Culture and History in New Caledonia

Learn while you explore!

No matter what you do on your New Caledonia holiday, you’ll always be aware of the mixture of cultures that make this island nation so unique! Observe the strength and warmth of the Kanak people, enjoy the culture and food of the French and learn all about the people in between that have chosen to call New Caledonia “home”!

Cultural experiences

There are countless cultural experiences to be had in New Caledonia. Visit the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre to learn all about the native Melanesian culture or hike along the Grande Randonnée trail to visit tribal villages. It is important that tourists follow customs when approaching these villages and offer a small gift such as money or a sarong as a sign of respect. Without this gesture, you may not be welcomed into the tribe.

Explore the markets of Noumea to experience the other cultures of the nation. New Caledonians love their food and it is said that the best way to meet them is around the table (or at a food festival!). Once you’re full, be sure to check out the architecture. Although some of its original buildings are starting to disappear due to their fragile structures, there are still plenty of colonial houses, churches and temples to check out in New Caledonia. Heritage Month is celebrated in September every year with many houses opening their doors to public. A few of the most impressive heritage sites include Fort Teremba, Hagen Castle, the churches of the Loyalty Islands, the City Museum in Noumea and the Mining Village of Tiebaghi.

History

New Caledonia was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774. He named the country after its resemblance to landscapes of Scotland, but few visitors returned to the islands until 1853 when the French annexed it. At that time, there were over 50,000 local inhabitants and just a few hundred Europeans. New Caledonia was made a penal colony by Napoleon III in 1864 and thousands of convicts were sent to the island. Before the prison was eradicated in 1897 the islands saw many Kanak uprisings. The most famous of these was the rebellion led by Great Chief Atai in 1878.

The French always maintained a strong influence on New Caledonia. New Caledonians were granted French citizenship in 1953 and the accord to transfer government duties and control from the French to the local government was only signed in 1998! Since this transition, New Caledonia has seen an increase in local pride as well as the introduction of the Kanak flag, anthem, motto and banknote design. Today the Kanak flag flies proudly alongside the French flag.