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New Caledonia - People

Present-day New Caledonia is a Melanesian land with a vibrantly diverse cultural heritage forged by all the peoples who have played a role in the countrys history: the native Kanak people and the many communities from Europe, Asia, Polynesia and Reunion Island... a diverse, multicultural mix.

The population of 267,840 (July 2014 est.) was estimated in 2009 at Kanak 40.3%, European 29.2%, Wallisian, Futunian 8.7%, Tahitian 2%, Indonesian 1.6%, Vietnamese 1%, Ni-Vanuatu 0.9%, other 16.2%. It is estimated that in 1995 the population was 181,000 persons. The mean rate of population growth for the period 1991-1995 was 1.53 percent. According to the 1989 census, the population was 164,173, comprising 73,598 known indigenous Melanesians known as Kanaks (44.8 per cent); 55,085 persons of European origin, mainly French (33.6 per cent), of whom 35,000 persons, known as Caldoches, are descendants of the early settlers; 18,936 Wallisians and Tahitians (11.5 per cent); and 16,554 others, mainly Indonesians and Vietnamese (10.1 per cent). On the eve of World War II, New Caledonia had a population of 53,000 inhabitants, according to the 1938 census, 18,000 of them French citizens with full rights. As of 1911, its population, together with that of these dependencies, was estimated at 53,000 inhabitants (13,000 free; 11,000 of convict origin; 29,000 black).

The population of historical European origin - the "Caldoches" - comes from convicts, free settlers, or adventurers who have tried their luck as traders or breeders. Their strong sense of belonging to this country stems from the idea that their ancestors contributed to the mining, agricultural, industrial and commercial development of the territory, often in difficult conditions.

The native Kanakas (kah-nah-kas) are a brown-skinned people of mixed Melanesian and Polynesian origin, whose ancestors were the original New Caledonians. French writers have referred to them as indigines (natives) or Canaques {from the Polynesian word "'kanaka" meaning "man"). However, they dislike the term Canaque, and it should not be used. The people have no general name for themselves other than that of their district or village "East Coast People," "Gomo People," and so on.

A major effort has been made in the field of training. Encouraging results have been recorded, inter alia, in secondary and vocational education, which is producing a growing number of graduates. While progress had been made in education, with the number of graduates doubling, 14 percent of young Caledonians still left school without qualifications.

For around three thousand years, the only inhabitants of the archipelago were Austronesians. The people who reached the shores of New Caledonia formed part of the Austronesian-speaking people who, over 5,000 years ago, migrated south from Taiwan through the Philippines, Indonesia and New Guinea before spreading out over the South Pacific islands. Such are the roots of the Kanak people.

It was not until 1774, when Captain James Cook and his crew landed in New Caledonia, that these islanders first came into contact with European explorers. In 1853, France took official possession of New Caledonia. French annexation heralded a period of colonisation during which thousands of convicts, mainly of European extraction, were shipped to New Caledonia. Their descendants make up part of the countrys multicultural heritage. The European settlers and convicts who stayed to make their lives in New Caledonia now form the Caldoche community, not to be confused with later European arrivals, known locally as Zoreilles.

In addition to these European immigrants, various other communities arrived to settle in New Caledonia throughout the 20th century, contributing to the multi-ethnic mix which makes up the current population. People arrived from Indonesia, Japan, Tahiti, Wallis, Futuna, Vanuatu, Vietnam and other countries to swell New Caledonia's melting pot of communities.

While all these ethnic groups have generally preserved much of their cultural heritage, dividing lines have gradually faded and melted away over time as people intermingle and intermarry, creating a population with a rich and vibrant multicultural heritage.

At the time of first contact with the Europeans, the traditional social organization varied in different parts of the island. An exogamous clan-organization, in some cases on a local basis, appeared to be general, but there was no evidence of any dual system. In some parts the clans were named after ancestors, and elsewhere they appeared to be totemic, each clan being associated with an animal which may not be eaten and was regarded as a father. The members of certain social groups were believed to be able to promote the growth of plants, and this power was associated with a taboo on the use of the plants as food. Descent was patrilineal, and inheritance also followed this mode of transmission. The cross-cousin marriage was practised, and there was definite avoidance between brother and sister.

The Kanak languages belong to the Austronesian language family. At least 28 languages are currently spoken, together with 11 dialects. Most Kanak people still speak the language used in their native region.

However, the number of native speakers of any one language varies greatly, and some of these languages are likely to disappear over the coming decades despite determined efforts to keep this precious intangible heritage alive. Only a few dozen speakers of Pwapw (Voh region) and Siche (Bourail/Moindou) remain.

On the other hand, some languages are in everyday use by several thousands of speakers: Drehu (Lifou), Nengone (Mar), Xrc (Canala/La Foa/Boulouparis), Paic (Poindimi/Ponerihouen) and Aji (Houalou/Poya).

For a number of years, some Kanak languages have been taught as optional subjects in schools and can be studied as a subject for the baccalaurat (high school diploma). In addition to primary school pupils, around 3,000 students at colleges and high schools study Kanak languages. A course of study in Drehu is even included in the curriculum of the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris.

The preservation, promotion and development of the Kanak languages was a provision of the Noumea Accord (1998) and led to the founding of the Kanak Language Academy in 2007.

Tribal life is still very common for the Melanesian population. New Caledonia consists of eight customary areas. Chiefs and chiefs have authority over customary districts of tribes formed of one or more clans. The Kanaks who settled on Noumea remain very attached to their tribe.

In Melanesian culture, the rules of traditional life are punctuated by the "yam calendar", based on the cultivation and harvesting of yams. The construction of the huts is very ritualized. They are round, made of wood bound by creepers whose implantation embodies the relations between the lines and covered with straw. The protection of ancestors is omnipresent and visible from the threshold to the ridge spire through the carved jambs and poles. The customary area surrounding the hut is traditionally lined with columnar pines that represent the man and coconut trees that represent the woman. Pilou, Melanesian traditional dance, accompanies the most important occasions and a majority of women still wear the "mission dress".

The custom refers to the rules, transmitted orally, which govern the life of the tribes. Everywhere, in kanake earth, we are in someone's home. It is therefore imperative, outside the tourist frameworks, to mark the respect by "making the custom", that is to say by accompanying his good morning and the statement of his intentions of a small present (coupon of cloth , present staff, small ticket etc.).

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Page last modified: 16-11-2017 18:42:31 ZULU