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History

Throughout their thousand-year history, the Loyalty Islands have developed a unique identity within the New Caledonian archipelago.

Settled by Melanesians over 3,000 years ago, the Loyalty Islands later served as a landing point for the Polynesians. Immigrants from the Tonga Islands, master carpenters, Polynesian navigators and Samoan fishermen were included within the chieftaincies due to their skills and knowledge.

The Loyalty Islands inherited their name from the crews of British trading ships, who first encountered these island people with their “honest and friendly” character at the end of the 18th century. In 1840, the navigator Dumont d’Urville drew up the first map of the Loyalty Islands. 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.

Around the same time, the London Missionary Society and the French Marist Mission settled in the Loyalty Islands to spread the Christian faith, and the islands became the sometimes bloody scene of fierce competition between Protestant pastors and Catholic missionaries for religious influence and national supremacy. The Loyalty Islands were only annexed by France in 1864. However, deemed unsuitable for intensive colonisation, they were constituted as a native reserve, a status which would permanently shape the archipelago’s history.

A unique people

with multiple origins

This special status 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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The historical heritage of the Loyalty Islands

Église du Saint-Nom-de-Marie
Historic site and monument

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.
Mémorial des dix-neuf d’Ouvéa
Historic site and monument

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.
Église Saint-Joseph
Historic site and monument

St. Joseph's Church

Ouvéa
Built in 1912, the imposing Saint-Joseph church stands facing the sea, flanked by a beautiful colonial building.
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.
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.
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.
Église Saint-François Xavier
Historic site and monument

Church of St. Francis Xavier

Lifou
The Church of St. Francis Xavier in Easo was one of the first churches built in Lifou.
Mission de la Roche
Historic site and monument

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).
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 Saint-Michel
Historic site and monument

Church of Saint-Michel

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

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