La Coutume

In New Caledonia - which is a French overseas territory located in the south Pacific - there is a common traditional cultural practice called "La coutume" meaning the custom. This cultural practice is seen as a kind gesture from a visitor to the members of the local tribe which they are visiting. It consists of giving a small present to materialize your action. You then present your gift face to face to the chief of the tribe, you announce your intention and put it down on the table or keep it in your hands. When the chief answers (usually with a small speech) it is normal for them to talk with their head down as a sign of respect and active listening. The present will typically consist of a combination of some of the following items: a 500 franc bill (the local currency, which is equivalent to 5 euros), a piece of fabric called "manou", a traditional mat called 'une natte', and taro or yam. If you are a tourist you can also gift something specific from your region. The overall purpose of la coutume is to show the existence of the fundamental values of the local society and culture mainly: hospitality, respect and humility. If you are visiting a tribe, the purpose of la coutume is to show respect and humility towards them and give something in return for letting you visit their land and to thank them for their hospitality. It can also act as a request for permission to visit other parts of the tribe's land. This tradition often is held between locals at special events such as weddings, period of mourning, visit, births, first crop of yams, and in general any important moments of life. Furthermore, different forms of it take place in different areas of the pacific.


Cultural Diversity and Sustainable Development for Peace