On June 28th, the archaelogist M. Christophe Sand, gave an exciting conference at the Tjibaou Cultural Center, in Noumea and presented the latest information about the early population. Here is a quick summary of what archaelogy can teach us:
3000 BC – austronesian migrants left from Asia: It took them nearly 2000 years to arrive to New Caledonia. On their way they mixed with inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, that had left Asia around 40 000 BC.
1050 BC – arrival in New Caledonia: the austronesian migrants arrived in New Caledonia: that is the lapita period well known for its poteries.
From 800 BC: migrants became progressively sedentary and as a consequence, cultures and languages diversified.
From 200 AC, there was a lot of tension over lands and food that lead to tribal wars. Exchange between New Caledonia mainland and the Loyaulty islands stopped. That is only period when kanak settled down on red lands. During this period petroglyphs where drawn on rocks, usually next to rivers and on top of hills to draw limits between tribes. Agricultural techniques changed and progressively, slash and burn was replaced by new techniques. Large terrasses where Taro grew where constructed and irrigated which enabled to feed a large native population.
From 1000 AC, contacts with between New Caledonia mainland and the Loyaulty islands started again through custom as well as economical exchanges and weddings. There were also exhanges with the other countries of the South Pacific and the island of Ouvéa became the entrance point to New Caledonia.
In 1774 AC, New Caledonia was discovered by James Cook and the island became regularly visited by ships for the commerce of sandal wood, whales, and by missionaries. The initial belief has been that those first contacts with European had little impact to the native population. In fact, the consequence was major as contacts led to many epidemics. The latest research indicates that it is likely that the kanak population decreased by 80% to 90% (as in many pacific island) because of flu, measles … It is only begininng of the 20th century that the population of Kanak grew again.
Notes: As M. Christophe Sand reminded during the conference, here are a things to remember:
- Because the kanak culture is oral, most of the history of New Caledonia has been lost. Oral traditions are always evolving to support the needs of society, and new myths replace older ones.
- The kanak culture is often seen as static, while it has actually been very dynamic and has evolved a lot during this period of 3000 years.
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