skip to content

New Caledonia



Geography & Topography


Capital: Noumea

Population: 249 000

Area: 18, 576 km² (7, 172 square miles)

Language: French, indigenous languages

Religion: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim

Currency: CFP franc




New Caledonia was first sighted by British captain James Cook on 4 September 1774. During the following decades other parts of the archipelago were discovered by French and Portuguese navigators. After 1840 people started to pay attention to the archipelago because of the sandalwood which was really appreciated at that time. With the impoverishment in sandalwood a new form of trade took place, slavery. People from New Caledonia and surrounding Islands where sent to Fiji and Queensland to work in sugar cane plantations.

Under Napoleon III, Admiral Febvrier Despointes took possession of the island on 24 September 1853. On 25 June 1854 Noumea was founded. New Caledonia became a penal colony and about 22, 000 criminals and political prisoners were deported between 1860 and 1897.

Nickel was discovered in 1864 and the French government started to import laborers from surroundings islands, Japan, East Indies and Indochina in order to work in the mines. The local population was left out the economy and in 1878 the Chief Atal of La Foa launched a guerrilla against the French government.

During the Second World War the island became an important Allied base which greatly contributed to the victory of the Battle of the Coral Sea. In 1946 it became a French overseas territory. Between 1976 and 1988 the island has changed five times its statutes which created more disparities among local populations and led to the tragic hostage crisis in Ouvea in 1988. On 5 May 1998 the Noumea Accord, which gradually transferred competences to the local government was signed.

Performing Arts

In addition to wood carving, painting and basketry which are crafts widely used by local population for daily used objects, music and dance also play an important role in New Caledonian life.


European culture is very present which has considerably affected today’s music in New Caledonia. Pop and folk are very famous among the young population. However before that  music, dance and singing were mostly used in Kanak ceremonies where people used to have wooden and shells bracelets in order to create rhythm while they were dancing. The ‘Kanak’ were also blowing into conch shells to welcome chiefs of other tribes, celebrate and honor their ancestors. The Kaneka, inspired by reggae, was created around the 1980’s.


The most recognisable instruments in traditional New Caledonian music are:


Authentic French stamp featuring a Bwanjep


Bwanjep: It’s a folded piece of wood that forms a hollow triangle that men use to hit against each other or against a part of their body.

Jew’s harp or wadohnu: it consists in a dried piece of coconut palm leaf held between the teeth and an attached segment of soft nerve leaf.

Oboe:made of hollow grass stems or bamboo.

New Caledonian playing the End-Blown flute

New Caledonian playing the End-Blown flute

End-blown flute:It’s a long flute, about 50 cm, built with a hollow pawpaw leaf steam.








The Kanak were dancing in order to strengthen their relationship with ancestors or within the clan. Those dances were often under the form of messages or legends inspired by their daily life activities and the dancers were painted colorfully in order to please the ancestors watching them.


An example of traditional New Caledonian dances is:

The pilou-pilou: It tells many stories of the clans and was so named by the early French missionaries of New Caledonia.  It involved stomping bamboo tubes and beating bark-clappers accompanied by shrieks and whistles of hundreds of dancers. As the dancers were entering a trance-like status this form of dance has been banned by local authorities since the 1950s.




Interesting Facts

  • In 1849, the crew of the American ship Cutter was killed and eaten by the Pouma clan. At that time cannibalism was widespread throughout New Caledonia
  • There are about 28 kanak languages in New Caledonia and all of them are mutually incomprehensible
  • Between 2014 and 2018 a referendum about New Caledonia’s independence will be held and depending on the result the name of the island could change. They are also the only ones to have two official flags.


New Caledonian community in Australia:


More information on the New Caledonian community: