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WALLIS and FUTUNA
COUNTRY STUDY GUIDE
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WALLIS and FUTUNA, Part 1

 
 
           
 

INTRODUCTION

A self-governing overseas territory (territoire d'outre-mer) of France, the Wallis and Futuna {wahl'-is, foo-too'-nah} Islands are two groups of islands in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, between Fiji and the Samoas — roughly 4,600 km / 2,858 mi. southwest of Honolulu (Hawaii) and 4,000 km / 2,485 mi. northeast of Sydney (Australia). The islands have a total land area of 321 km2 (124 mi2) and a population of 15,435 (2001 est.) — with 60% under the age of 20. Roughly two-thirds of the inhabitants live on Wallis, the other third on Futuna.

 
 
Flag of Wallis and Futuna

There are numerous variations on the flag of Wallis and Futuna, whose central theme reflects the historic kingdoms of Uvea. (Note the French tricolor which appears in the upper hoist quadrant.) For official occasions, the French national flag is flown above this flag.

GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE

Lying about 300 km (190 mi.) west of the Samoa archipelago, the Wallis group consists of the main island of Uvea (Wallis) and more than 20 surrounding islets called Motu, scattered in the lagoon and the coral reef surrounding the island (see map). Mata-Utu, the capital and principal city of the territory, is located on Uvea. The terrain is of volcanic origin with low hills (Mt. Lulu — 150 m / 500 ft). Many lakes (such as the spectacular Lake Lalolalo) are found in the ancient volcanos. While its territorial waters extend to 12 nm (nautical miles), Wallis claims an exclusive maritime economic zone of 200 nm.

The Futuna group, sometimes identified as the Hoorn Islands (Îles de Horne), consists of the two islands of Alofi (uninhabited) and Futuna, which lie approximately 225 km (140 mi.) southwest of the Wallis group. Unlike Alofi, Futuna has no coral reef or lagoon. The archipelago is mountainous, of Tertiary (much more ancient) volcanic origin, and is situated directly on the zone of contact between the Pacific and Indo-Australian plates. Thus, Futuna is subjected to periodic earthquakes, the most recent occurring in March of 1993. The topography is more pronounced than on Wallis, with hills rising to 524 m / 1,719 ft. (Mt. Puke on Futuna) and 417 m / 1,368 ft. (Mt. Kolofau on Alofi). Alofi was inhabited until around 1840, but was abandoned because of a shortage of water. Crops are, however, still grown there by the inhabitants of the eastern part of Futuna, only 2 km away.

Neither Uvea nor Alofi have any permanent streams, unlike Futuna which has many small creeks flowing down the hills in deep gorges.

Wallis and Futuna has a tropical climate. The hottest weather (average temperatures 81°F / 27°C and 86% humidity) occurs during the rainy season (November to April), which sees frequent heavy showers and storms. February is the hottest month, averaging 86°F (30°C), while the coolest — July — averages 77°F (25°C). Annual rainfall amounts to about 300 cm (118 in.) on Wallis and nearly 400 cm (157 in.) on Futuna. During the dry season, the islands are cooled by the Southeast Trades.

FLORA & FAUNA

 
Aerial view of Wallis

Aerial view of Wallis and its coral reefs
(Photographer: Pascal Nicomette)

 

Most exotic fruits can be found on Wallis: bananas, breadfruit, coconuts, lemons, pineapple oranges, mangos, and papayas. Yams, taros and manioc constitute the basic elements of Wallisian cuisine. Manioc is especially cultivated to feed the pigs. The "faikai" are dishes based on starch extracted from Tacca. While flowers bloom in abundance on Wallis, deforestation has reduced the primary forests to no more than 15% of the total surface area on Wallis and 30% on Futuna. Only Alofi's primary forest has been preserved, since it is uninhabited (70% coverage).

The primary fauna are pigs and breeding hens (introduced by man), but one may also observe a number of bird species such as terns, gannets (related to the tropical booby), and frigates (birds-of-prey which often steal the catch of other seabirds, or eat eggs, chicks, and young turtles). White-collared kingfishers, Polynesian trillers, and Fiji shrikebills are endemic to Futuna, while the rare Blue-crowned Lorikeet (Vini australis) may be found on Alofi. The islands are also home to a local species of flying fox (fruit bat) — known as peka, as well as two species of geckoes, and two kinds of lizards.

The lagoons off Wallis and Alofi abound in multi-colored fish (such as the clown), and one can even spot rays (related to the skate, shark and chimaera), tortoises and dolphins. It should be noted that sharks are rare, and that tortoises are a protected species. The deep-sea diving club "Te U Hauhaulele" (phone 681 72 22 08) organizes outings to explore the riches of these lagoons.

ECONOMY

The economy is limited to traditional subsistence agriculture, with about 80% of the labor force earning its livelihood from growing fruit and vegetables, the production of copra (the dried kernel of the coconut, from which coconut oil is extracted), raising livestock (mostly pigs and chickens), and fishing (including the harvesting of trochus shells). About 4% of the population is employed in government. Revenues are derived from French government subsidies, licensing of fishing rights to Japan and South Korea, import taxes, and remittances from expatriate workers in New Caledonia (17,000 Wallisians and Futunans live in this other French territory). Tourism remains relatively undeveloped.

Wallis and Futuna imports food, fuel, clothing, machinery, and transport equipment, while its exports are negligible — consisting mostly of copra, breadfruit and handicrafts. The majority of manufactured goods are imported from France, New Caledonia, Australia or New Zealand. Due to past over-exploitation of forestry products, the territory is currently undertaking a re-forestation program, with the little timber cut being used for traditional housing.

Next page >> HISTORY

 
 

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