The history of the importation of 'coolie' labour from Reunion Island to New Caledonia in the 19th century is little known. While most historians mention the groups of 'Malabars' brought in to help colonists from Reunion set up the New Caledonian sugar industry, few have delved into the backgrounds or indeed identities of this particular group of contract labourers. Who were they? Where did they come from? What languages did they speak? What was their status in the colony? What became of them after the demise of the sugar industry? Based on archival research, this paper traces the arrival and settlement history in southern New Caledonia of the sugar industry 'coolies' and discusses the problems of status and identity among this surprisingly heterogeneous group.