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Algeria to New Caledonia: An Exile

12/07/2016 10:05 | Updated 12 July 2016

Algerians of New Caledonia, known as Algerians of the Pacific are a group men that were deported by French Authorities to labour camps on the islands of New Caledonia in 1873, just off the coast of Australia. Why? As punishment for participating in the 1871 uprising against the French Colonial Administration in Algeria.

They are an echo from and of Algeria, where colonial France hung on for too long and paid a price that scarred Algeria and those associated.

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The beginning

More than an estimated 2,000 Algerians who were considered rebels by the French were deported to the Pacific island in the last quarter of the 19thcentury. Journeying by sea and some even dying after refusing to eat pork when their dates ran out, they were imprisoned in jails in New Caledonia.

The first settlers of this community were deported between 1873 and 1874. Presently, the vast majority live in the valley and Nessadiou Bourail, a small town near the valley.

The majority of these in New Caladonia in present day are descendants of deportees who participated in the Mokrani Revolt of 1871; a revolution that started from Souk Ahras and was led by Mohamed Keblouni in eastern Algeria, followed then by the uprising which spread across Algeria until it reached Bordj Bou Arreridj and Kabylie.

Trials and deportation

The trials took place in the city of Constantine in May 1873, where the trial of 212 individuals; which included 74 notable leaders and Sheikhs that are accused in participating in the revolution of Mokrani, were questioned and judged for their involvement in revolutionary action against the French.

Deportation destinations included Brest, in the north-western part of France, as well as many having second trials in Oran in the west of Algeria before finally being deported to once again, France. This was only the beginning.

The trials and deportation period stretched over a 28 year period, between 1867 - 1895, where 2,166 prisoners were transported from North Africa to New Caledonia. The majority of the prisoners were Algerians, with a minority of Moroccans and Tunisians who arrived to New Caledonia in 42 Convoys.

What is important to note is that the deportees were not allowed to be accompanied by their wives and children, hence the first Algerians in New Caledonia were all men.

Mohamed Ben Brahim was the first Algerian to be deported to New Caledonia on May 9th1864.
Many Algerians died on this 150 day journey across the world to the Pacific Ocean, from fear, hunger and depression.

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List of deportees from Algeria to New Caledonia

Life in New Caledonia

The French's aim was to deracinate and destroy the identity of the Algerian deportees by refusing to send them back home to Algeria once the Algerians had completed their sentences in the labour camps.

They enforced cultural alienation by rejecting any women or children on this journey, imposing new marriages on these Algerian men to the islanders of New Caledonia (Kanak) or French women. More so, Islam was banned and all men and their new families were obliged to follow Catholicism as well as all children to attend Catholic schools. Arabic names were barred and the French Colonial Administration only allowed Christian names. It wasn't till a ban was lifted in 1930 that the French names of Pierre and Philip could return to their original names of Kader, Ali and Mohamed.

Great strain and stress was caused to these deportees, who found the difference in culture, language and religion so far removed from their own.

Their exile, a form of political repression that has left deep wounds, uprooted them and separated them from a land they called home. Forced to dig up their own graves of their brothers as French militia watched while playing cards.

Once they completed their sentence, a plot of land was offered but no advice or aid on how to set up their future.

The sadness lies in the colonisation through another colonisation. The Algerians were used to colonise New Caledonia, while they themselves were colonised by the French.

Today

An estimated 15, 000 descendants of deportees continue to live in New Caledonia today.
The descendants created an "Association of Arabs and Arab friends" in 1969 to support the story and continue the collective memory of their ancestors.

The descendant of the deportees refer to their ancestors as Old Arabs, with many descendants of the deportees actually returning to their ancestor's homeland in Algeria. Though they see themselves as Caledonian, they have been instilled with an affection for Algeria by their Grandparents.

To see Algeria is a rite of passage, with many watching the ocean crash and turn in Nessadiou, as the grand mosque stands overlooking the water connecting Algeria and New Caledonia. This sea might one day take them back to the roots.

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