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Indonesians speaking French

Around 7000 Indonesians currently live in New Caledonia as a result of a relatively little-known chapter in the history of Indonesia

Pam Allen

   Javanese mask at Tiebaghi village
   Pam Allen

Aged 65 and still working as an engineer in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, Djintar Tambunan is a member of an unusual minority. He is one of very few Indonesians in New Caledonia who speak fluent Indonesian. His Javanese wife Soetina does not. Nor do his two adult children. Like most of their Indonesian friends, their preferred language is French.

Born in Belige, on the shores of Lake Toba, North Sumatra, in 1945, Tambunan (as he prefers to be called) moved to the Pacific Island of New Caledonia during the mining boom in 1970. He came to work for the big construction company Citra, and has remained there ever since. He describes himself as part of the ‘third wave’ of Indonesian emigrants.

Who, then, comprised the first and second ‘wave’ of emigrants, and what were they doing in New Caledonia? Djintar Tambunan’s story, and that of the 7000 or so other Indonesians currently living there, forms part of a relatively little-known chapter in the history of Indonesia. Like the history of the Javanese in Suriname in South America, and that of the Cape Malays in South Africa, it is an intriguing story of the tension that results when populations move, or are moved, to new surroundings.


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