Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Kanak of New Caledonia traditionally used intensive irrigation in raising the staple crops of yams, taro and bananas, a diet supplemented by fishing and raising pigs. The nuclear family was the principal unit of production and fundamental social unit, organized successively into extended families, patrilineages, and clans, a system elaborately mapped onto the settled and natural landscape as a set of genealogies, land rights, and territories. Lineage heads served as chiefs who maintained the social order and were the focal points of redistribution networks; the heads of ancestral lineages served as clan elders who weighed in on moral issues (including land and matrimonial disputes) and guided ceremonial life. Under French territorial administration, the Kanak lost control of much of their traditional lands, undercutting the role of chiefs, while mining offered male employment outside the communities. Social unrest following the collapse of a nickel boom in the 1970s spurred an independence movement and economic reforms.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Melanesia


New Caledonia

OWC Code


Number of Documents


Note: Select the Collection Documents tab above to browse documents.

Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Kanak collection includes major ethnographies in French and English by the French Protestant missionary and ethnologist Maurice Leenhardt (1930, 1979) who lived among the Kanak, principally among the Ajië, during much of the early half of the twentieth century. A comprehensive political and economic history is provided by Connell (1987). In two separate articles Bensa examines precolonial chiefly authority (Bensa 1997) and land rights and reform (Bensa 1992). Ward (1982) also examines the land question and independence movements in the period following the Second World War. More recent studies look at gender inequality (Paini 2003), gender violence (Salomon 2008), and a reconciliation ceremony regarding the assassination of Kanak independence leaders (Leblic 2007).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

Agrandissement – expansion of native reserves –use "PUBLIC WELFARE (657)"

Bao – god, ancestral spirit – use "CULT OF THE DEAD (769)", and/or "ESCHATOLOGY (775)", and/or "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Cantonnement – “confinement” on a reservation – use "PUBLIC WELFARE (657)"

Kanya – maternal uncle – use "AVUNCULAR AND NEPOTIC RELATIVES (604)"

Ko – ghost, spirit – use "ESCHATOLOGY (775)"

Moaro – clan – use "PHRATRIES (615)"

Pamara – nephew – use "AVUNCULAR AND NEPOTIC RELATIVES (604)"

Pilou – feast – use "VISITING AND HOSPITALITY (574)"

Ukai – high rank – use "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

Close Box