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New Caledonia, Fr. Nouvelle Calédonie, officially Territory of New Caledonia and Dependencies, internally self-governing dependency of France (2015 est. pop. 269,000), land area 7,241 sq mi (18,760 sq km), South Pacific, c.700 mi (1,130 km) E of Australia. It comprises the island of New Caledonia, the Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Islands, the Huon, Chesterfield, and Belep groups, and Walpole Island. East of Walpole are the uninhabited Matthew and Hunter islands, claimed by New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The capital is Nouméa on New Caledonia island. New Caledonia island, the largest island of the territory (6,223 sq mi/16,118 sq km), is mountainous and temperate in climate.
The population is about 39% Melanesian (Kanak) and 27% European (mostly French) with Polynesians in the outlying islands; the European population is concentrated in S New Caledonia. French, the official language, and several Melanesian and Polynesian dialects are spoken. About 60% of the population is Roman Catholic and 30% is Protestant.
The island of New Caledonia is rich in mineral resources, including nickel, chrome, iron, cobalt, manganese, silver, gold, lead, and copper. It is densely forested in some places, but almost all the kauri pine that was once an important export has been cut down. Nickel mining and smelting are the principal industries, and tourism and fishing are also important. There is subsistence farming, and cattle and poultry are raised, but many foodstuffs must still be imported. The entire marine special economic zone of the dependency is a natural park, with some protection, and reefs within the park are more stringently protected. New Caledonia receives substantial financial support from France.
New Caledonia is governed under the 1958 French constitution. The president of France, represented by the High Commissioner of the Republic, is the head of state. The government is headed by the president of New Caledonia. The president and cabinet are elected by the legislature on a proportional basis to five-year terms; there are no term limits. The members of the 54-seat Territorial Congress come from among the members of the provincial assemblies, who are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. There is also a Customary Senate that must be consulted on matters relating to Kanak identity; its sixteen members are elected from eight regional custom councils, two from each council, and serve six-year terms. The territory elects two deputies to the National Assembly and one member of the Senate of France. Administratively the territory is divided into three provinces (Northern, Southern, and the Loyalty Islands), each with its own assembly.
Capt. James Cook sighted and named the main island in 1774; the French annexed it in 1853. The discovery of nickel 10 years later brought increased French settlement, and a penal colony was established. The late 1800s saw several Kanak rebellions. During World War II New Caledonia was used as U.S. military base. It became a French overseas territory in 1956. Civil strife erupted in the 1980s as the Kanaks pushed for independence; the 1988 Matignon Accords between French and Melanesian delegations granted considerable autonomy to the islands and increased economic development aid from France. In 1998, New Caledonians approved a power-sharing agreement with France, and agreed to put off an independence referendum for 15–20 years. The territory became a French overseas territorial collectivity with full internal autonomy, and governmental powers were transferred in stages to the territory's government beginning in 2000. In the referendum, which ultimately was held in 2018, 56% of the voters rejected independence. In a new referendum on independence in 2020, it was rejected by 53% of the voters. A third referendum was held in Dec. 2021, despite protests by the native Kanak leadership because of the ongoing COVID-19 surge; many pro-independence voters boycotted the election, in which 97 percent of participants voted to remain part of France.
a group of islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, in Melanesia, constituting a French overseas territory. The group includes New Caledonia (area 16,700 sq km), the main island; the Loyalty and Chesterfield islands; and the Isle of Pines. The total area is 19,000 sq km. Population, 110,000 (1972). The chief administrator is the French governor. The Government Council and the Territorial Assembly, which is elected by the inhabitants, have limited powers. The administrative center is Nouméa.
Natural features. The coastline of the island of New Caledonia is highly indented, especially in the west, and is rimmed by coral reefs that form a barrier reef extending for more than 600 km off the western coast. Most of the eastern part of the island is a plateau composed chiefly of volcanic rock. The maximum elevation is 1,628 m. The western part consists of hilly plains up to 500 m high composed of sedimentary rock. The weathering mantle of ultra basic rock contains significant amounts of nickel, chrome, copper, iron, cobalt, and other metals, and the sedimentary rock contains deposits of coal, manganese, and antimony.
The island of New Caledonia has a tropical climate, with average January temperatures of 24°–26°C and average July temperatures of 20°. Annual precipitation ranges from 3,000 mm in the east to 700 mm in the west. In summer there are tropical hurricanes. The island’s well-developed river network consists of many small rivers with rapids. The soil is not fertile. Nickel mining and the building of roads for the mining industry have largely destroyed the soil and vegetative cover. Of the 3,000 species of higher plants, more than 2,900 are endemic. Much of the island is covered with sparse niaouli (Melaleuca leucadendron) woodland and high grasses. Forests occupy about 10 percent of New Caledonia, mainly the plateau, and contain many valuable species, such as those of the genera Agathis and Araucaria. The sparse fauna includes no nonflying mammals, snakes, or common freshwater fish. There are many birds (61 species).
G. M. IGNAT’EV
Population. Approximately half the population of New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands consists of indigenous peoples (New Caledonians, Loyalty Islanders, western Uveans), and the rest are immigrants and their descendants—French, Javanese, Uveans, Futunans, and Tahitians. The native inhabitants belong to the Melanesian race, with the exception of the western Uveans, who are Polynesians. The majority of the natives speak languages of the Austronesian family. More than half the population is Catholic; there are also Calvinists and other groups.
Historical survey. The island of New Caledonia, inhabited by Melanesians, was discovered in 1774 by J. Cook and was given the old name for Scotland, Caledonia. French Catholic missionaries began arriving on the island in 1843. In 1853, New Caledonia was declared a French possession, and in 1860 it became a colony. Abuses by the French colonial powers provoked a popular uprising in 1878. From 1864 to 1896, New
Caledonia was a penal colony; about 40,000 prisoners were sent to New Caledonia, including participants in the Paris Commune of 1871. During World War II the administration of New Caledonia joined the Free French movement in September 1940. New Caledonia became a French overseas territory in 1946. The progressive forces in New Caledonia support autonomy.
Economy. The population is engaged in agriculture (coffee, corn, rice, yams, taro, and manioc), fishing, and livestock raising. The island’s nickel mines, controlled by French companies, produced 149,000 tons in 1971. Also important are iron-ore mining and the production of iron-nickel alloys. Cocoa butter, coffee, and preserved foods are produced, and there are timber and wood-working enterprises. Exports include products of the mining and metallurgy industries, coffee, and copra.
Education and culture. Compulsory education has been instituted for children between six and 14 years of age. The education system consists of kindergartens for children between two and six years of age, six-year primary schools (five years for those who will continue their education), and seven-year secondary schools (consisting of a four-year and a three-year cycle). Classes are conducted in French. In 1970–71 about 25,000 pupils were enrolled in primary schools and 3,700 in secondary schools. Occupational training lasting from three to seven years is available to those who have completed five years of primary school. There are no institutions of higher learning. The largest library—the Bernheim Library—is in Nouméa; it was founded in 1905 and contains more than 24,000 volumes.
V. Z. KLEPIKOV