Also known as: Houailou; Kanak; Canaque

The indigenous people of New Caledonia are known today as Kanaks, an exonym derived from the Hawaiian 'kanaka'. While linguistically diverse, the Kanak people share a similar culture. The Ajie-speaking Kanaks of the Houailou Valley were described in detail by the French missionary / ethnographer Maurice Leenhardt, who oversaw their conversion to Christianity in the early twentieth century. Prior to this, religion among the Ajie speakers had been based primarily around rhee (totems, inherited matrilineally) and bao (patrilineal ancestral spirits), which Leenhardt saw as forming a dualistic system.

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Traditional Culture(1825-1850)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 44, 57-58
Nature god(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 44, 57-58
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 27-30, 34, 39, 50
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 27-30, 34, 39, 50
God(s) Absent (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 213-234
Ogier-Guindo (2011), pp. 4

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 58

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife Absent (Source)
Ogier-Guindo (2011), pp. 4-13
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Ogier-Guindo (2011), pp. 8
Culture hero(es) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 28-29, 34

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 228

Classes of Tapu

Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Leenhardt (1922), pp. 24-25
Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 111


Mana as a personal quality Present (Source)
Blevins (2008), pp. 255
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Present (Source)
Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blevins (2008), pp. 255
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 34-46, 143-252
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 228
Size of largest ritual social group Larger than the largest political community in the culture (Source)
Ogier-Guindo (2011)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 146-147, 161
Political and religious differentiation Considerable overlap between religious and political leaders (Source)
Clifford (1982), pp. 88
Leenhardt (1979), pp. 108


Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 133
Tattooing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 40, 135-142
Social Environment +
Population 3000 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Sand et al (2007), pp. 307
Importance of Patrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Clifford (1982), pp. 87-88
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Clifford (1982), pp. 87-88
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 8-9
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 8


Conflict with other cultures Occasional, at least every generation (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 9
Conflict between communities of the culture Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 9
Naepels (1998), pp. 190
Conflict within communities Moderate (Source)
Naepels (1998), pp. 192-197
Cultural Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Riesenfeld (1950), pp. 543
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Distance to African or Asian mainland (km) 7105.7 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Absent: No evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.23
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7-8
Patouillet (1873), pp. 101
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7-8
Patouillet (1873), pp. 101

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Major (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 8
Metalworking Absent (Source)
Bellwood et al (1975)
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Latitude -21.3 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 165.6 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Google Maps (2014)
Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
Murienne et al (2005), pp. 2
Island Size (km²) 16372.0 (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (New Caledonia) (2014)
Maximum elevation (meters) 1628.0 (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (New Caledonia) (2014)
Post Contact History(1850-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +


Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a top-down process. (Source)
Dauphine (1999), pp. 116-119
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Dauphine (1999), pp. 111-127
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Naepels (1998), pp. 42-43
Winslow (1991), pp. 9
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Lenormand (1953), pp. 253-254
Winslow (1991), pp. 9

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Absent (Source)
Dauphine (1999), pp. 111-127
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Lenormand (1953), pp. 255
Central Intelligence Agency (New Caledonia) (2013)
Language shift Medium (Source)
Poret (2007), pp. 63-64
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Central Intelligence Agency (New Caledonia) (2013)

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence High (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 8
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 8

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Partly voluntary (Source)
Naepels (1998), pp. 39-40
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Lenormand (1953), pp. 255
Central Intelligence Agency (New Caledonia) (2013)
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Ember & Ember (2001), pp. 1583-1589
External Links
Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Bellwood, P., Ayres, W. S., Clune Jr, F. J., Craib, J., Durbin, T. E., Young, F. A., ... & Green, R. C. (1975). The Prehistory of Oceania [and Comments and Reply]. Current Anthropology, 16(1), 9-28. Retrieved from

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from

Brunton, R. (1989). The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Central Intelligence Agency (New Caledonia). (2013). The World Factbook: New Caledonia. Retrieved from

Clifford, J. (1982). Person and Myth: Maurice Leenhardt in the Melanesian World. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014).

Dauphiné, J. (1999). Christianisation et politique en Nouvelle-Calédonie au XIXe sièle. Nouvelle-Calédonie : Centre de Documentation Pédagogique

Douglas, B. (1998). Across the Great Divide: Journeys in History and Anthropology. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. (Eds.) (2001). Countries and their Cultures Volume 1. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Encyclopaedia Britannica (New Caledonia). (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from

Leenhardt, M. (1922). La Grande Terre: Mission de Nouvelle-Caledonie. Paris: Societe des Missions Evangeliques.

Leenhardt, M. (1930). Notes d'ethnologie neo-Caledonienne. Paris: Institut d'Ethnologie.

Leenhardt, M. (1979). Do Kamo: Person and myth in the Melanesian world. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Lenormand, M. H. (1953). L'évolution politique des autochtones de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 9, 245-299.

Lyons, M. (1986). The totem and the tricolour: A short history of New Caledonia since 1774. New South Wales: New South Wales University Press

Murienne, J., Grandcolasa, P., Piulachs, M.D., Belle, X., D'Haese, C., Legendre, F. ... & Guilbert, E. (2005). Evolution on a Shaky Piece of Gondwana: is Local Endemism Recent in New Caledonia? Cladistics, 21, 2-7.

Naepels, M. (1998). Histoires de terres kanakes. France: Belin.

Ogier-Guindo, J. (2011). Le pays invisible: Representations de la mort dans les discours ceremoniels kanak (Nouvelle-Caledonie). Cahiers de litterature orale, 69, 79-106.

Patouillet, J. (1873). Trois ans en nouvelle Calédonie. Paris: E Dentu

Poret, A. (2007). English language learning in New Caledonia: A report on the proficiency achievements and motivation of students at or near the point of entry to tertiary study. He Puna Korero: Journal of Maori & Pacific Development, 8(1), 61-78.

Riesenfeld, A. (1950). The megalithic culture of Melanesia. Leiden: E. J. Brill

Sand, C., Bole J., & Ouetcho, A. (2007). What Were the Real Numbers? The Question of Pre-Contact Population Densities in New Caledonia. In Kirch, P.V. & Rallu, J. The Growth and Collapse of Pacific Island Societies. Honolulu, HW: University of Hawaii Press.

Winslow, D. (1991). Ajie. Encyclopedia of World Cultures Oceania (Vol II, pp 6-10). New York, NY: G.K. Hall & Co.