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History

A singular story

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  • 8 December 2022
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A singular story

Within New Caledonia, the history of the colonization of the Loyalty Islands is an exception. Traditionally open to external migration, annexed late by France, deemed unfit for penal or civil colonization, but deeply marked by religious struggles for influence, the Loyalty Islands have developed a unique identity.

The oldest indisputable traces of human presence in New Caledonia are currently dated to around 1,100 BC. Exactly where the population and migrations originated is not yet well known. The Loyalty Island tribes are a mixture of Melanesians and Polynesians. Immigrants from the Tonga Islands, master carpenters, Polynesian navigators and Samoan fishermen were included within the chieftaincies due to their skills and knowledge. Ouvéa experienced several waves of Polynesian migration in the 16th and 17th centuries. According to oral tradition, they came mainly from Wallis Island, which is called “Uvéa” in the local language.

The Loyalty Islands were discovered by Europeans in 1793. Raven, the captain of an English merchant ship, was on his way from New Zealand and taking a shortcut to the south when he discovered a group of islands that he named the “Loyalty Islands” for reasons still unknown. According to some historians, the islands earned this name because of the “loyal” character of their inhabitants.

From the start of the 19th century, whale hunters became interested in the rich cetacean resources of the South Seas. From 1810-1820, ships stopped in the Loyalty Islands and the north of New Caledonia’s main island to stock up on provisions and water. A whale oil extraction plant even operated on Lifou. But after 1860 the replacement of whale oil by petroleum and depletion of the pods of whales put an end to this activity in New Caledonia.

The lure of sandalwood attracted Australian traders, and English and American whalers visited the island coasts while they hunted for whales undertaking their annual migrations. These arrivals also became part of the local community which benefited from their technical know-how and keen sense of industry.

The mapping and charting of the Loyalty Islands were carried out in 1827 and 1840 by Jules Sébastien Dumont D'Urville, one of the greatest explorers of the Pacific, who was fascinated by astronomy and natural sciences.

Also in 1840, the London Missionary Society (LMS) sent teachers to the Loyalty Islands to preach the Gospel to the natives and convert them to Protestantism. On 20 December 1843, the French Marist Mission, with support from the French Government and Army, also settled in the islands, to try to convert the natives to Catholicism. The Loyalty Islands then became the often-bloody scene of intense power struggles between Protestant pastors and Catholic missionaries. The conversion to Protestantism of Chiefs Naisseline on Maré (1848) and Boula on Lifou (1851) allowed two LMS teachers, Tataïo and Fao, to settle permanently. Later, in 1856, European pastors settled on Ouvéa.

At this time, the indigenous people used their language and, when necessary, bichlamar, an English-Melanesian pidgin used to communicate with traders and between the various Melanesian peoples. The Protestant missionaries promoted the use of some indigenous languages to bring the Gospel more easily to the island “natives” - as the Kanaks were called at the time: Drehu on Lifou, Nengone on Maré and Iaaï on Ouvéa, while Catholic missionaries preferred French.

The success of the Protestant missionaries explains why the Loyalty Islands still have a strong Protestant majority and why many traditions remain alive (religious, culinary, sociological, words from English in the island languages, cricket etc.).

This singular past and the mixed heritage from successive waves of migration have made the Loyalty Islanders “different” Kanaks. The form of their traditional huts — sanctuary and symbol of the clan – bears witness to their dual Melanesian and Polynesian origins, with sometimes a typically rounded Melanesian design and sometimes the square-shaped hut of Polynesian origin. The genetic heritage from intermarriage with European sailors from centuries past can still be seen on the faces of today’s Loyalty Islanders: fine features, light skin and straight hair with blond highlights… Isolation turned them into seafarers, migrations strengthened their sense of hospitality, the fertile land stimulated their agriculture, the religious and political antagonisms strengthened their independence of mind, and flourishing custom traditions united them as a community.

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Mémorial des dix-neuf d’Ouvéa

Ouvéa
A monument in memory of the 1988 hostage-taking and the 19 pro-independence activists killed during the assault on the Gossanah cave.
Mission de la Roche
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La Roche mission

Maré
Built in1866, the Mission Church stands amidst abundant vegetation at the foot of the high coral rock that gave the tribe its name (Roche meaning rock in French).
Monument dédié à l’arrivée de l’Évangile
Historic site and monument

Monument dédié à l’arrivée de l’Évangile

Maré
Located in the Roh tribal village some 200 m after the church, this monument commemorates the arrival in 1841 of the first Polynesian Protestant catechists who came to evangelize the island.
Monument dédié à l’arrivée de l’Évangile
Historic site and monument

Monument dédié à l’arrivée de l’Évangile

Lifou
On Ahmelewedr beach, stands a monument that commemorates the arrival in Lifou of the Protestant missionaries Fao and Zakaria in 1842.
Monument la Monique
Historic site and monument

Monument to the sinking of the Monique

Maré
On the quayside facing the sea at Tadine stands the monument to La Monique in memory of the 126 people who disappeared in 1953 on the ship La Monique somewhere between Maré and Nouméa.
Chapelle Notre-Dame de Lourdes
Historic site and monument

Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes

Lifou
Perched on the hill overlooking the Bay of Santal (Sandalwood Bay), the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes provides a magnificent viewpoint from which to admire the bay.
Eglise de Pénélo
Historic site and monument

Église de Pénélo

Maré
The Church of the Holy Cross of Penelo was built in 1910 and inaugurated in 1915.
Église du Sacré Cœur de Wé
Historic site and monument

Church of the Sacred Heart of Wé

Lifou
Built by the missionaries of the Sacred Heart Xavier Montrouzier and François Palazy, this small church located by the sea does not lack style.
Église du Saint-Nom-de-Marie
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Church of the Holy Name of Mary

Ouvéa
From the beach, a majestic access path of columnar pines leads to the church, which overlooks the lagoon from the top of a small hill.
Église Saint Jean-Baptiste de Hnathalo
Historic site and monument

Church of St. John the Baptist of Hnathalo

Lifou
The Church of St. John the Baptist is located in the Hnathalo tribal village in the Wetr district.
Église Saint-François Xavier
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Church of St. Francis Xavier

Lifou
The Church of St. Francis Xavier in Easo was one of the first churches built in Lifou.
Église Saint-Joseph
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St. Joseph's Church

Ouvéa
Built in 1912, the imposing Saint-Joseph church stands facing the sea, flanked by a beautiful colonial building.
Église Saint-Michel
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Church of Saint-Michel

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The Catholic church of Saint-Michel is located in the centre of Fayaoué island and the capital of the island.

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