Wallis and Futuna Islands are a French overseas collectivity in the South Pacific with a population of just over 16,000 people. They have a rich history, including being part of the Tongan empire and being settled by the French in the 19th century. The islands are subject to the French constitution and have traditional kings who retain some political power. In 2005, one of the kings was nearly dethroned due to a scandal involving his nephew. The islands are a remote but pleasant tourist destination with beautiful beaches and historic sites.
Wallis and Futuna Islands are two small islands which together form an overseas collectivity of France. The islands together occupy just over 100 square miles (265 square km) and have a combined population of just over 16,000 people. They are found in the South Pacific, midway between Hawaii and New Zealand.
The islands have been occupied for approximately 3,500 years, based on archaeological evidence on Wallis Island. From 1200 to 1500 they were part of the great empire of Tonga and ruins still exist from this period, most notably the fortress of Talietumu. In the late 1700s, a European explorer, Samuel Wallis, came across the islands and one of the islands was named after him.
The French eventually settled Wallis and Futuna Islands in the early 19th century, converting the locals to Catholicism in the process. In the late 19th century, the kings and queens of the three kingdoms that make up the islands – Uvea, Alo and Sigave – signed treaties with France, officially making them a protectorate of France. In 19 the islands were officially annexed, becoming a colony under the rule of French New Caledonia, but in 19 they became direct territory of France, removing itself from the rule of New Caledonia.
Wallis and Futuna Islands are subject to the French constitution and benefit from the French legal system. The official head of state is the president of France, and the head of government is the president of the territorial assembly. Additionally, the traditional kings of the three kingdoms sit on the Council of Territories, along with three other representatives chosen by the Territorial Assembly. These kings retain some political power and great local support.
In 2005, one of these three kings – Tomasi Kulimoetoke II, the 50th king of Uvea – was embroiled in an uproar that nearly cost him the throne he had held for nearly 50 years. The king’s nephew was involved in a drunk driving accident in which a pedestrian was killed. Instead of allowing his nephew to be arrested, the king hid him in the palace for four months before finally handing him over to the authorities. Because of this, many people called for the king to step down, and there were riots and protests across the capital. Eventually the king held his place, before dying in early 2007.
Wallis and Futuna Islands are remote but pleasant tourist destinations. Beautiful beaches, affordable accommodations, and historic sites make the place a great place for anyone willing to spend a little extra money to get off the beaten track. French is spoken throughout the country and the islands can be reached by flying from nearby Fiji or New Caledonia. As the rainy season from November to April brings cyclones with it, the ideal time to visit is between May and October.