Woodcarving is called ka-re in the drubea language spoken in the customary area of Drubea-Kapumë (Paita – Dumbéa – Nouméa -Yaté); ga in xârâcùù (area of Xârâcùù : Canala – Kouaoua – Sarraméa – La Foa – Boulouparis – Thio); ji in in ajië (area of Ajië-arhö : Houailou – Poya – Bourail – Moindou) ; tha in jawe (area of Hoot ma whaap : Pouébo – Hienghène); tua-upwârâ in paicî (area of Paicî-cèmuhi : Ponérihouen – Poindimié –Touho – Koné – Pouembout); trataun in drehu (area of Drehu : Lifou); ruac’on hore sereï in nengone (area of Nengone : Maré); xete in iaai (area of Iaai-fagauvea : Ouvéa).
Woodcarving is a traditionally male activity, both ceremonial and functional, used to create products intended for use in dwellings, for prestige, for war, agriculture, fishing and hunting, and is a fundamental artistic practice that is representative of New Caledonia.
Relief carvings and sculptures in the round are put together, carved or inlaid, waxed, stained, varnished or painted with oil paints or acrylics. Contemporary practice involves the use of various different plant and tree species, mainly the Montrouziera cauliflora (houp), Acacia spirorbis (acacia), Fagraea berteroana (tabou wood), Albizia lebbeck (lebbeck) and Calophvllum inontunum (tamanou). These wood species are used according to their symbolism or physical characteristics. They are worked using a penknife, wood chisel, gouge, graver, plane, borer, sander or saw, carving straight into the wood or from sketches.
It is a practice that is mostly self-taught and carried out in tribal villages, sometimes by women, revisiting the traditional aesthetic codes and the world of iconography through reference to founding myths and the contemporary world. Combining the wood with stone, bone, metal or glass, it demonstrates a stylistic diversity of meaningful forms and shapes. There is a a prevalence for the vertical or statuary, with symbolic or decorative motifs, that are anthropomorphous, zoomorphic or plant-related. These are linked to cultural or social themes, marked out by their connection and spatial disposition, and made distinctive according to their place of production and distribution.
With a total of around 200 wood carvers throughout the whole of New Caledonia, some of whom are grouped by tribal village or association, the practice is passed on in the school environment and through artist residencies and introductory workshops organised by the Musée de Nouvelle-Calédonie (Museum of New Caledonia), centre culturel Tjibaou (Tjibaou Cultural Centre) and community centres in Noumea, and the municipal and provincial cultural centres in the interior of New Caledonia and on the Loyalty Islands, as well as the Ecole des Métiers de l’Image et des Arts (School of Image and Crafts) in Koné. Objects made long ago are put on display at the Musée de Nouvelle-Calédonie, and contemporary pieces are present in customary areas, in public and private landscaped areas and within infrastructures throughout the country, being particularly prominent at the centre culturel Tjibaou and the Koné roundabout. They are exhibited and marketed in galleries and hotels, at cultural and artistic events, country fairs, local markets and on stalls run by tribe members.