Wallis and Futuna is the exotic name of two Islands located in the South Pacific, enough to make you dream about far-flung land. But how did we land here?
During our stay in French Polynesia, the French President came to visit every single island of the territory/collectivity to fulfill an electoral promise. This planted a seed in our travel box for a small detour to a lesser known destination, as Wallis is not on the milk run; the Port only receives 40-50 boats annually. Beforehand, we knew it existed via philately and our French background/education; however, not enough to pinpoint it well in the Atlas. Yet here we are, anchored in its lagoon and enjoying every minute of it. Two big groups form the lot of cruisers making landfall here:
- the French, who come to see what’s going on so far from the mainland, and
- the New-Zealanders and Australians, while transiting to the Marshall Islands and stopping for a bit of rest, some wine, cheese and patés from France
Once you have discovered the atoll, the low lying Central Island and you have enjoyed a few beautiful sunsets, you then realize that nothing has changed for 1,000 years. This peaceful atoll has only been disturbed by the Catholic missionaries, who came 200 years ago after being asked politely to leave Tonga. So far, we are doing our best to absorb its tradition and culture, which is strong around here.
So what makes this collectivity so different from French Polynesia?
First, they never let go of their strong tradition and the most significant one is the Royalty. In reality, every aspect of the daily life is still driven by the “Coutume” (ancestral tradition). The village chiefs, the nobles and the King are the forces that drive the traditional side of the Island; everyone has their own place in the society from birth, to your rights to a funeral, giving it almost a medieval feel to it. The entire ensemble makes for a very well-structured community with its own code of values. As an example, during a “fete du village” (village celebration) between the size of the pig you take away home, to your position while seating at the Kava ceremony, everything is dictated by your birth’s status and ability to demonstrate your power. The hand-to-hand combat has now been replaced by monetary donations to show your worth; while the first still remains when discussions or agreements are not going anywhere, as we can attest.
Secondly, so far the entire Island hasn’t gone through cadastre in any formal manner; it is still verbal family communication that can get you a piece of land to build your house. Thus enabling a total control of the land by the hierarchy; clearly no outsider will ever buy a lot without proper paperwork, unless you marry a Wallisian. (“Cadastre” is defined as “the public record of the extent, value, and ownership of land within a district for the purpose of taxation”.)
Also, one of the last vestiges of the ancestral time is the Church position, and it still runs deep in daily life. In our Occidental civilization, the majority of it has detached the politic side to the Bishop. Well, not here, where education (elementary school until Grade 5) is still completely run by the Church. The King and Bishop sit next to each other at all big occasions and the civil administrator takes his cue from those two figures.
Finally, women have an important role in their family and are the key to the entire household. Even if the men still demonstrate their manhood during the Kava ceremony, the women will have their say in the end, as it is a matriarchal culture.
So if you ever dream of having lunch with a king, witnessing traditions, which are older than most books, and seeing a way of life far from your day-to-day routine, we strongly recommend a visit to the Island collectivity of Wallis and Futuna! At least now you have no more excuses to not come around and visit this tiny grain of sand in the South Pacific.
Good to Know
- This is a French territory and the language spoken here is mainly French and Wallisian.
- If you have gone through French Polynesia and still possess a few French Pacific francs, not to worry as they work here too.
- You are back to a Society Island (French Polynesia) configuration, with some very nice anchorages inside a lagoon that breaks those nasty swells. The pass is easy and navigation through the lagoon is not a problem; the Navionics map is perfect.
- As you approach, Wallis Radio can provide you help via VHF channel 09 and keep an eye on you for your safety.
- Healthcare is totally free, no questions asked nor ID requested, equipped with a hospital, dispensary and pharmacies and a brand new MRI scan.
- There are plenty of stores around the Island, with one type “Carrefour” making provisioning a breeze. You can even find some nice wines from France (But of course!) at the “Cave de Wallis”. Along with a shop similar to Home Depot.
- A birds’ eye view of the Island is provided via ULM (ultralight aircraft); hence you can fly over Wallis and get a completely different perspective of it all.
- The lagoon is ciguatera-free.