Ajië - Orientation

Identification. Ajië is one of the major southern languages found in New Caledonia. Today, Ajië speakers call themselves "Kanak," which has deep political meaning for them, because along with the vast majority of the other native Peoples in New Caledonia, they are asking for independence from France. "Canaque" was introduced to the territory by Polynesian sailors, and in the local context it had a pejorative meaning. In the early 1970s the native peoples of New Caledonia changed the spelling to "Kanak" and this marked the birth of a Black-power type of consciousness. If they are successful in their quest for independence, their new country will be named "Kanaky."

Location. Ajië is spoken primarily on the east coast of New Caledonia's main island, La Grande Terre, from Monéo to Kouaoua in the Houaïlou Valley, but it has spread as far as Poya. Ajië is also spoken or understood by other western and southern language groups in New Caledonia, particularly those on the Ajië's border. Rainfall distribution reflects the classical opposition between windward and leeward slopes, and this feature is accentuated by the mountainous character of the main island. Average local rainfall may exceed 400 centimeters in the east and may be less than 100 centimeters in the west. Seasonal distribution is marked by maximum rainfall during the first three months of the year, although heavy daily rainfall is rare. The average temperature falls between 22° C and 24° C, with February being the hottest period and July-August the coolest.

Demography. In 1774, Captain Cook estimated that there were 60,000 natives on La Grande Terre and other sources guess that there were another 20,000 in the Loyalty Islands at that time. Regardless of the actual numbers, it is clear that every part of the islands was claimed or occupied by the local population. In 1989 the total population of New Caledonia was 164,173, of which 73,598 were Kanak. The Kanaks are the largest ethnic group in the territory (44.8 percent of the total population), followed by the Europeans (33.6 percent), Wallisians (8.6 percent), Indonesians (3.2 percent), Tahitians (2.9 percent), Vietnamese (1.5 percent), and Ni-Vanuatu (1 percent). The Ajië are approximately 3,600 or 5 percent of the native population. They can be found in the commune of Houaölou and in the territorial capital of Noumea.

Linguistic Affiliation. New Caledonian languages belong to the Eastern Subdivision of the Austronesian languages. There are thirty-two native languages in New Caledonia, of which twenty-eight are still spoken. Ajië is one of the nine major languages of the southern language group. It is from the same proto-Melanesian root language as all the other languages in New Caledonia with the exception of Faga Uvea, which is spoken in the north and south of the island of Ouvea and has Polynesian origins.

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