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New Caledonia - Culture

New Caledonia Culture

Among the Kanaks, dance has developed into a high art form. The traditional pilou dance tells the stories of births, marriages, cyclones or preparations for battle, although colonial authorities banned it in in 1951 for the high-energy and trance-like state they induced in the dancers (and for the occasional supping on human flesh). Music is a fundamental element of every traditional ceremony, and the range of instruments includes conch shells, rhythm instruments and bamboo flutes. The Caldoches, or white New Caledonians, are mostly descended from French convicts and have forged their own culture, more akin to that of rural Australians or rural Americans than the metropolitan French. Rodeos and country fairs are popular. Métros are the more recent immigrants from France, and you're more likely to see them dining in fine restaurants or shopping for the latest fashions than staring down the wrong end of a cow.

French is the official language, and you'll need to speak some if you venture out of Noumea (where at least some of those working in the tourist industry speak some English). An estimated 27 Kanak languages coexist in New Caledonia, but after being actively discouraged - or at least ignored - by the French, there is no single unifying Kanak language. The clan, not the individual, was the most important element of traditional Kanak culture, and la coûtume, a code encompassing rites, rituals and social interaction between the clans, is the essential component of Kanak identity today. It also maintains a crucial link with the individual's ancestors. Kanaks are Melanesians, the black people of the Western Pacific with links to Papuans and Australian Aborigines, and call themselves Ti-Va-Ouere, or 'Brothers of the Earth'.

New Caledonia's traditional staples are fish, coconut, banana, taro, sweet potato and yam. Lobster, coconut crab, dugong and turtle are also traditional food sources, as is roussette, the local flying fox. Unfortunately, much traditional fare is being superseded by canned and processed goods, although you will still come across the bougna, a delicious combination of taro, yam, sweet potato, banana, and pieces of chicken, crab or lobster wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in a ground oven. Many restaurants serve standard French fare with all its eccentricities, although the Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian restaurants generally serve up better value. The French, of course, take their coffee and wine seriously, and both are excellent.

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