Kanaks comprise 45% of the total population of New Caledonia. The word is derived from kanaka maoli, a Hawaiian word which was at one time applied indiscriminately by European explorers, traders and missionaries in the region to any non-European Pacific islander. Prior to European contact there was no unified state in New Caledonia, and no single self-appellation used to refer to its inhabitants.
Other words have been coined from Kanak in the past few generations: Kanaky is an ethno-political name for the island or the entire territory. Kanéka is a musical genre associated with the Kanak, stylistically a form of reggae with added flutes, percussion and harmonies. Kaneka often has political lyrics and is sung in Drehu, Paici or other Melanesian languages, or in French.
By contrast, "Kanakas" were people from various Pacific Islands, who were recruited or enslaved, to perform unfree labour in places such as Australia, California, Canada, Chile and Fiji, during the 19th century. The German racial epithet Kanake — which is now applied to all non-whites, even southern Europeans in some cases — also derives from the same source, and was originally applied to people from German colonial possessions in Oceania.