History of Caledonia
The Lapita arrived in the archipelago now commonly known as New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands around 1500 BC. The Lapita were highly skilled navigators and agriculturists with influence over a large area of the Pacific.
From about the 11th century Polynesians also arrived and mixed with the populations of the archipelago. First discovered by Europeans in 1766, New Caledonia has been a French colony since 1853. It became a French Overseas Territory in 1946.
The British explorer James Cook sighted Grande Terre in 1774 and named it New Caledonia, Caledonia being the Latin name for Scotland. During the same voyage he also named the islands to the north of New Caledonia the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), after the isles off the west coast of Scotland.
Blackbirding was a euphemism for enslaving people from New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands, New Hebrides, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands to work in sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Queensland. The trade ceased at the start of the 20th century. The victims of this trade were called Kanakas, a label later shortened to Kanak and adopted by the indigenous population after the French annexation.
France sent a total of 22,000 convicted felons to penal colonies along the south-west coast of New Caledonia between 1864 and 1922.
During World War II, the The French South Pacific colonies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the New Hebrides joined the Free French Forces and the South Pacific colonies became vital Allied bases in the Pacific Ocean.
The French-descended settlers (caldoches) mostly back the Gaullist center-right party, Rassemblement pour une Caledonie dans la France (Rally for Caledonia in France, RPCR), which is strongly anti-separatist. Both sides have adopted an uncompromising position on independence.
A national referendum was held in November 1998 and produced a vote of 70 per cent in favor of independence. However, since then, the two main parties and the French government have persuaded many Kanaks that Paris had no intention of allowing the colony to become independent.
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