Wooden statues, ceremonial axes, Melanesian masks, flèches faîtières (the wooden totems placed on top of traditional Kanak buildings), doorposts or modern sculptures are produced from local wood. But all articles you can take away are only contemporary replicas, as it is prohibited today to take old articles out of the country. Take care to check that you are not buying Made in China! Numerous well-known local painters create works that are extremely interesting both in terms of their meaning and aesthetic appeal. Scenes of local life, natural pigments, modern, ethnic or more naive works, there is plenty of choice.
Stones and shells
Many lapidaries work New Caledonian stones and shells. Finely carved nautilus shells, soapstone in the form of totems, raw blocks of garnierite, a form of nickel ore… On the edge of the road, especially on the East Coast, you will find small, often deserted stalls with a few articles on display. Get out, go and have a look, and as by magic, someone will arrive. If not, leave the money requested and take the article.
Mats and weaving
Plant fibres of all kinds, palm, pandanus or coconut palm leaves have been used by the women since time immemorial. Mastering the finesse and considerable creativity of the art of weaving, they make magnificent mats, baskets, hats, necklaces, and other decorative articles which are worth taking home. But make sure you check your customs regulations as to what articles you are allowed to bring back.
Various New Caledonia publishing houses have worked hard for some years to develop local literature in numerous forms. Political and historical works, poetry collections, illustrated books for children, cartoons and also very beautiful books with photos of New Caledonia’s heritage. With books available on Melanesian civilisation, old colonial houses, the rich fauna and flora, travel and cookery, you can take home very visual souvenirs.
Traditional music and songs, pilou-tchap, folk, kaneka, reggae, world music. Some New Caledonian producers regularly make quality recordings symbolising the multicultural wealth of a country where all the great influences of the world are gradually combining.
Coffee, honey, jam, relish
Known for its limited production of Leroy coffee which has even entered the Elysée Palace (the French President’s official residence), New Caledonia’s Melanesian coffee has carved out a good reputation. Some local farms even process their own production, often very prized by Japanese visitors. There is also excellent honey, which has already won awards for its unique flavours at the agricultural show, and numerous exotic jams with unusual sweet tastes. Not to mention the savoury relishes (condiments of finely chopped vegetables preserved in oil with chilli) and many fresh fruit cordials and home-made spices with caramel, soy sauce and other amazing flavours.
Mission dresses and manous
The mission dress, the iconic garment worn by most Kanak women and also called the robe popinée (Kanak woman’s dress), is absolutely unique and really comfortable. So much so that it is the uniform for the women cricket players (this female sport is a virtual institution). Local designers produce versions today in numerous fabrics, models, colours and motifs, from the traditional to the most innovative styles. Consider taking home at least one for you and smaller versions for your daughters or grand-daughters. The New Caledonia paréo is called the manou. This length of raw fabric is used for making custom offerings, and becomes a beach garment for all women. You can find very beautiful ones, made by hand and painted in typical Pacific Island motifs.