Custom at a tribal welcome on the East CoastHome In Tribe At Hélène Thomas Boucher 2033 01 16
©Custom at a tribal welcome on the East Coast|Oneye Production / NCT

Traditions

in New Caledonia

During your visit to New Caledonia, you’ll encounter a profoundly significant custom that cannot be overlooked—the Kanak custom. Here, we shed light on where, when, and how to engage in this cultural practice during your stay.

Kanak customs

In the tapestry of Kanak culture, customs hold a central place in human interactions. These customs manifest on various occasions and take diverse forms, including wedding customs, mourning rituals, and welcoming ceremonies. As a tourist, when invited to a tribe, you’ll participate in a custom, which serves as your introduction, an expression of respect, and a display of humility towards your gracious hosts. The value of the custom is not measured in monetary terms but in the mutual recognition it signifies.

Frequently asked questions about Kanak customs
  • What is the customary gesture (la Coutume)?

    Life in Kanak society revolves around significant milestones and social activities that punctuate daily existence. These so-called “customary” gestures involve the presentation of gifts such as mats, coins, cloth, or other items, accompanied by a speech. These gestures signify the acknowledgment of life’s rules and fundamental values in Kanak and Caledonian society: hospitality, respect, and humility.

    While customs vary, common elements include taro and yam, pandanus leaf mats, and Kanak currency. When meeting your Kanak host, the custom becomes a unique and cherished moment where two worlds converge. It’s an opportunity to introduce yourself, explain your purpose, and express gratitude for their hospitality.

  • When to make the customary gesture?

    The customary gesture can be performed upon arriving at your host’s home when you’ve been invited. It involves introducing yourself and exchanging greetings. Additionally, the custom is observed when departing from your host’s presence. If you plan to visit an area situated on customary land, the custom serves as a request for permission to enter the tribe.

    Typically, you would present your gesture to the tribal chief or sub-chief. Note that the customary gesture may not be necessary if you are part of a tribal homestay, pre-arranged in advance.

  • How to make the customary gesture?

    While it’s customary for visiting tourists to offer a 500 XPF bill and a piece of cloth (manou), in reality, you can choose to bring something else, such as a specialty from your region. The sincerity of the gesture is what truly matters, as it signifies humility. The primary steps involved are as follows:

    • Prepare a small gift (such as a pack of coffee, cap, T-shirt, or a regional specialty) to symbolise your gesture.
    • Stand before your interlocutor and announce what you’re doing while placing your gift on a table or holding it in your hands.

    Once you’ve conveyed your message, your interlocutor will respond reciprocally to your words, accepting your gesture. It’s important to note that your interlocutor may keep their head lowered during this exchange, as it’s a sign of respect and active listening.

Other traditions

of New Caledonia

In addition to traditional Kanak customs, there are many other traditions that are dear to the hearts of New Caledonians. Knowing them means understanding a part of Caledonian culture, so you’re better equipped to immerse yourself in it once you’re here! Common traditions include :

Flower necklace

Gifting a flower necklace to welcome a loved one upon their arrival or a seashell necklace to wish them a safe journey on their departure.

Hunting and fishing

Engaging in deer hunting (considered invasive in New Caledonia) or lobster fishing.

Yam

Living in tune with the yam harvest, as this tuber governs the calendar of Kanak clans and is offered during important ceremonies.

Mission dress

Wearing the mission dress—a loose, long dress originating from Christian missionaries who introduced it to Kanak tribe women. Today, many Kanak people proudly wear this vibrant attire.

Bingo

Participating in Bingo, a popular pastime among Caledonians, enjoyed in small groups or during large organised gatherings.

Picnic

Enjoying picnics on a “natte,” an outdoor mat crafted from plastic fibres or pandanus, carried everywhere in New Caledonia.

Kava

Sipping kava, an energising beverage made from pepper root, at a nakamal—a traditional and discreet bar identifiable by its red light.

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