New Caledonia’s ethnic communities
According to the most recent census, carried out in 2014, New Caledonia has a population of 269,000. However, this fairly modest statistic gives no hint of the rich diversity of New Caledonia’s ethnic mix, one of the country’s most precious assets.
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 country’s 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 “Z’oreilles”.
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.