic contacts with the archipelago were recorded. Contacts became more frequent after 1840, because of the interest in sandalwood from New Caledonia.
As trade in sandalwood declined, it was replaced by a new form of trade, "blackbirding", a euphemism for enslaving people from New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, New Hebrides, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands to work in sugarcane plantations in Fiji and Queensland. The trade ceased at the start of the 20th century. The victims of this trade were called "Kanakas", like all the Oceanian people, after the Hawaiian word for "man".
The first missionaries from the London Missionary Society and the Marist Brothers arrived in the 1840s. In 1849, the crew of the American ship Cutter was killed and eaten by the Pouma clan. Cannibalism was widespread throughout New Caledonia.
On 24 September 1853, under orders from Napoleon III, Admiral Febvrier Despointes took formal possession of New Caledonia and Port-de-France was founded 25 June 1854. A few dozen free settlers settled on the west coast in the following years. New Caledonia became a penal colony, and from the 1860s until the end of the transportations in 1897, about 22,000 criminals and political prisoners were sent to New Caledonia, among them many Communards arrested after the failed Paris Commune, including Henri de Rochefort and Louise Michel. Between 1873 and 1876, 4,200 political prisoners were "relegated" in New Caledonia. Only 40 of them settled in the colony; the rest returned to France after being granted amnesty in 1879 and 1880.
In 1864, nickel was discovered on the banks of the Diahot River and with the establishment of the Société Le Nickel in 1876, mining began in earnest. The French imported labourers to work in the mines, first from neighbouring islands, then from Japan, the Dutch East Indies, and French Indochina. The French government also attempted to encourage European immigration, without much success.
The indigenous population was excluded from the French economy, even as workers in the mines, and they were ultimately confined to reservations. This sparked a violent reaction in 1878 as High Chief Atal of La Foa managed to unite many of the central tribes and launched a guerrilla war which cost 200 Frenchmen and 1,000 Kanaks their lives. The Europeans brought new diseases such as smallpox and measles. Many people died as a result of these diseases. The Kanak population declined from around 60,000 in 1878 to 27,100 in 1921, and their numbers did not increase again until the 1930s.
In June 1940, after the fall of France, the Conseil General of New Caledonia voted unanimously to support the Free French government, and in September the pro-Vichy governor was forced to leave for Indochina. In March 1942, with the assistance of Australia, the territory became an important Allied base, and Nouméa the headquarters of the United States Navy and Army in the South Pacific. The fleet which turned back the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 was based at Nouméa. American troops counted up to 50,000 men, the equivalent of the contemporary population.
French overseas territory
In 1946, New Caledonia became an overseas territory. By 1953, French citizenship had been granted to all New Caledonians, regardless of ethnicity.
The European and Polynesian populations gradually increased in the years leading to the nickel boom of 1969–1972, and the Melanesians became a minority, though they were still the largest ethnic group. Between 1976 and 1988, New Caledonia adopted five statutes. Each became a source of discontent and serious disorder, culminating in 1988 with a bloody hostage-taking in Ouvéa. The Matignon Agreements, signed on 26 June 1988, ensured a decade of stability. The Noumea Accord signed 5 May 1998, set the groundwork for a 20-year transition that will gradually transfer competences to the local government.
New Caledonia is a sui generis collectivity to which France has gradually transferred certain powers. It is governed by a 54-member Territorial Congress, a legislative body composed of members of three provincial assemblies. The French State is represented in the territory by a High Commissioner. At a national level, New Caledonia is represented in the French Parliament by two deputies and two senators. At the 2012 French presidential election, the voter turnout in New Caledonia was 61.19%.
For 25 years, the party system in New Caledonia was dominated by the anti-independence The Rally–UMP. This dominance ended with the emergence of a new party, Avenir Ensemble, also opposed to independence, but considered more open to dialogue with the Kanak movement, which is part of the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front, a coalition of several pro-independence groups.
The Kanak society has several layers of customary authority, from the 4,000-5,000 family-based clans to the eight customary areas that make up the territory. Clans are led by clan chiefs and constitute 341 tribes, each headed by a tribal chief. The tribes are further grouped into 57 customary chiefdoms , each headed by a head chief, and forming the administrative subdivisions of the customary areas.
The Customary Senate is the assembly of the various traditional councils of the Kanaks, and has jurisdiction over the law proposals concerning the Kanak identity. The Customary Senate is composed of 16 members appointed by each traditional council, with two representatives per each customary area. In its advisory role, the Customary Senate must be consulted on law proposals "concerning the Kanak identity" as defined in the Nouméa Accord. It also has a deliberative role on law proposals that would affect identity, the civil customary statute, and the land system. A new president is appointed each year in August or September, and the presidency rotates between the eight customary areas.
Kanak people have recourse to customary authorities regarding civil matters such as marriage, adoption, inheritance, and some land issues. The French administration typically respects decisions made in the customary system. However, their jurisdiction is sharply limited in penal matters, as some matters relating to the customary justice system, including the use of corporal punishment, are seen as clashing with the human rights obligations of France.
The Armed Forces of New Caledonia include about 2,000 soldiers, mainly deployed in Koumac, Nandi, Tontouta, Plum, and Noumea. The land forces consist of a regiment of the Troupes de marine, the Régiment d'infanterie de marine du Pacifique. The naval forces include two P400 class patrol vessels, a BATRAL, and a patrol boat of the Maritime Gendarmerie. The air force is made up of three Casa transport aircraft, four Puma helicopters and a Fennec helicopter, based in Tontouta. In addition, 760 gendarmes are deployed on the archipelago.
Since 1986, the United Nations Committee on Decolonization has included New Caledonia on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. An independence referendum was held the following year, but was rejected by a large majority.
Under the Noumea Accord, signed in 1998 following a period of secessionist unrest in the 1980s and approved in a referendum, New Caledonia is to hold a second referendum on independence between 2014 and 2018.
The official name of the territory, Nouvelle-Calédonie, could be changed in the near future due to the accord, which stated that "a name, a flag, an anthem, a motto, and the design of banknotes will have to be sought by all parties together, to express the Kanak identity and the future shared by all parties." To date, however, there has been no consensus on a new name for the territory. New Caledonia has increasingly adopted its own symbols, choosing an anthem, a motto, and a new design for its banknotes. In July 2010, New Caledonia adopted the Kanak flag, alongside the existing French tricolor, as dual official flags of the territory. The adoption made New Caledonia one of the few countries or territories in the world with two official national flags. The decision to use two flags has been a constant battleground between the two sides and led the coalition government to collapse in February 2011.
The institutional organization is the result of the organic law and ordinary law passed by the Parliament on 16 February 1999.
The archipelago is divided into three provinces:
- South Province . Provincial capital: Nouméa. Population: 183,007 inhabitants .
- North Province . Provincial capital: Koné. Population: 45,137 inhabitants .
- Loyalty Islands Province . Provincial capital: Lifou. Population: 17,436 inhabitants .
New Caledonia is further divided into 33 municipalities: One commune, Poya, is divided between two provinces. The northern half of Poya, with the main settlement and most of the population, is part of the North Province, while the southern half of the commune, with only 127 inhabitants in 2009, is part of the South Province.
New Caledonia is part of Zealandia, a fragment of the ancient Gondwana super-continent. Zealandia separated from Australia 60–85 million years ago. It is speculated that New Caledonia separated from Australia roughly 66 million years ago, subsequently drifting in a north-easterly direction, reaching its present position about 50 million years ago.
The mainland is divided in length by a central mountain range whose highest peak are Mont Panié in the north and Mont Humboldt in the southeast. The east coast is covered by a lush vegetation. The west coast, with its large savannahs and plains suitable for farming, is a drier area. Many ore-rich massifs are found along this coast.
The Diahot River is the longest river of New Caledonia, flowing for some 100 kilometres . It has a catchment area of 620 square kilometres and opens north-westward into the Baie d'Harcourt, flowing towards the northern point of the island along the western escarpment of the Mount Panié. Most of the island is covered by wet evergreen forests, while savannahs dominate the lower elevations. The New Caledonian lagoon, with a total area of 24,000 square kilometres is one of the largest lagoons in the world. It is surrounded by the New Caledonia Barrier Reef.
The climate is tropical, with a hot and humid season from November to March with temperatures between 27 °C and 30 °C, and a cooler, dry season from June to August with temperatures between 20 °C and 23 °C, linked by two short interstices. The tropical climate is strongly moderated by the oceanic influence and the trade winds that attenuates humidity, which can be close to 80%. The average annual temperature is 23 °C, with historical extremes of 2.3 °C and 39.1 °C.
The rainfall records show that precipitations differ greatly within the island. The 3,000 millimetres of rainfall recorded in Galarino are three times the average of the west coast. There are also dry periods, because of the effects of El Niño. Between December and April, tropical depressions and cyclones can cause winds to exceed a speed of 100 kilometres per hour with gusts of 250 kilometres per hour and very abundant rainfall. The last cyclone affecting New Caledonia was Cyclone Vania, in January 2011.
New Caledonia has many unique taxa, especially birds and plants. It has the richest diversity in the world per square kilometre. In its botany not only species but entire genera and even families are unique to the island, and survive nowhere else. The biodiversity is caused by Grande Terre's central mountain range, which has created a variety of niches, landforms and micro-climates where endemic species thrive.
Bruno Van Peteghem was in 2001 awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for his efforts on behalf of the Caledonian ecological protection movement in the face of "serious challenges" from Jacques Lafleur's RPCR party. Progress has been made in a few areas in addressing the protection of New Caledonia's ecological diversity from fire, industrial and residential development, unrestricted agricultural activity and mining .
New Caledonia's fauna and flora derive from ancestral species isolated in the region when it broke away from Gondwana many tens of millions of years ago. Not only endemic species have evolved here, but entire genera and even families are unique to the islands.
More tropical gymnosperm species are endemic to New Caledonia than to any similar region on Earth. Of the 44 indigenous species of gymnosperms, 43 are endemic, including the only known parasitic gymnosperm . Again, of the 35 known species of Araucaria, 13 are endemic to New Caledonia. New Caledonia also has the world's most divergent lineage of flowering plant, Amborella trichopoda which is at or near the base of the clade of all flowering plants.
The world's largest extant species of fern, Cyathea intermedia, also is endemic to New Caledonia. It is very common on acid ground, and grows about one metre per year on the east coast, usually on fallow ground or in forest clearings. There also are other species of Cyathea, notably Cyathea novae-caledoniae.
New Caledonia also is one of five regions on the planet where species of southern beeches are indigenous; five species are known to occur here.
New Caledonia has its own version of maquis occurring on metalliferous soils, mostly in the south. The soils of ultramafic rocks have been a refuge for many native flora species because they are toxic and their mineral content is poorly suited to most foreign species of plants.
New Caledonia is home to the New Caledonian crow, a bird noted for its tool-making abilities, which rival those of primates. These crows are renowned for their extraordinary intelligence and ability to fashion tools to solve problems, and make the most complex tools of any animal yet studied apart from humans.
The endemic kagu, agile and able to run quickly, is a flightless bird, but it is able to use its wings to climb branches or glide. It is the surviving member of monotypic family Rhynochetidae, order Gruiformes.
There are 11 endemic fish species and 14 endemic species of decapod crustaceans in the rivers and lakes of New Caledonia. Some, such as Neogalaxias, exist only in small areas. The nautilus, considered a living fossil and related to the ammonites which became extinct at the end of the Mesozoic era, occurs in Pacific waters around New Caledonia. There is a large diversity of marine fish in the surrounding waters, which are within the extents of the Coral Sea.
Several species of New Caledonia are remarkable for their size: Ducula goliath is the largest extant species of pigeon; Rhacodactylus leachianus, the largest gecko in the world; Phoboscincus bocourti the largest skink in the world, thought to be extinct but rediscovered in 2003.
At the last census in 2014 New Caledonia had a population of 268,767. Of these, 17,436 live in the Loyalty Islands Province, 45,137 in the North Province, and 183,007 in the South Province. Population growth has slowed down since the 1990s, but remains strong with a yearly increase of 1.7% between 1996 and 2009.
Natural growth is responsible for 85% of the population growth, while the remaining 15% is attributable to net migration. The population growth is strong in the Southern province , moderate in the Northern Province , but negative in the Loyalty Islands, which are losing inhabitants .
Over 40% of the population is under 20, although the ratio of older people on the total population is increasing. Two residents of New Caledonia out of three live in Greater Nouméa. Three out of four were born in New Caledonia. The total fertility rate went from 3.2 children per woman in 1990 to 2.2 in 2007.
In 2009, 40.3% of the population reported belonging to the Kanak community, 29.2% to the European community and 8.7% to the community originating from Wallis and Futuna. The remaining identified communities represented 7.3% of the population, and included Tahitians , Javanese Indonesian , Vietnamese , Ni-Vanuatu other Asian and other . 8.3% belonged to multiple communities, 5% declared their community as "Caledonian", and 1.2% did not respond. The question on community belonging, which had been left out of the 2004 census, was reintroduced in 2009 under a new formulation, different from the 1996 census, allowing multiple choices and the possibility to clarify the choice "other". Most of the people who self-identified as "Caledonian" are thought to be ethnically European.
The Kanak people, part of the Melanesian group, are indigenous to New Caledonia. Their social organization is traditionally based around clans, which identify as either "land" or "sea" clans, depending on their original location and the occupation of their ancestors. According to the 2009 census, the Kanak constitute 94% of the population in the Loyalty Islands Province, 74% in the North Province and 27% in the South Province. The Kanak tend to be of lower socio-economic status than the Europeans and other settlers.
Europeans first settled in New Caledonia when France established a penal colony on the archipelago. Once the prisoners had completed their sentences, they were given land to settle. According to the 2009 census, of the 71,721 Europeans in New Caledonia 32,354 were native-born, 33,551 were born in other parts of France, and 5,816 were born abroad. The Europeans are divided into several groups: the Caldoches are usually defined as those born in New Caledonia who have ancestral ties that span back to the early French settlers. They often settled in the rural areas of the western coast of Grande Terre, where many continue to run large cattle properties.
Distinct from the Caldoches are those were born in New Caledonia from families that had settled more recently, and are called simply Caledonians. The French-born migrants who come to New Caledonia are called métros, indicating their origins in metropolitan France. There is also a community of about 2,000 pieds noirs, descended from European settlers in France's former North African colonies; some of them are prominent in anti-independence politics, including Pierre Maresca, a leader of the RPCR.
The French language began to spread with the establishment of French settlements, and French is now spoken even in the most secluded villages. The level of fluency, however, varies significantly across the population as a whole, primarily due to the absence of universal access to public education before 1953, but also due to immigration and ethnic diversity. At the 2009 census, 97.3% of people aged 15 or older reported that they could speak, read and write French, whereas only 1.1% reported that they had no knowledge of French. Other significant language communities among immigrant populations are those of Wallisian and Javanese language speakers.
The 28 Kanak languages spoken in New Caledonia are part of the Oceanic group of the Austronesian family. Kanak languages are taught from kindergarten and an academy is responsible for their promotion. The four most widely spoken indigenous languages are Drehu , Nengone and Paicî . Others include Iaai . At the 2009 census, 35.8% of people aged 15 or older reported that they could speak one of the indigenous Melanesian languages, whereas 58.7% reported that they had no knowledge of any of them.
Half of the population is Roman Catholic, including most of the Europeans, Uveans, and Vietnamese and half of the Melanesian and Tahitian minorities. Of the Protestant churches, the Free Evangelical Church and the Evangelical Church in New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands have the largest number of adherents; their memberships are almost entirely Melanesian. There are also numerous other Christian groups and small numbers of Muslims. See Islam in New Caledonia and Bahá'í Faith in New Caledonia.
New Caledonia has one of the largest economies in the South Pacific, with a GDP of US$9.89 billion in 2011. The nominal GDP per capita was US$38,921 in 2011. It is thus higher than New Zealand's, though there is significant inequality in income distribution, and long-standing structural imbalances between the economically dominant South Province and the less developed North Province and Loyalty Islands. The currency in use in New Caledonia is the CFP franc, pegged to the euro at a rate of 1,000 CFP to 8.38 euros. It is issued by the Institut d'Emission d'Outre-Mer.
Real GDP grew by 3.8% in 2010 and 3.2% in 2011, boosted by rising worldwide nickel prices and an increase in domestic demand due to rising employment, as well as strong business investments. In 2011, exports of goods and services from New Caledonia amounted to 2.11 billion US dollars, 75.6% of which were mineral products and alloys . Imports of goods and services amounted to 5.22 billion US dollars. 22.1% of the imports of goods came from Metropolitan France and its overseas departments, 16.1% from other countries in the European Union, 14.6% from Singapore , 9.6% from Australia, 4.5% from the United States, 4.2% from New Zealand, 2.0% from Japan, and 27.0% from other countries. The trade deficit in goods and services stood at 3.11 billion US dollars in 2011.
Financial support from France is substantial, representing more than 15% of the GDP, and contributes to the health of the economy. Tourism is underdeveloped, with 100,000 visitors a year, compared to 400,000 in the Cook Islands and 200,000 in Vanuatu. Much of the land is unsuitable for agriculture, and food accounts for about 20% of imports. According to FAOSTAT, New Caledonia is one of world's largest producers of: yams ; taro ; plantains ; coconuts . The exclusive economic zone of New Caledonia covers 1.4 million square kilometres. The construction sector accounts for roughly 12% of GDP, employing 9.9% of the salaried population in 2010. Manufacturing is largely confined to small-scale activities such as the transformation of foodstuffs, textiles and plastics.
New Caledonian soils contain about 25% of the world's nickel resources. The late-2000s recession has gravely affected the nickel industry, as the sector faced a significant drop in nickel prices for the second consecutive year. The fall in prices has led a number of producers to reduce or stop altogether their activity, resulting in a reduction of the global supply of nickel by 6% compared to 2008.
This context, combined with bad weather has forced the operators in the sector to revise downwards their production target. Thus, the activity of mineral extraction has declined by 8% in volume year on year. The share of the nickel sector as a percentage of GDP fell 3%, to 5% in 2009 compared with 8% in 2008. A trend reversal and a recovery in demand, have been recorded early in the second half of 2009, allowing a 2.0% increase in the local metal production.
Historically, nickel was transported by wire ropeway to ships waiting off shore.
Wood carving, especially of the houp , is a contemporary reflection of the beliefs of the traditional tribal society, and includes totems, masks, chambranles, or flèche faîtière, a kind of arrow which adorns the roofs of Kanak houses. Basketry is a craft widely practiced by tribal women, creating objects of daily use.
The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and opened in 1998, is the icon of the Kanak culture.
The Kaneka is a form of local music, inspired by reggae and originating in the 1980s.
The Mwâ Ka is a 12m totem pole commemorating the French annexation of New Caledonia, and was inaugurated in 2005.
Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes is the only daily newspaper in the archipelago. A monthly publication, Le chien bleu, parodies the news from New Caledonia.
There are five radio stations: the public service broadcaster RFO radio Nouvelle-Calédonie, Océane FM, Radio Djido , NRJ and Radio Rythmes Bleus.
As for television, the public service broadcaster RFO Nouvelle-Calédonie has two channels: Télé Nouvelle-Calédonie, dedicated partly to local programming and newscasts and Tempo, which retransmits French programmes. Canal+ relays the programming of Canal + France, and CanalSat proposes 17 digital channels in French. Analogue television broadcasts ended in September 2011, completing the digital television transition in New Caledonia. The French broadcasting authorities are considering bids for two new local television stations, NCTV and NC9, planned to be launched in 2012.
The media are considered to be able to operate freely, but Reporters Without Borders raised concerns in 2006 about "threats and intimidation" of RFO staff by members of a pro-independence group.
The largest sporting event to be held in New Caledonia is a round of the FIA Asia Pacific Rally Championship .
The New Caledonia football team began playing in 1951, and was admitted into FIFA, the international association of football leagues, in 2004. Prior to joining FIFA, New Caledonia held observer status with the Oceania Football Confederation, and became an official member of the OFC with its FIFA membership. They have won the South Pacific Games five times, most recently in 2007, and have placed third on two occasions in the OFC Nations Cup. Christian Karembeu is a prominent New Caledonian former footballer.
Horse racing is also very popular in New Caledonia, as are women's cricket matches.
The Rugby league team participated in the Pacific Cup in 2004.
New Caledonia also has a national synchronised swimming team which tours abroad.
The "Tour Cycliste de Nouvelle Caledonie" is a multi-day cycling stage race that is held usually in October. The race is organised by the Comite Cycliste New Caledonia. The race attracts riders from Australia, New Zealand, France, Reunion, Europe and Tahiti. Australian Brendan Washington has finished last three times in the race between 2005-2009, and is known in New Caledonia as "The Lanterne Rouge".
The New Caledonia Handball team won the Oceania Handball Nations Cup in 2008 held in Wellington, New Zealand. They beat Australia in the final.
Due to low levels of domestic horticulture, fresh tropical fruits feature less highly in New Caledonian cuisine than in other Pacific nations, instead relying on rice, fish and root vegetables such as taro. One way this is frequently prepared is in a buried oven style feast, known as Bougna. Wrapped in banana leaves, the fish, taro, banana and other seafood are buried with hot rocks, then dug up and eaten.
Tontouta International Airport is located 50 km north of Nouméa, and connects New Caledonia with the airports of Paris, Tokyo, Sydney, Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Osaka, Papeete, Fiji, Wallis, Port Vila, Seoul, and St. Denis. Most internal air services are operated by the International carrier Aircalin. Cruise ships dock at the Gare Maritime in Nouméa. The passenger and cargo boat Havannah sails to Port Vila, Malicolo and Santo in Vanuatu once a month.
New Caledonia's road network consists of:
- Route territoriale 1, going from the exit from Noumea to the Néhoué river, north of Koumac;
- Route territoriale 2, located on Lifou Island and from the Wanaham airport to the south of Wé;
- Route territoriale 3, from the junction with the RT1 in Nandi up to Tiwaka;
- Route territoriale 4, from the junction with the RT1 near Muéo to the power plant.
In popular culture
The television series McHale's Navy was set in the islands in the area, with fleet headquarters being in New Caledonia, and so were the episodes "New Blood" and "Cruel Sea" of the 1999 BBC television show Walking with Dinosaurs.
Rebellion was released in 2011 and is based on the massacre by French military during the 1988 Ouvéa cave hostage taking in New Caledonia as seen from the perspective of then GIGN leader Capt. Philippe Legorjus.