Planning a visit to New Caledonia? Take the time to immerse yourself in the archipelago’s rich local Kanak culture. The largest cultural group in New Caledonia, there are so many ways to get to know the Kanak way of life, from tribe visits and homestays to unforgettable events and meals. No matter how you choose to discover this incredible culture, you’ll find that it’s still very much alive!
Custom and traditionVoir plus
The Kanak people
The largest cultural group in New Caledonia, the local Kanak community makes up an impressive 44.1% of the archipelago’s total population. The majority of New Caledonia’s Kanak population lives inland in clan communities, along Grande Terre’s east coast or on the Loyalty Islands, where they comprise 98% of inhabitants.
Rich with tradition and incredibly warm and welcoming in nature, Kanak culture is well worth discovering during a visit to New Caledonia. Getting to know the local way of life, tantalising your taste buds with traditional foods and allowing the people who know the archipelago best to introduce you to its best assets are among the most authentic ways to discover the beauty of New Caledonia. From the unique connection that Kanak culture holds with nature and the region’s spiritual side (encompassing a world of myths and legends), to the ways that the locals fish, farm and create traditional art, you’ll soon realise just how unique the Kanak way of life is.
Planning to visit one of New Caledonia’s Kanak tribes? When visiting a tribe it’s important that you follow the local custom of offering a gesture of respect on arrival. This mark of respect takes the form of a small offering, such as money (a 500 or 1,000 CFP note, for example), pareos or a sarong, for the tribe’s chief. Food and regional specialities are also other great ideas for gifts for your hosts. This gesture helps to establish mutual respect between you and the tribe, creating a special bond with the community you will be interacting with. Be aware too that this custom is emblematic of the local culture and is a code of etiquette that should be respected.
Staying in a Kanak community offers an otherwise rare insight into Melanesian culture, while, at the same time, contributing to the economic development of local communities that still largely subsist on hunting and small-scale farming. In most tribes, you will meet locals who are eager to share their lifestyles and welcome you in their traditional huts.
In the past few years, many of New Caledonia's remote indigenous communities have opened their doors to tourists, providing an affordable, and unforgettable, accommodation option. While staying with a tribe, guests generally sleep in typical Melanesian huts set slightly apart from the family house. The clay or cement floor huts have mats for sleeping and a traditional hearth in the centre. Cooking and showering facilities are housed in separate buildings.
Kanak families welcoming you to their tribe will share their customs, their way of life and their know-how during your stay, allowing you to learn more about traditional life in New Caledonia. An experience quite unlike any other, the time spent getting to know the locals who call the archipelago home certainly won’t be forgotten any time soon. Look forward to activities such as traditional fishing, pandanus plaiting (making baskets, mats and more), preparing bougna (a traditional Kanak dish) and visiting yam plantations.
Tribal island festivals
The Loyalty Islands allow you to discover tribal life in New Caledonia in the most festive way. The local calendar is marked by harvest celebrations, traditional periods of fishing and holidays that hold some form of association with nature. Luckily, the Loyalty Islands have managed to preserve many of their traditions, and will happily share special clan customs throughout the year. Experiencing these events and celebrations will not leave you indifferent, with your heart full for having been granted a warm welcome and the opportunity to experience customs that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Want to try traditional Kanak cuisine? If you pay a visit to a local tribe to sample traditional dishes, chances are that the majority of the community will join you for a huge, drawn-out feast. Bougna, one of the most iconic traditional Kanak meals, is a dish made from meat, fish and vegetables that have been wrapped in coconut leaves and slowly cooked on hot rocks, and is simply unmissable. You might also have the chance to taste other local staples, from deer, foxes and wild pig to shrimp caught in the nearby creeks, lagoon fish, yams, taro, potatoes or other vegetable varieties harvested in traditional fields. If you're really lucky, the ultimate Kanak delicacy might even be on the menu du jour - flying fox!
A taste of Kanak culture along the GR North
Planning to take on the GR®1 in the north? Be aware that as there is no established accommodation along the length of the hiking trail, you may choose to stay with a local tribe instead of camping. Offering food, accommodation and a great opportunity to learn more about the Kanak way of life, it’s the perfect chance to get to know more about traditional life in New Caledonia. If you do plan to stay with a local tribe, be sure to book well ahead of time to ensure that you secure accommodation for your stay.