1902 Encyclopedia > New Caledonia

New Caledonia

NEW CALEDONIA, the largest island in the Pacific after New Zealand, about 240 miles long, with an average breadth of 25 miles, lies at the southern extremity of MELANESIA (q.v.), between 20° 10' and 22° 25' S. lat. and between 164° and 167° E. long., and, like all the chief islands of that chain and the chain itself, runs northwest and south-east. It was discovered by Cook in 1774, and was appropriated by the French for a convict settlement in 1853. Their capital, Noumea, with a fine harbour, is near the south end of the island. An almost unbroken barrier reef skirts the west shore at about 5 miles distance ; on the east, which is more abrupt and precipitous, it is much interrupted. To the north the reefs continue, marking the former extension of the land, for about 160 miles, ending with the Huon Islands. Hunea, or Isle of Pines, so called from its araucarias, geologically a continuation of New Caledonia, lies 30 miles from its south-east extremity. It abounded formerly in sandalwood, and consists of a central plateau surrounded by a belt of cultivation. New Caledonia consists essentially of confused masses and ranges of mountains, rising at Mount Humboldt to 5380 feet, the plains being chiefly the deltas of rivers. The landscape is rich and beautiful, varied with grand rock scenery, the coast-line being broken by countless streams, often skilfully utilized by the natives for irrigation. The larger rivers in the wet season form impassable morasses. The framework of the island consists chiefly of argillaceous, serpentinous, and mica schists. There are no active volcanoes, but great magnesian eruptions, represented by serpentines, cover the greater part of the surface, especially in the southeast, - the extent of sedimentary formations, ranging from Upper Devonian (to which some Carboniferous rocks near a hydrous magnesian silicate impregnated with nickel oxide), which also occurs in pockets, and is extensively worked. There are also mines of copper and cobalt. Gold has only been found in small quantities. In the low-lying affect the compass. In the north-west the rocks (in which Sebestena, cohu, bourao, azou. The bread-fruit, sago, (globe-fish), are poisonous, especially at certain seasons.

The population is probably about 30,000, but has diminished greatly since the French occupation. There are two distinct types: one is sub-Papuan, probably aboriginal, dark brown, with black frizzly hair, rounded narrow retreating forehead, high cheek-bones, and flat nose depressed at the root below the prominent brows ; the other, with all these features modified, better-developed physique, and lighter colour, strongly resembles the Polynesian, and is most numerous in the east and south, where most of the upper class belong to it ; but the two types intermingle everywhere. The women, though hard worked, are less degraded than is usual among Papuans. Their marriage ceremonies end with a simulated flight and capture. The people are hospitable to strangers, and not quarrelsome among themselves, though fond of war with another tribe, which is declared by a masked messenger, who taking a spear and money with him thrusts the former among the challenged tribe, and then, throwing down the money in atonement of the injury his• spear may have done, is allowed to return unharmed. Their weapons are clubs, slings, stone hatchets (resembling the Australian), and. spears with a throwing cord. Rows of stones are found commemorating the numbers of enemies killed and eaten in former wars. The French have found them formidable antagonists on many occasions ; the last " revolt" was put down after much trouble and bloodshed in 1881. There are various degrees of hereditary chiefships, distinguished by insignia on their houses. As in some other Pacific islands, when a son is born the chiefship passes to him, but the father continues to govern as regent. They have strict ideas of property - individual, village, and tribal. The people have to work on the chief's plantations and fisheries, and also work in parties for each other, breaking up new land, &c. This often ends in feasting and in dances ( pills pile), which include allegorical representations of events or ideas.

Their huts are usually beehive-shaped, with a single apartment,, low narrow door, and no chimney. The fire inside is their only defence against mosquitoes. The central pole is continued outside, usually by a rude figure surmounted by a long post elaborately decorated, especially in the chiefs' houses, which far overtop the others, and have a good deal of grotesque hand carving, something like but inferior to that seen in New Zealand.

The food is chiefly vegetable, so that there is considerable scarcity at certain seasons ; but almost anything is eaten, including all sorts of insects, and a steatite earth which contains a little copper. The exception is the lizard and the gecko,' of which they have a superstitious dread.

They believe in the power of spirits to take up their abode in persons or inanimate objects, and employ the aid of the soothsayer in this and many other emergencies of life. The dead are supposed to go down into the sea at the west end of the island. Cocoa-nut trees, a valuable sacrifice, are cut down on the death of a chief. Like other cannibals, they have a certain knowledge of anatomy and surgery, and also of medicine. Their music is quite rudimentary, and consists of little else than beating or sounding in time. Their money is made of different sorts of shells, but other articles of value - axes, skins, mats, &c. - are used as mediums of exchange.

The languages of the different tribes are mutually unintelligible. They express abstract ideas imperfectly. Dr Patouillet says that there are several words for eating, each applied to a particular article of food. Their reckoning shows the same peculiarity. The numbers go up to five, and for living objects the word bird is added, for inanimate yam, for large objects ship.' There are other terms for bundles of sugar-canes, rows (planted) of yams, &c.; and sometimes things are counted by threes. Ten is two fives, 15 three fives, 20 is a " man " (ten lingers and ten toes), 100 is "five men," and so on.

The free white population, settlers and miners, numbers about 3000; officials and troops, 3000; transportes and deportes (ordinary and political convicts), with their families, 4000 and 6700 respectively. Some of the planters and graziers are fairly prosperous, but the material development of the country does not advance rapidly. There seems a general want of energy, a deficiency of banking facilities and of roads and means of transport. It is in fact found difficult to work the settlement both as a free and as a penal colony. The larger proprietors are free immigrants, but are being swamped by the more numerous small ones, who are "liberes," holding small concessions, and bound - theoretically at least - not to leave the country. The deport& and transportes are under separate regulations. The latter when well-behaved are hired out to the free settlers at 12 francs a mouth. The libers either receive a very small allowance from Government, or are permitted to take service, receiving 30 to 50 francs a month, with their board. The sending out of the families of convicts, with the view to promote settlement, has not answered well. Free concessions are offered with the same object, especially to retired officials and others. Large concessions have also been made to agricultural colonies, which have mostly failed. The agricultural establishments worked by convicts have answered better, the lands belonging partly to colonists, and the convict labourers eventually obtaining a certain status, and permission to marry. Out of a total area of about 1,600,000 hectares, half is unfit for cultivation or pasture. Up to 1877, 130,965 hectares were taken up, and probably half the available land is now taken. The miners in New Caledonia are chiefly Australians, but out of several hundred concessions of mines, chiefly nickel, only a few have been worked. The intention of the French Government to send yearly to New Caledonia 5000 recidivistes or habitual criminals, to be released after three years' detention, causes serious uneasiness in Australia.

The trade was valued in 1874 at 13,471,000 francs, the imports being three times the value of the exports, and the greater part carried in foreign vessels.

Principal Authorities. - Ch. Lemire, La Colonisation Francaise en Nouvelle Calidonie; papers - (geological) by Jules Gamier in Annales des Mines, 1867, and by Herteau, Ibid., 1S76, and (anthropological) by Dr Bourgarel in Mem. de la Soc. d'Amthropologie de Paris, vol. 1.; Dr J. Patouillet, Trois ans en Nouvelle Cale'donie. (C. T.)

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