New Caledonia is a French overseas territory in the Pacific Ocean. The main island Grande Terre, is referred to as ‘Le Caillou’ by the locals, meaning ‘the rock’. In 1774, British navigator Captain James Cook saw and named Grande Terre on his way to New Zealand. It was then annexed by the French in 1853, and became a destination for French convicts. The colonial period saw land tensions between the Europeans and the indigenous population called the Kanaks and in 1878 there was the first Kanak revolt. This instigated a pro-independence movement amongst the local population. In the Second World War New Caledonia was a major American base and it started to see the beginning of decolonization. The signing of the 1998 Noumea Accord gave New Caledonia more autonomy, created New Caledonian citizenship and gave assurances that independence would be granted at some point in the next two decades. New Caledonia has about a quarter of the world’s nickel deposits, the infrastructure of this industry making up a part of the landscape; lush nature, a surrounding oceanic environment and a rich local culture offer a contrast to this.
The base of Kanak culture is found in oral stories and the sharing of myths, traditions and legends governs the island’s social organization. Even though French is the official language, there are twenty-eight dialects spoken. All of the Kanak population belong to a tribe with elders, where sharing is valued much more than individual ownership.The cultivation and gift giving practices of yam is also major in each community. The most symbolic expression of New Caledonian culture is found in their woodcarvings of totem poles, masks and doorposts. The island celebrates many styles of music from around the world, highlighting the fusion of cultures on the island, but there are traditional Kaneka dances and rituals that are practiced during tribal ceremonies. One book which focuses on New Caledonia is Kim Munholland’s Rock of Contention.