Wallis and Futuna: Western Encounters

Image from CIA World Factbook

Viewing a globe, it may be easy to view most of the Pacific islands as just tiny little dots.  Many of the islands, however, had numerous brushes with history.  The modern French territory of Wallis and Futuna is just one example of a typical island's experience after encountering Europeans.  In this article, we will look at just a few examples of encounters with Western civilization.

Early Encounters
The islands' first fleeting encounter with Western culture was brief.  In 1616, the Dutch were the first Europeans to discover Futuna.  Over 150 years passed until the British "discovered" Uvea, which they named Wallis in honor of voyage leader Captain Samuel Wallis.  It would be the French, however, that had the largest impact on the island.  In the 1830s, French evangelists spread Christianity across the islands, which today boasts a 99% Catholic population.  France declared the islands a protectorate in the 1840s.

World War II
Hitler's blitzkrieg through Europe left the islands in World War II's cross-hairs.  Conquering France and installing the puppet, Vichy government, Germany left all French territories with a difficult decision. Should they side with their new Vichy leadership, or should they side with the Free French leadership that was stationed away in Britain?  Trying to play it safe, Wallis and Futuna accepted Vichy rule, which earned the islands a visit from 2,000 American troops and Free French forces. After quickly taking power, U.S. military presence swelled to 6,000 and Eleanor Roosevelt even visited Wallis during her 1943 Pacific islands tour.

In 1961, the islands gained more local autonomy by officially transitioning to territory status. Today, France officially lists it as an overseas collectivity.  The airport and roads created by U.S. forces are still in use. While the islands have been impacted in large and small ways by a variety of Western powers, local rule still looks very similar to the islands pre-European encounters.  Despite being just over 100-square miles, the islands are divided into three kingdoms - the same three kingdoms that existed when the Dutch first spotted the islands in 1616 and that had existed hundreds of years prior.  

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