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  • Mauatua Fa’ara-Reynold

Pacific Nations and Languages—New Caledonia

Welcome back to Salient’s Pacific language learning! This week we’re looking at New Caledonia, which is not currently included in Aotearoa’s official Pacific Language Weeks.

New Caledonia


Similar to Vanuatu (last week’s Pacific nation we explored), New Caledonia (Nouvelle Calédonie) is thought to have been inhabited by the Lapita people for over 3300 years, making it one of the earliest settled islands in the Pacific. Europeans first sighted the archipelago in the late 18th century, and it formally became a French colony under Napoleon’s orders in 1853. From 1864 to 1924, New Caledonia was a penal colony, harbouring over 20,000 French prisoners.

It was also one of the Melanesian nations involved in Blackbirding, the indentured labour trade. France’s Blackbirding occurred mainly within their overseas territories, so ni-Vanuatu and Kanak were often sent between islands. One of the most devastating parts of this history is the fact that many of those kidnapped from the Loyalty Islands were children. 

Due to a previous uprising, the French government passed the 1887 ‘Code de l’indigénat’ or ‘the Native Law’, forcibly displacing any Kanak on la Grande Terre from their homes into reservations in places with poor natural resources; they could not leave with permission from authorities. At this time, customary chiefs were replaced with administrative chiefs who imposed taxes and provided Kanak for unpaid labour. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Kanak gained French citizenship, the right to vote, Kanak children were allowed to go to school, and schools became free and compulsory. 

New Caledonia comprises five main island groups, and a few remote islands—there’s La Grand Terre (the main island), the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep archipelago, and the Isle of Pines. The nation is divided into three provinces, the North and South Provinces, as well as the Loyalty Islands Province. And as of 2019, it had a population of 271,402. 

Although it has 28 indigenous languages, the official language of New Caledonia is French. French Pidgin, Bislama, and Tayo (a form of creole) are also widely spoken across the islands. But the indigenous languages with the most speakers are: Drehu, Nengone, Ajië, Xârâcùù, and Paicî, which is the language we’ll be focusing on here. 

Email greetings and sign offs

  • Bwëcu (këjè) / Boyou = Hello

  • Wâdé naa goo-jè töötù nâbë = Have a good day

  • Olé â jè mwââ nâ jè töötù = Thank you and till next time

  • Olé héti = Thank you very much 

  • Numba = See you later 

General phrases

  • Kanak = indigenous people of New Caledonia

  • Dau wâdé nâpô nâbë = It’s a beautiful day today

  • Wânâu wâdé? = How are you?

  • Wâdé = I’m good thanks!

  • Indja bouiti = Enjoy your meal


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