|THE NEW CALEDONIA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of New Caledonia within the Geographic Region of Oceania
Map of New Caledonia
Flag Description of New Caledonia:The New Caledonia CIA flag was officially adopted on April 4, 1881. The red and white are the heraldic colors of the Grimaldi family, one that has ruled here since the 13th century.
Official name Territoire des Nouvelle-Calédonie et Dépendances (Territory of New Caledonia and Dependencies)1
Political status2 unique collectivity (France) with one legislative house (Congress3 )
Head of state President of France: François Hollande
Heads of government High Commissioner (for France): Vincent Bouvier; President of the Government (for New Caledonia): Cynthia Ligeard
Official language none4
Official religion none
Monetary unit CFP franc (CFPF)
Population (2013 est.) 260,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 7,172
Total area (sq km) 18,575
- Urban: (2011) 61.6%
- Rural: (2011) 38.4%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2011) 74.4 years
- Female: (2011) 80.7 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2002) 92%
- Female: (2002) 90%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2009) 37,124
1Locally known as Kanaky.
2The Nouméa Accord granting New Caledonia limited autonomy was signed in May 1998; future referenda concerning possible independence are to be held between 2014 and 2018.
3Operates in association with 3 provincial assemblies.
4Kanak languages and French have special recognition per the Nouméa Accord.
Background of Caledonia
New Caledonia, French Nouvelle-Calédonie , French unique collectivity in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, about 900 miles (1,500 km) east of Australia. It includes the island of New Caledonia (the Grande Terre [Mainland]), where the capital, Nouméa, is located; the Loyalty Islands; the Bélep Islands; and the Île des Pins. These islands form more than 99 percent of the total land area and lie between latitudes 18° and 23° S and longitudes 163° and 169° E. New Caledonia also includes a number of far-flung uninhabited islets: Huon and Surprise islands in the D’Entrecasteaux Reefs, the atolls of the Chesterfield Islands and the Bellona Reefs, Walpole Island, Beautemps-Beaupré Atoll, and Astrolabe Reefs. France also claims Hunter and Matthew islands, but the claim is disputed by Vanuatu.
The main island is by far the largest of the group and contains about nine-tenths of the population. It is surrounded by a coral reef that extends from Huon Island in the north to the Île des Pins in the south. Except for the central part of the west coast, which is bordered only by a fringing reef, it is a true barrier reef enclosing a large lagoon. There are numerous passages in the reef, usually at the mouths of rivers. New Caledonia’s lagoons, with their diverse reefs and associated ecosystems, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.
- New Caledonia
French Nouvelle-Calédonie , largest island of the French overseas country of New Caledonia, in the southwestern Pacific Ocean 750 miles (1,200 km) east of Australia. Also known as Grande Terre (Mainland), it is approximately 250 miles (400 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide. From its coast, encircled by one of the world’s longest barrier reefs (second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), the island rises to a double chain of central mountains, the highest peak of which is Mount Panié, with an elevation of 5,341 feet (1,628 metres). The climate is basically subtropical, with mean monthly temperatures ranging from about 63 °F (17 °C) to 90 °F (32 °C). Precipitation is highest from December to March; on the east coast, which is subject to the trade winds, it reaches about 120 inches (3,000 mm) annually, while the west coast receives less than 40 inches (1,000 mm). Forests grow along the east coast and in some valleys, and the west coast has savannas. The niaouli, or cajeput tree, and more than 10 species of the genus Araucaria (pinelike coniferous trees) are characteristic. Natural fauna is sparse, except for fishes and birds.
The island is believed to have been settled by Melanesians from Southeast Asia by about 3000 bce. The first European to visit the island (1774) was Capt. James Cook, who gave it the Roman name for Scotland, Caledonia. Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, a Frenchman, visited the island in 1793. A French Roman Catholic mission was established in 1840, and the island was annexed by France in 1853. It served as a penal colony from 1864 to 1897, during which time the indigenous people attempted several revolts. When the French overseas territory was formed in 1946, the island became part of it.
The capital, as well as the chief town and port, is Nouméa, on the southwest coast. The island has significant ore deposits (nickel, iron, chrome, cobalt, manganese) and exports coffee and copra. Industries include the processing of nickel ore, the leading export; meatpacking, supplied by the large herds of cattle grazing on the southwestern slopes; and the milling of the local kauri pine for timber. Airlines make domestic connections and link the island to Australia, New Zealand, and other points in the Pacific; ferry service also connects Nouméa with several of the other islands of the territory. There is an extensive road network.
Although nearly half of the population is Melanesian, there are many Europeans and people of European descent. The island also has small communities of Wallis Islanders, ni-Vanuatu (indigenous people of Vanuatu), Indonesians, and Vietnamese, all of whom were originally brought in as labourers. Area 6,321 square miles (16,372 square km). Pop. (2009 prelim.) 225,280.
Geography of Caledonia
- Relief and drainage
The cigar-shaped main island is some 30 miles (50 km) wide and 310 miles (500 km) long. Rugged mountain ranges, consisting principally of metamorphic rock formations, divide the island into an east coast, which in many places descends precipitously to the sea, and a west coast, which slopes more gradually and contains basically flat but undulating land. Ultrabasic serpentine rock forms a continuous plateau over most of the southern third of the island, rising to 5,308 feet (1,617 metres) at Mount Humboldt, and continues along the west coast as a series of discrete mountain masses. Outcrops from this formation form the islands of Art and Pott in the Bélep archipelago in the north and, in the south, the central part of the Île des Pins, which is bordered by an emerged coral platform. These rocks have weathered to form the striking terre rouge (i.e., red soils that overlie the island’s extensive deposits of nickel, chrome, and cobalt ore). In the northeast of the main island, an outcrop of gneiss forms a mountain range 40 miles (60 km) long that includes New Caledonia’s highest point, Mount Panié, elevation 5,341 feet (1,628 metres). Elsewhere the northern half of the island consists mainly of an irregular series of ranges formed from schists. Sedimentary rocks are limited to a narrow zone extending along much of the west coast inland between the serpentine ranges and the northern schist formations. They have weathered to produce broad undulating plains with some steep-sided hills.
Numerous streams descend from the central mountain chain to the lagoon; the streams often flood rapidly after rainfall and dry out in dry weather, especially on the west coast. The Diahot River, the longest river in the country, flows for about 60 miles (100 km) toward the northern tip of the island along the western escarpment of the Mount Panié range.
The Loyalty Islands consist of three main islands—Ouvéa, Lifou, and Maré—and numerous small islands, the most important being Tiga. The Loyalty Islands account for more than one-tenth of New Caledonia’s total land area and about one-tenth of the population. In contrast to the island of New Caledonia, these islands are raised coral plateaus, nowhere rising much higher than 430 feet (130 metres) or so. Surface water is lacking because of the porous nature of the calcareous rock formation.
The climate is subtropical with year-round precipitation. Rainstorms are especially common on the east coast, where at higher elevations more than 120 inches (3,000 mm) of rain may fall annually. On the west coast the precipitation is regularly less than 40 inches (1,000 mm). The period from December to March is particularly rainy because of equatorial depressions, including frequent tropical cyclones (typhoons). Another period of heavy rainfall occurs in July and August; the driest months are September through November. Winds bearing northeast to southeast, including trade winds, predominate throughout the year and relieve temperatures in the hot season, which begins in November. Cyclonic winds are frequent late in the hot season.
The mean annual temperature at sea level ranges 71–75 °F (22–24 °C). In the southern part of the main island there are few days when the temperature rises above 86 °F (30 °C). The lowest temperature reached in Nouméa is about 55 °F (13 °C), but, farther north on the west coast, temperatures as low as 41 °F (5 °C) have been known to occur.
- Plant and animal life
Physical isolation, contrasting soils, and a wide range in elevations have produced a rich indigenous flora. Terre rouge soils support a number of sclerophyllic (drought-resistant) shrubs with spectacularly coloured flowers. Different forms of rainforest range from those growing on coral platforms, as in the Loyalty Islands, to montane forests above 3,000 feet (900 metres) on the main island. The savanna woodlands of the west coast are characterized by stands of niaouli, or cajeput trees (Melaleuca quinquenervia), which are highly fire-resistant and tend to dominate landscapes that have been cleared by bushfires. Although the niaouli grows best in wet soils up to an elevation of 2,000 feet (610 metres), it also extends onto well-drained slopes and crests and forms the main species in the closed swamp forests of the Diahot valley. Dry sclerophyll forests, dominated by the guaiacum (Acacia spirorbis), were once widespread at low elevations on the west coast. Mangrove swamps proliferate on the highly indented west coast. One woodland species, Amborella trichopoda, has become of great scientific interest as a possible link between gymnosperms and angiosperms (coniferous and flowering plants).
Except for several types of bat, which were present before the arrival of Europeans, mammals are absent from the native fauna. There are no frogs and no venomous land reptiles, although scorpions and centipedes are present. There are no endemic malaria-carrying mosquito species. The kagu, a flightless bird, is the most unusual of some 100 endemic bird species and is now rare. A wide range of marine life is present in the lagoon.
Demography of Caledonia
Melanesians make up more than two-fifths of the population and Europeans about one-third. Their differing cultures have given rise to two distinct ways of life, known as kanak and caldoche; people of mixed descent tend to adhere to one or the other. The kanak identity is based on clan membership, a network of family alliances and specific land rights. The caldoche way of life is essentially integrated into a cash economy. The Polynesian minority comprises Wallis and Futuna islanders, who make up about one-tenth of the total, and smaller numbers of Tahitians. Descendants of Indonesian and Vietnamese migrant workers also form small proportions of the population and reside primarily in urban areas.
There is no official language, but French and Kanak have special legal recognition. Some 30 Melanesian languages are spoken, most Melanesians being proficient in more than one.
The Roman Catholic Church claims half of the population as adherents, including almost all of the Europeans, Uveans, and Vietnamese and half of the Melanesian and Tahitian minorities. Of the Protestant churches, the Free Evangelical Church (Église Libre) and the Evangelical Church in New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands (Église Evangélique en Nouvelle-Calédonie et Îles Loyauté) have the largest number of adherents; their memberships are almost entirely Melanesian. There are also numerous other Christian groups and small numbers of Muslims.
For the first four decades of the 20th century, the Melanesian population was fairly stable, but by the mid-1980s it had doubled. Migration into and out of the country has been an important factor in the size of the non-Melanesian communities. The birth rate is higher among Melanesians and Uveans than among other groups, but infant mortality is also higher among Melanesians.
About three-fifths of the people live in the metropolitan area of Nouméa, which since 1965 has expanded to embrace the adjacent municipalities of Dumbéa, Mont-Dore, and Païta. Nouméa has numerous bars and restaurants, shops and supermarkets, a hospital, schools, a newspaper, and radio and television broadcasting facilities. About four-fifths of people of migrant origin, including Europeans, Polynesians, and Asians, live there as compared with one-fourth of the Melanesian population. About three-fourths of the Melanesians live outside Nouméa in small, widely dispersed villages with few modern facilities. They engage chiefly in subsistence agriculture based on the cultivation of yams, taros, sweet potatoes, and bananas. The population is almost entirely Melanesian in the Loyalty Islands, the Île des Pins, and the Bélep Islands and on the east coast and in the mountain ranges of the main island.
Economy of Caledonia
New Caledonia’s economy depends heavily on services, the mining of nickel, and subsidies from France. Agriculture, forestry, and fishing are also important. Import-substitution industries, such as the manufacture of soft drinks and beer, soap, cement, fencing wire, and fishing and pleasure boats, have had little impact on the economy because of the small local market.
Although the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is one of the highest in the South Pacific, the distribution of wealth between ethnic groups is unequal: Melanesian households earn on average only about one-fourth the income of European households. The distribution of land resources on the main island is also uneven. Although thousands of Melanesian families depend on agriculture, two-thirds of the land is in the hands of European families, only a few of whom are engaged in agriculture or cattle raising.
Europeans also dominate trades, businesses, and professions and hold most of the high-ranking administrative posts in the government. Official unemployment tends to be significantly higher among Melanesians than it is among Europeans, even without counting the considerable number of “hidden” unemployed who have returned to their villages.
Taxes in New Caledonia consist primarily of duties on imported goods, sales taxes, and taxes on business revenues. The vast majority of total tax receipts comes from the Nouméa metropolitan area.
- Agriculture, fishing, and forestry
Local agricultural products meet only part of New Caledonia’s needs for meat, vegetables, and fruit. Yams are a staple crop. Commercial agriculture has not generally succeeded despite efforts to establish sugarcane, cotton, rice, coffee, and coconut-palm plantations. The production of coffee and copra (from coconuts) that began in the 19th century continued after World War II, chiefly because Melanesian subsistence farmers wished to diversify their crops and enter the cash economy; however, exports of those commodities are now negligible. A few reforestation projects, consisting mainly of plantings of Caribbean pine, have been established on Melanesian land on the Île des Pins and on mountains on the west coast of the main island. Cattle raising is important to the economy; pigs and horses are also raised but rarely for commercial purposes.
- Resources and power
The weathering of serpentine rock provides New Caledonia with a large share of the world’s known reserves of nickel ore, as well as large deposits of chromium, cobalt, iron, and magnesium. The export of nickel ore, which has been mined since 1875, and of partly refined nickel from a large foundry on the outskirts of Nouméa, is subject to boom-and-bust cycles determined by the needs of the world steel industry and competition from other producers. Cobalt and iron ore deposits, as well as deposits of gypsum on the west coast and of phosphates on outlying islands, are no longer worked. Noncommercial deposits of coal are found on the west coast. The search for oil has not been successful. Hydroelectric power from Yaté and Néaoua provides nearly half of New Caledonia’s energy needs; the remainder is produced from thermal generators burning imported fuel oil. More than three-fourths of the energy produced is used in nickel refining.
- Services and trade
Exports, which consist largely of partly refined nickel and nickel ore, vary with the world market price of nickel. However, New Caledonia has a chronic balance-of-trade deficit. The European Union (EU) is the major trading partner, and much of the EU’s trading activity with New Caledonia is with France. Other important trading partners include Japan, Singapore, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan. France makes large grants to the country’s budget, notably for health, education, and the maintenance of military and security forces. Governmental business services, trade, and finance make up a large proportion of the GDP and provide about two-thirds of employment. Efforts to diversify the economy beyond the commercial and administrative sectors have met with little success. There is, however, considerable potential for tourism, particularly from Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
The main island of New Caledonia and the inhabited outer islands are ringed by roads. Virtually the entire coast of the island of New Caledonia may be traveled by road, and crossroads penetrate to the centre of the island. The port of Nouméa handles the majority of ship traffic. Regular service is available for cargo and passengers. The domestic airline, Air Calédonie, provides internal air service from Magenta Airport near Nouméa to the main and outer islands; Aircalin, an international partnership between Air Calédonie and several other national airlines, provides service to other countries in the South Pacific and to Japan.
Government and Society of Caledonia
Along with French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, New Caledonia is part of the French Republic, but is unique in that its status is in between that of an independent country and an overseas territory of France. New Caledonia was a French colony until 1946, and an overseas territory from 1946 to 1999.
Administratively, the archipelago is divided into three provinces: the Loyalty Islands, the northern mainland, and the southern mainland. It is further subdivided into 33 communes. Eight “traditional spheres” exist to administer Kanak tribal affairs. Their jurisdiction does not encompass non-Kanaks living within these zones. These traditional spheres roughly correspond to indigenous language areas and areas of pre-French tribal alliances.
A territorial congress and a government have been established. Under the 1998 Nouméa Accord, taxation, labor law, health and hygiene, and foreign trade are already in the hands of the territorial congress, with further responsibilities likely. Eventually, the French Republic will retain control of foreign affairs, justice, defense, public order, and treasury.
A New Caledonian “citizenship” has been introduced. Only New Caledonian “citizens" may vote in the local elections, a measure that has been criticized because it excludes recently arrived French citizens. New Caledonia may cooperate with independent countries of the Pacific Ocean and the territorial congress may pass statutes that differ from French law. Inhabitants of New Caledonia remain French citizens and carry French passports and take part in the legislative and presidential French elections. New Caledonia sends two representatives to the French National Assembly and one senator to the French Senate. The representative of the French central state in New Caledonia is the High Commissioner of the Republic, locally known as the haussaire, who is the head of civil services. According to the Nouméa Accord, the territorial congress will have the right to call for a referendum on independence after 2014.
In 2006 the territorial congress elected Marie-Noëlle Thémereau as president. He is from the loyalist (anti-independence) Future Together party, which toppled the long-time ruling Rally for Caledonia inside the Republic (RPCR) in May 2004. Future Together comprises mostly Caucasian and Polynesian New Caledonians opposed to independence but tired of the RPCR. Future Together opposes race-based policies and favors a multicultural society.
Culture Life of Caledonia
European cultural influence is evident in Nouméa, with its bars, restaurants, and cinemas, the Bernheim Library (1905; a large collection endowed by an early mine owner, Lucien Bernheim), museums, and bookshops. For the Europeans, sports tend to be closely related to the sea and include boating, fishing, windsurfing, and swimming or sunbathing at the city beaches of Vata Cove and the Bay of Citrons; tennis and cycling are also popular. Although football (soccer) in France is closely followed, large numbers of Melanesian men play the sport locally. Melanesian women have widely adopted a version of cricket, which was first introduced by early British missionaries in the Loyalty Islands. Melanesian football and cricket teams compete annually in countrywide competitions.
In many areas Melanesian custom remains strong, particularly in relation to clan and family ties and obligations. Almost without exception Melanesians, regardless of their education or urbanization, return to their villages to take part in elaborate ceremonies and gift exchanges on such occasions as births, marriages, and deaths. Traditions have been modified to include Christian ceremonies. In rural areas the traditional division of labour is retained. Women tend to carry out the daily agricultural round of planting, weeding, and harvesting, as well as the domestic tasks of cooking, cleaning, and child rearing. Men perform the heavier tasks of clearing the ground for new gardens. All take part in the annual yam planting and harvesting, which is still something of a ceremonial and social occasion and also sometimes draws urban workers back to their villages for a short period.
The use of local languages remains strong, although French has become the lingua franca through its prevalence in the educational system. With an increase in nationalist sentiment beginning in the late 20th century came a revival of interest among Melanesians in the traditional arts of sculpture, mat and basket weaving, singing, dancing, and wood carving.
State-owned radio and television stations relay programs to all parts of the country. In Nouméa there are also several privately owned radio stations. Satellite antennas have become increasingly common, bringing television programs and Internet access to even the remotest regions. There is one daily newspaper, Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes.
History of Caledonia
Melanesians settled the islands about 3000 bc and, except for rare Polynesian voyagers, probably were cut off from outside contact until the late 18th century ad. In 1774 the British navigator and explorer James Cook landed at Balade, on the east coast of the mainland, and he named the island New Caledonia for his father’s native Scotland. Cook was followed there by the French navigator Antoine de Bruni, chevalier d’Entrecasteaux, in 1793. Regular contact with Europeans began in 1841 when sandalwood traders from Australia introduced islanders to the use of iron. The arrival of a Protestant mission from the London Missionary Society in the Loyalty Islands in 1841 and a Marist mission, which was set up at Balade with the aid of the French navy in 1843, marked the beginning of the Protestant and Roman Catholic presence in the territory.
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