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dimanche 17 novembre 2013

The customary kingdoms of Wallis and Futuna

The three kings of the French Republic

French territory of the South Pacific, the archipelago of Wallis and Futuna yet lives under the authority of three monarchies with the blessing of the French Republic!

The archipelago of Wallis and Futuna made headlines in the French press for a few days because the disastrous renown of Hurricane Thomas which does extensive damage, but fortunately without casualties there.

Wallis and Futuna:  France, where is?
But, who, outside the philatelists and the media in the event of a disaster, knows this archipelago of the South Pacific?

Geography of Wallis and Futuna
Located between the islands of Fiji at the West, Samoa at the East and Tonga islands in the South-east, it’s over 2000 km apart between Wallis and Futuna to New Caledonia.

This small archipelago is a part of what is called the Polynesian triangle.

Map of the Three Kingdoms of Wallis and Futuna
The T.O.M (Territoire d’Outre-Mer i.e.: Oversea Territory) of Wallis and Futuna is actually compound of two separate archipelagoes about 230 km distant from each other:
-          Wallis Islands, at the Northeast, comprising the islands of Uvea (about 9 000 inhabitants), Nukuatea, and a dozen islets and motu, all inhabited;
-          Horn Islands with Futuna (less than 5 000 inhabitants) and Alofi (one permanent resident!)

With its relatively recent geological formation, the highest peak in the archipelago, Mount Puke on Futuna rises to 524 m against 417m with Mount Kolofau, on Alofi.

Wallis Islands from a bird’s eye view 
With 13 445 inhabitants in the last census (whose approximately 70% live in Wallis), the archipelago knows, for the first time since its annexation to France, a significant decline in its population: nowadays it counts under 1 500 inhabitants.

History of Wallis and Futuna
It’s impossible to date precisely when the first humans set foot on the islands of the South Pacific, but the estimated period would be during the first millennium BC.
These are the same exceptional sailors, aboard their large double-hull canoes, who came from Asia and populated the entire Polynesian triangle.

Louis Antoine de Bougainville
The first Westerners to set foot there are the Dutch Willem Schouten and Jacob Le Maire, who discover Futuna, May 22, 1616.

Wallis Island was only discovered 150 years later by the British Samuel Wallis, whose it bears name.

The first French to land was Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 11 May 1768.

The Bay of Leava, on Futuna
Yet it was not until the establishment of Catholic missionaries in the nineteenth century to see in the archipelago a significant European presence.

It was until 1887, at the request of Queen Amelia, that the kingdoms of Uvea in Wallis, Alo and Sigave in Futuna sign a protectorate treaty with France.

Finally, it was in 1961 that the archipelago became an Oversea Territory (TOM).

One wealth: nature
Wallis and Futuna are quite poor islands, mainly because of their dangerous access and a severe shortage of fresh water. It’s for this reason that some islands (as Alofi) remain uninhabited.

Poi, the capital of the kingdom of Futuna
These features allow only a rural economy, focused on artisanal lagoon fishing and subsistence farming.

In this very poor population, 70% don’t have access to the cash economy. And on the 2 000 jobs in the archipelago, 1 100 are civil service positions.

Some resources result from flags of complacency and flat annual tax on offshore companies with no activity on the territory of Wallis and Futuna. These resources should quickly disappear due to European regulations in the context of the fight against money laundering.

The three kings of the French Republic
If the archipelago of Wallis and Futuna is a French territory, and as such subject to the rules of the French Constitution, it has very specific institutions.

Thus, if the government of the Republic is concentrated in the person of the Senior Administrator, the archipelago is divided into three traditional monarchies: the kingdoms of Uvea (on Wallis), Alo and Sigave (on Futuna).

The three monarchs, with elected councilors and representatives of the State, govern the archipelago.

Kapeliele Faupala, the new king of Wallis
Warning, these are not hereditary but aristocratic monarchies: they are the noble families, Aliki, who elect or destitute kings.

Customary power is important but decentralized: on the side of the anvil, the kings must negotiate with village leaders and fund the demands of the Aliki who elect them and whose moral authority is based on population. On the side of the hammer, they must also negotiate with the representative of the State for obtain the development budgets of the territory.

To cover their costs, the Kings have an annual budget of the Republic which also compensates royal ministers and chiefs of districts and villages.

Thus, to have guillotined its last king, the French Republic remains committed to a certain idea of monarchy.

A feast in a school of Wallis
Moreover, the monarchical system of Wallis and Futuna don’t seem so crazy: between an elected king and a president of the Fifth Republic with virtually absolute powers, even is there a big difference?

An article of Julien Gué
Translated from French by Monak

Copyright Julien Gué. Ask for the author’s agreement before any reproduction of the text or the images on Internet or traditional press.

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