The Indonesian community of New Caledonia , whose members, mostly from the island of Java , are generally called Javanese , is one of the oldest and largest populations of Asian origin of this French archipelago of the Pacific.

Local names

The Indonesians of New Caledonia are, in common local language , designated in various ways. “Javanese” is the most common term, while the term “Kakanes” expression used to refer to a Javanese man, who comes from the Indonesian kakang meaning “elder” or “big brother” but also the expression “Bayou” , which would come from the Indonesian Mbak Yu meaning “elder” or “big sister”, can have a neutral meaning though paternalistic, even pejorative. Finally, the name “Niaoulis” refers to members of this community born in New Caledonia 2 .


Causes of Javanese Immigration

Demographic pressure and hardness of Dutch colonization in Java

The Pax Neerlandica and progress of tropical medicine causes rapid demographic transition on the island of Java in the late xix th century : the population is almost reached 27 million in 1890 , more than five times the number to the 4.5 million individuals identified in 1815 by British colonial administrator Thomas Stamford Raffles . As a result, the pressures on the resources of a relatively small territory ( 132 000 km 2 , a density of more than 200 inhabitants / km 2) and mountainous, of which nearly 40% of the area is already under cultivation, are becoming stronger. Added to this are the effects of cultuurstelsel or “culture system” (or Tanam Paksa , meaning “forced culture” in Indonesian ) which, although formally abolished in 1870 , continues to be practiced until end of the xix th century : the Javanese peasantry thus forced for over half a century to pay an increasing share of his land and his time of export crops, such as the sugar cane to the detriment of the rice cultivation, the basis of food, driving many villages into poverty. This pushes the Dutch authorities to seek solutions to the demographic and social situation of the archipelago, many voices from the progressive forces in the Netherlands calling to question colonial policy.

Need Labor in New Caledonia

In New Caledonia , the will of the French authorities to make New Caledonia an agro-pastoral colony and the development of mining activities since the discovery of nickel discovered by Jules Garnier in 1876 are facing a cruel lack of workforce. The criminal settlement alone can not compensate for the stagnation of free colonization, while the Melanesian population , repressed by the status of the native populationin “reserves”, affected by a fairly high mortality related to diseases and alcohol brought by Europeans and demoralized by the failure of the insurrection of Grand Chief Ataï in 1878 , stand aside from the Western colonial society and its activities. Individual and private initiatives are moving towards the recruitment of cheap workers in the Asia-Pacific region: the Indian coolies ( Malabars ) and the descendants of slaves cafres taken with them by the bourbonnais migrants between 1864 and 1880 , the Neo -Hebridais recruited by settlers from1865 or contracted by the company Le Nickel (SLN) of Chinese origins (without much success) in 1884 , Tonkinese ( Chân đăng ) from 1891 and Japanese from 1892 .

But the decision in 1894 of the new governor of New Caledonia , Paul Feillet , to close the “faucet of dirty water” that represents for him the prison , will entail a handling by the French colonial authorities of recruitment of Asian workers .

The Javanese workers

An agreement is quickly reached between the Dutch and French authorities for the sending of Javanese contract workers to New Caledonia . The first contingent of 170 people arrives on. Until 1949 , 87 chartered boats will take 19,510 individuals in successive waves:

  • from modest beginnings, with 1,265 arrivals between 1896 and 1909 , then 2,283 between 1911 and 1919 , with a relatively large turnover since comparatively returns to the country of origin concern 1,507 people between 1902and 1919 ,
  • two major phases of arrival in the 1920s and 1930s , with first 7,724 immigrants between 1922 and 1929 and 7,744 from 1933 to 1939 . Between 1921 and 1941, there were more absolute returns (6,297 people, they remained low until 1929 ), but these represent a slightly lower proportion of the entire Javanese community now settled in New Caledonia. Caledonia . The community, because of this relatively high net migration to which is added a certain natural increase (with the birth of the first Indonesians of origin inNew Caledonia , called “Niaoulis”), peaked in 1946 with a population then estimated at 10,000 individuals.
  • the end of the immigration and the repatriation of a significant part of the Javanese population after the Second World War and the independence of Indonesia recognized, after a heavy armed conflict, in 1949 by the Netherlands : if the The last convoy bringing in workers took only 494 people in 1949 , 6,658 people to leave between 1948 and 1955 . Population movements between New Caledonia and Indonesia after 1955If they exist, will remain tiny and mostly unplanned compared to what they have been in the first half of the xx th century . In 1955 , the population of Javanese origin in New Caledonia fell to only about 2,000 people.

These workers are mainly present in the New Caledonian labor market as domestic employees (gardeners and caretakers for men, housekeepers and nannies for women), farm workers (where they provide the vast majority of the labor force in the labor market). coffee plantations in particular) or in mining activities (where they are however less present than Chân đăngand are not used to the same tasks: to the Indochinese extraction, to Indonesians the transport of ore). The type of contract remained broadly the same throughout this period: a five-year period renewable by mutual agreement, it fully binds the employee to his employer and considerably limits his mobility and individual freedoms, and clearly specifies that the employee has an acquired right to repatriation at the end. Each worker has a booklet prepared by the colonial administration, containing the essential information to know about him: wages, wages and advances, leave, mistakes and fines, housing, clothing, food. After eight years, they can obtain a “free residence” permit: in exchange for the

The working conditions are difficult, although they have improved over time: the testimonies collected from the oldest of them in the 1990s show busy working hours and rhythms, especially in mines, abuse occasional corporals and humiliations of all kinds. Their salaries are also among the lowest in New Caledonia : to 1900 , they are between 9 and 12 francs per month for women and between 15 and 25 F for men, while a free worker earns on average this time 7 F in Nouméa. This workforce is quickly appreciated by New Caledonian employers, because of its low cost, but also for having earned a reputation for a hard-working population, loving the job well done, having the sense of the discipline and order, calm and disciplined (even docile), especially because it never went on strike, unlike Chân đăng for example. Conscious of their importance for the local economy, Javanese progressively manage to negotiate better working conditions. The American presence in New Caledonia during the war in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945will go a long way towards improving the lives of people of Indonesian descent: trained by soldiers to serve as drivers and mechanics. In 1946 , they all get free residency.

Since the independence of Indonesia

After the independence of Indonesia , recognized in 1949 , and the departure of the last convoy back in 1955 , the Javanese community of New Caledonia is reduced to about 2,000 people (about 3% of the total population). If a small part of the returnees decide to relocate to the French archipelago, and if a new wave of immigration, more modest than the previous ones (a few hundred) at the time of the “nickel boom” (late 1960s and early 1970s ), the neo-Caledonian population of Javanese origin remains a minority stabilizing around 5,000 inhabitants from the late 1970s to today 4 :

– 1976 : 5,111 persons (3.8% of the total population);
– 1983 : 5,319 individuals (3.7%);
– 1989 : 5 191 inhabitants (3.2%);
– 1996 : 5,003 residents (2.5%).

Now all free residents since 1946 , they are no longer bound by the system of contracts of engagement. Many remain in the coffee culture (which has suffered a lot from the massive departure of the vast majority of Indonesians) in “Bush”, becoming sharecroppers for some large owners or even small independent farmers. In Noumea and its suburbs , with their traditional jobs since the end of xix th century (workers of the SLN, domestic work) are added those obtained thanks to their experience gained as chauffeurs or mechanics with the American soldiers during the war: they thus invest a lot the sectors of transport (small family companies of rolling ensuring the transport of nickel mines ports, for example) and repair shops. On the other hand, unlike other populations of Asian origin (especially Vietnamese ), Indonesians in New Caledonia engage very little in commercial activities. From the 1980s , their numbers increased further in the public service, particularly in education and health.

This community will also be marked by a very strong integration, with a wave of French naturalization in the 1960s (at the 2009 census , 3,738 of those who identify as of Indonesian origin are French, or 89% among them), the gradual abandonment of the Javanese (and even more Indonesian ) apprenticeship among second and third generation individuals in favor of French(causing communication problems within families, many of the first generation Javanese very poorly speaking the local language) even the Frenchization of some names. Some families, especially in “Brousse”, assimilate more and more, by miscegenation, but also by their way of life and expression of the language for example, populations called ” caldoches ” (name given to the descendants of Europeans present in the archipelago for several generations): can be cited in this case the surnames of Bouan, Kromodimedjo, Kromopawiro, Kromosentono, Partodikromo, Soero, Soerodikromo, Sowikromo, Salikan or Todikromo. The rise of the identity claim, land and politics of Kanakand the so-called “events” period, which sees violent clashes between partisans and opponents of independence between 1984 and 1988, will greatly affect the Indonesian “Brousse” populations, especially in the East Coast communes which have become Melanesian separatist strongholds ( Thio , Canala , Hienghene ), who are massively evacuated at that time by the authorities to the Greater Nouméa . The result is a strong commitment of the community within the anti-independence camp (especially the Rally for Caledonia in the Republic, or RPCR), even if very few Javanese of origin remain present on the local political scene, and the appearance of the first associations and actions aimed at defending and developing the feeling of belonging and the Indonesian cultural identity, culminating with the celebrations of the “Centenary” in 1996 .


People who identified themselves as “Indonesian” represented 3,985 individuals and 1.62% of New Caledonians in 2009 (a figure well below that of previous censuses: it takes into account community belonging because it offered two other responses possible in which could be found some descendants of Javanese, especially in the younger generations [What?] : the half-breeds or “others” posing as ” Caledonians “). It is the most important Asian community of this archipelago, in front of the Vietnamese of origin. They are highly concentrated in Greater Noumea(3,364 persons, more than 95% of the Indonesian community and 2.05% of the total population of the agglomeration) and in particular in the three suburban communes (1,786 individuals and 2.7% of the residents of Greater Noumea out of the city center). The Indonesian population is slightly older than the local average and most of the other groups are: under 20 in 200915.3% of this community (compared to 34.4% for the entire New Caledonian population), slightly more than those over 65 (13.8%, compared to 7.4% in this class age is generally among the inhabitants of the archipelago) or the 55-65 age group (13.6%). About a quarter of them are between 20 and 40 years old (26.6%), just under a third between 40 and 55 years old (30.7%) 5 .

Age pyramid of the Indonesian Community of New Caledonia in 2009 as a percentage 5 .
Men Age class Women
90 and over


Commemorative stele of the centenary of the arrival of the first Indonesians in New Caledonia , inaugurated, in the district of the Orphanage in Nouméa .

An Indonesian Association of New Caledonia (INAC) was created in 1984 to maintain links of solidarity and cultural practices among this population. Since its foundation, it has managed the Indonesian Home, inaugurated in 1975 and located in the district of Robinson at Mont-Dore , in the suburbs of Nouméa . It offers several introductory courses in Javanese culture : language and dance , as well as events or shows specific to the community (including the day of the Indonesian presence in New Caledonia every February 16or the feast of the independence of Indonesia coupled with the day of Indonesian children every August 17 ). On the occasion of the centenary celebrations of the arrival of the first Indonesians in New Caledonia , the, a commemorative stele of this event was inaugurated in the district of Orphanage in Nouméa . The Consulate General of Indonesia , established in the same neighborhood in 1951 , is another cultural gathering place for the community.

Several Javanese cultural practices have been adopted by the entire New Caledonian population. For example, on the culinary level , the bakmi (pronounced and generally written locally “bami”) has become one of the most popular dishes of the archipelago, all communities combined. In the New Caledonian language , some words of Indonesian or Javanese origins are found: “cacane” (sometimes pejorative, from the Indonesian kakang meaning “big brother”, “elder”). Expressions of the oldest Indonesians, often struggling with French, are also found: “Never finished broken! “Designating something of good quality and solid (popularized by an advertisement for solar water heater in the 1990s ),” mas “or” mass “used as the equivalent of” sir “to address older Indonesians 6 .

On the religious level, the descendants of Javanese are predominantly Sunni Muslims , with however a very relaxed practice and close to what the anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls the Abangan (whose Moslem religion is tinged with pre-Islamic mystic beliefs and practices ). The Association of Muslims in New Caledonia and counts 3000 believers, 80% of Indonesians, including 200 to 300 practitioners 7 . This community acquired in 1978 a colonial style villa in the Valley of the Settlers , east of the town center of Noumea, and transforms it into a prayer room before building on the ground, in 1986 , the Islamic Center of Nouméa. It includes a prayer room, a library, two classrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, three studios and 8 . In addition to religious or Arabic courses , library consultation or prayers, the Islamic Center organizes Islamic calendar festival events, although some events also take place at the Indonesian Consulate General, such as the tarawih at the time of the festival. Ramadan .

Neo-Caledonian personalities of Indonesian origin

Political personalities

  • Jean-Claude Briault , a member of the RPCR since its creation in 1977 , territorial councilor then elected to the Congress from 1984 to 2004 as well as to the Council of the South Region and then the Southern Province from 1985 to 2004 , member of the Government of New Caledonia since 2004 .
  • Any Siban, elected RPCR at the Southern Province Assembly from 1999 to 2004 .
  • Corine Voisin , member of the Avenir ensemble from 2004 to 2008 and Caledonia together since its creation in 2008 , mayor of La Foa since 2008 , elected to the Assembly of the Southern Province since 2004 and to the Congress since 2006 .
  • Rusmaeni Sanmohamat , member of the RPCR , elected to the Congress and the Assembly of the South Province since 2009 , municipal councilor of Mont-Dore since 2001 , former president of the Indonesian Association from 2003 to 2007 .


  • Steeve Kromodimedjo, nicknamed the “Wasp of Népoui”, motocross champion .


  • Marc Bouan, author of The scarf and kriss .


  • Johannes Wahono.

Related Articles

  • New Caledonia
  • Indonesia
  • Java
  • Javanese
  • History of New Caledonia
  • French colonial empire


  1. ↑ a , b , c and d Totality of those posing as “Indonesians” at the 2009 census .
  2. ↑ Caledonian Dictionary , Southern Cross  [ archive ]
  3. ↑ [PDF] JL MAURER, “The Javanese of New Caledonia: the pangs of exile to the integration of hazards,” Autrepart , No. 22, 2002, p. 67-90  [ archive ]
  4. ↑ [PDF] sheet on the communities of New Caledonia, ISEE  [ archive ]
  5. ↑ a and b [xls] ISEE Census, 2009  [ archive ]
  6. ↑ The French of New Caledonia: New Caledonian dictionary ,  [ archive ]
  7. ↑ Presentation of the Muslim community on the website of the Association of Muslims of New Caledonia  [ archive ]
  8. ↑ Presentation of the Association of Muslims of New Caledonia  [ archive ]