Reaching the Nations

New Caledonia

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area: 18,575 square km.  Located in Oceania in the Coral Sea, New Caledonia is an overseas territorial collectivity of France consisting on a long, large main island and several smaller islands such as Iles Loyaute (Loyalty Islands).  Plains occupy coastal areas whereas forested mountains dominate the interior.  Hot, humid climate occurs throughout the islands.  Cyclones are natural hazards usually between November to March.  Soil erosion resulting from mining and forest fires is an environmental issue.  New Caledonia is divided into three administrative provinces.

Population: 252,352 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.561% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2.09 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 72.46 male, 80.86 female (2010)

Peoples

Melanesian: 44.1%

European: 34.1%

Wallisian and Futunian: 9%

Tahitian: 2.6%

Indonesian: 2.5%

Vietnamese: 1.4%

Ni-Vanuatu: 1.1%

other: 5.2%

Melanesians are also known as Kanaks and populated the islands prior to the arrival of Europeans.  French account for the majority of Europeans.  Other Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asian immigrant groups have arrived since European colonization of the Pacific. 

Languages:  French (66%), Wallisian (8%), Dehu (4%), Tahitian (3%), Javanese (3%), Nengone (3%), Paicî (2%), Vietnamese (2%), Ajië (2%), Xârâcùù (1.5%), Futuna (1%), Cemuhî (1%), Yuaga (1%), Numee (1%), Tayo (1%), Nyâlayu (0.5%).  French is the official language and 97% of the population are literate in French as first or second language.[1]

Literacy: 96.2% (1996)

History

The Lapita first inhabited the region followed by Polynesians around 1000 AD.  Europeans arrived in the late eighteenth century.  The British and French began settling New Caledonia during the early nineteenth century and by 1853 France took full possession of the island.  The French used the island as a penal colony for 40 years beginning in 1864.  New Caledonia served as a valuable Allied base in the Pacific and headquartered military units and personnel for fighting Imperial Japan.  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, an independence movement began to gain momentum and aroused political and social conflict.  The Nouméa Accord was signed in 1998 and grants the possibility of independence from France sometime between 2013 and 2018.  

Culture 

New Caledonia exhibits some of the strongest European influences among South Pacific Islands due to the large European population and status as an overseas department of France.  Most of the population converted to Catholicism as a result of French proselytism .  Traditional cuisine consists of seafood, yams, taro, fruit, pork, and bats.  Rice and beef have become more common due to European influence in the Noumea area.  Alcohol is frequently consumed.  The various ethnic groups have historically segregated themselves, but more recently have  begun to break down societal barriers.

Economy

GDP per capita: $15,000 (2003) [32.3% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: N/A

Nickel, financial aid from France, and tourism stabilize the economy and facilitate growth.  New Caledonia boasts 25% of the world's known nickel deposits and depends on extraction of this resource toward ensuring future economic growth.  Other natural resources include chrome, iron, manganese, cobalt, silver, gold, lead, and copper.  Services employ 60% of the labor force and generate 76% of the GDP whereas industry employs 20% of the labor force and generates 9% of the GDP.  Nickel mining and smelting is the primary industry.  Agriculture employs 20% of the labor force and generates 15% of the GDP.  Vegetables, beef, deer, and fish are common agricultural products.  Primary trade partners include France, Australia, Japan, and Singapore. 

Corruption does not appear to be a major issue, but has become a greater threat as a result of political instability, tribalism among the indigenous population, and New Caledonia's mineral wealth.

Faiths

Christian: 90%

Muslim: 2.5%

other: 10%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  151,411

Latter-Day Saints  1,890  8

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,842  25

Seventh Day Adventists  730  5

Religion

Catholics are the largest religious group and account for 60% of the population.  Protestants constitute 30% of the population.  Most non-Christians are non-religious.  Kanaks and other Oceanic peoples are primarily Catholic or Protestant, but retain many indigenous religious beliefs, such as the Kanak belief that the world of the dead is underwater.[2]  Europeans tend to be secular and have low rates of church attendance and religious interest.  There are few Muslims, which consist of Arabs brought by the French from North Africa during the colonial period and Indonesians.       

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The French constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  There have been no reports of limited religious freedom or societal abuse of this right.  

Largest Cities

Urban: 78%

Nouméa, Le Mont-Doré, Dumbéa, Païta, Koné, Bourail, Poindimié, Houaïlou, Koumac, Canala.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Three of the 10 largest cities have an LDS congregation.  75% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities.  Nouméa and its suburbs constitute 67% of the national population. 

LDS History

The first Latter-day Saints known to live in New Caledonia were Tahitian members who arrived to work in the nickel industry.  The Church created the Nouméa Branch in 1961 and Tahitians appeared to account for the bulk of church membership at the time.  Full-time missionaries did not arrive until 1968 once visas were secured.  That same year Elder Thomas S. Monson dedicated the islands for missionary work.[3]  The Fiji Suva Mission began administering the islands in 1975 and national outreach began to expand.[4]  Seminary began in the 1970s and institute began in the 1980s.  President Hinckley visited New Caledonia in 2000.[5]  In 2010, New Caledonia remained assigned to the Fiji Suva Mission.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 1,890 (2009)

Slow membership growth occurred from 1960 to 1985.  There were 382 members by 1990.[6]  Beginning in the late 1980s, the Church began baptizing greater numbers of Melanesians, which strongly affected national church growth trends over the following two decades.  There were 20 to 30 convert baptisms a year in the 1970s and most years in the 1980s, which increased to 80 to 90 in the 1990s.[7]  Membership reached 1,000 in the mid-1990s.  By year-end 2000, there were 1,525 members. 

Membership growth slowed in the 2000s as annual growth rates ranged from a low of 0.4% in 2009 to a high of 3.9% in 2005.  Annual membership growth rates generally varied from one to three percent during this period and church membership typically grew by around 50 members a year.  There were 1,631 members in 2002, 1,742 in 2005, and 1,828 in 2007.  In 2009, one in 134 was LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 8

In the 1976, the Church split the Nouméa Branch into two congregations and organized the Nouméa New Caledonia District.[8]  In 1978, a branch was created in Tontouta.  By 1996, there were five branches, four of which were in the Nouméa area.  Two of the branches specifically met the needs of Polynesian members.[9]  The first congregations were organized in the Loyalty Islands during the late 1990s.  By 2000, there were nine branches (Bourail, Dumbéa, Lifou, Mare, Mont Dore, Nouméa 1st, Nouméa 2nd, Riviere Salee, and Tontouta).  In 2003, the Dumbéa Branch was discontinued. 

Activity and Retention

Approximately 1,000 Latter-day Saints attended a special meeting with President Hinckley in 2000.[10]  138 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2008-2009 school year.  The average number of members per congregation increased between 2000 and 2009 from 169 to 236.  Nationwide active membership is estimated at 1,000, or 50% of total church membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, Tahitian, Vietnamese

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in French, Tahitian, and Vietnamese.  The Liahona magazine has 12 issues a year in French whereas Tahitian and Vietnamese each have four issues a year. 

Meetinghouses

The first Church-built chapel was completed in the 1970s in Nouméa.[11]  In late 2010, there were seven LDS meetinghouse in New Caledonia.  Congregations meet in Church-built meetinghouses, renovated buildings, or rented spaces. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has not undergone any large humanitarian or development projects in New Caledonia.  Service offered by the Church is limited to full-time missionaries completing weekly service hours and local members organizing and participating in projects sponsored by their local congregations. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

There are no restrictions for Latter-day Saints to worship, assemble, and proselyte.  Foreign full-time missionaries regularly serve in the country and there appears to be no major complications obtaining visas.

Cultural Issues

Melanesians face significant cultural challenges investigating and joining the LDS Church due to deep ethno-religious ties and that major personal decisions must be approved by an individual's parents and tribal chiefs.  Leaving the religious group practiced by one's tribe oftentimes results in leaving one's community altogether.  Past political conflict and tension have segregated many ethnic groups.  Local church leaders urge members to not discuss political subjects at church to prevent divisions and unite the diverse ethnic backgrounds present in many LDS congregations.[12]  Secularism among Europeans has resulted low receptivity to the Church and its missionaries, resulting in little recent growth with this population.  Overall, many Melanesian and Polynesian cultural attitudes and practices complement LDS teachings, such as a strong emphasis on family and regular church attendance. 

National Outreach

48% of the national population resides in cities or on small islands with an LDS congregation.  LDS mission outreach centers may reach as many as 85% of the inhabitants as Nouméa and its suburbs constitute 67% of the national population, the two Loyalty islands with an LDS congregation (Maré and Lifou) comprise 6% of the population, and Le Mont-Doré and Bourail together account for 12% of the population.  Additional LDS congregations and mission outreach centers are needed in the Nouméa area due to its large population and many communities without nearby LDS meetinghouses.  Prospective additional mission outreach centers in Nouméa communities or nearby towns include Dumbéa, Païta, Commune du Mont-Dore, Boulari, and La Coulée.  Full-time missionaries likely work frequently in these areas, but no congregations have been created.

Almost the entire European population receives LDS mission outreach, but many Kanaks are unreached in towns and villages in the northern half of the main island and on small islands elsewhere.  Limited number of full-time missionaries assigned to New Caledonia along with hesitancy of mission and area leaders to assign full-time missionaries to more remote unreached regions have limited national outreach potential among areas populated by more receptive populations.  Urban centers with several thousand inhabitants that could serve as mission outreach centers in unreached areas include Canala, Kouaoua, Poindimié, Koumac, Koné, Nepoui, and La Foa.  Mission outreach among immigrants from Wallis and Futuna may facilitate an official Church establishment in these unreached islands that are a dependency of France, populated by 15,000.

There is no LDS Internet site for New Caledonia.  The creation and use of a website that provides culturally-tailored approaches to local needs and circumstances may help increase missionary productivity and expand national outreach. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Latter-day Saints in New Caledonia appear to have achieved convert retention and member activity rates higher than or comparable to most other nations in Oceania.  Whether this is due to higher religious activity rates among the indigenous Kanak population or LDS mission policies regarding convert baptisms and reactivation efforts is unclear.  Distance from mission headquarters has reduced the number of full-time missionaries assigned, but has forced local members to be more self-reliant in their church responsibilities.    

Ethnic Issues and Integration

LDS leaders have consistently addressed ethnic integration challenges by avoiding political discussions at church and fostering interethnic fellowshipping and gospel teaching.  Few ethnic integration issues appear to have been manifest at church recently.  A greater influx of new converts may upset the current ethnic dynamics of LDS congregations as new members learn to associate and befriend members from different ethnic groups.  There appear to be few if any members among Southeast Asian immigrant groups.

Language Issues

There are no LDS materials in New Caledonian Melanesian languages due to the small number of speakers of each of these languages.  Fluency in French is high among the indigenous population, reducing the need for LDS materials in local indigenous languages.  There are no realistic prospects for translations of LDS materials into these languages at present.   

Missionary Service

27 full-time missionaries were assigned to New Caledonia in mid-2010.  Few local members have served full-time missions and New Caledonia appears highly dependent on foreign missionaries to staff the island missionary force.  Mission and area leaders have hesitated assigning full-time missionaries to congregations in the Loyalty Islands due to distance from mission headquarters in Fiji. 

Leadership

The LDS Church has greatly benefited from several strong local leaders who have provided valuable service and mentoring in their respective callings.  Ricardo Gaya served as district president for 16 years between 1981 and 1996[13] and served as the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission president from 2006 to 2009.[14]  Limited numbers of qualified, active Priesthood holders have likely prevented the creation of additional congregations and the organization of a stake. 

Temple

New Caledonia is assigned to the Suva Fiji Temple district.  Temple trips appear to occur regularly for members in the district.  Long distance from the Suva Fiji Temple, the crossing of political boundaries, and transportation costs require members to adequately prepare for temple excursions weeks or months in advance.  No other nation or territory assigned to the Suva Fiji Temple speaks French, which requires New Caledonian members to be self-sufficient in staffing their temple needs.  Prospects for a temple closer to New Caledonia do not appear likely in the foreseeable future due to the small size of the Suva Fiji Temple district and inadequate numbers of temple-attending Latter-day Saints in the region. 

Comparative Growth

New Caledonia has the fourth lowest percentage of Latter-day Saints in the South Pacific behind the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Australia and the second largest population in the South Pacific without an LDS mission.  Membership and congregational growth rates have lagged behind most of Oceania.  No other nation in Oceania has had full-time missionaries assigned for as long as New Caledonia and experienced as little church growth.  Most nations in the region with as long as an LDS presence as New Caledonia today report dramatically larger church memberships and more rapid past growth.  The first LDS missionaries arrived to Kiribati in 1975 and today Kiribati boasts seven and a half times as many members and three times as many congregations as New Caledonia but less than half the total population.  LDS Church growth trends are comparable to Guam, where like New Caledonia, the indigenous population does not constitute a majority.  New Caledonia and Fiji were the first Melanesian nations to have an LDS presence, but Fiji has experienced greater growth. 

Missionary-focused Christian groups who have arrived more recently have experienced little growth.  Seventh Day Adventists generally gain fewer than 50 converts per year and have not established any new churches since 2001.  Jehovah's Witnesses claim as many members as Latter-day Saints, but maintain three times as many congregations.  These groups face the same challenges as Latter-day Saints, namely strong ethno-religious ties among Kanaks, the need to tailor proselytism to the secular Europeans, and challenges expanding national outreach into remote regions.

Future Prospects

Slow membership growth and stagnant congregational growth in New Caledonia during the 2000s, no expansion of national outreach since the late 1990s, and the lack of full-time missionaries in areas with more receptive Kanak populations generate a poor outlook for church growth in the coming years.  The opening of additional cities to proselytism, greater numbers of local members serving full-time missions, and stronger member-missionary approaches are needed to reverse stagnant church growth trends.  The creation of a mission specifically for New Caledonia and Vanuatu may facilitate greater progress in the coming years. 


[1]  "New Caledonia," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 12 November 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_caledonia

[2]  "New Caledonia," Countries and Their Cultures," retrieved 13 November 2010.  http://www.everyculture.com/Ma-Ni/New-Caledonia.html

[3]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[4]  "New Caledonia," Country Profile, retrieved 13 November 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/new-caledonia

[5]  "'We have been on a long journey - but it was a great occasion'," LDS Church News, 1 July 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38065/We-have-been-on-a-long-journey--but-it-was-a-great-occasion.html

[6]  "New Caledonia," Country Profile, retrieved 13 November 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/new-caledonia

[7]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[8]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[9]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[10]  "'We have been on a long journey - but it was a great occasion'," LDS Church News, 1 July 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38065/We-have-been-on-a-long-journey--but-it-was-a-great-occasion.html

[11]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[12]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[13]  Johnson, R. Val.  "Islands of Light," Ensign, Mar 2000, 31

[14]  "New mission presidents," LDS Church News, 6 May 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/48920/New-mission-presidents.html