Also known as: Canaque; Kanak; Houailou

The indigenous people of New Caledonia lacked an ethnonym for themselves prior to European contact. They are known today as Canaques or Kanaks, an exonym derived from the Hawaiian 'kanaka'. Although they speak over 30 languages, 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.

Show Map of Location

Traditional Culture(1902)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

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


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

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 34-46, 143-252
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 228
Largest religious community Larger than a local community, smaller than the society (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


Tattooing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 40, 135-142
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Leenhardt (1930), pp. 133
Social Environment +
Population 1500 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Shineberg (1983)
Importance of Patrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Clifford (1982), pp. 41, 87-88
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Clifford (1982), pp. 41, 87-88
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 8-9
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Clifford (1982), pp. 41


Conflict within community Moderate (Source)
Naepels (1998), pp. 192-197
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 nearest continent 1345.0 (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

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
Murienne et al (2005), pp. 2
Island Size (km²) 16750.0 (Source)
Clark & Bedford (2008), pp. 64
Maximum elevation (meters) 1618.0 (Source)
Clark & Bedford (2008), pp. 64


Latitude -21.3 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 165.6 (Source)
Winslow (1991), pp. 7
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1902-2014)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
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Lenormand (1953), pp. 253-254
Winslow (1991), pp. 9
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Naepels (1998), pp. 42-43
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

Clark, G.R. & Bedford, S. (2008). Friction Zones in Lapita Colonisation. In G.R. Clark, G.R, S. O'Connor & B.F. Leach, Islands of Inquiry: Colonisation, Seafaring and the Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes (pp 59-73). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

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

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

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

Shineberg, D. (1983). Un nouveau regard sur la démographie historique de la Nouvelle-Calédonie. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 76, 33-43.

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