I don’t often write about the island nation of Wallis and Futuna, so when an article appeared on the Radio New Zealand Website about the country, I got really excited. Earlier this month it is was reported that an academy promoting the languages of Wallis and Futuna has been officially opened by the visiting French overseas minister Annick Girardin.
Girardin visited Wallis and Futuna for five days, which was reportedly the longest stay in the territory of any French minister. She was given a large welcome by political and customary leaders as well as school children when she arrived from French Polynesia.
The academy, which will be run by Malia Laufoa’ulu, is tasked with modernizing the language and adopting new words. It also hopes to contribute to teaching the local Polynesian languages in schools.
It plans to offer language courses by correspondence and in conjunction with the University of New Caledonia, create a diploma in vernacular languages.
The minister said efforts have to be made to maintain Wallisian and Futunian as living languages for all generations. France only recognizes French as the official language of its territories.
A little about Wallis and Futuna…
Wallis and Futuna is a group of three volcanic tropical islands—Wallis Island (Uvea), Futuna Island, and Alofi Island—with fringing reefs located in the South Pacific Ocean between Fiji and Samoa. The Wallis Archipelago is the most populated of the island group and comprises a main island and about 20 smaller islands and islets. The main island, Wallis (Uvea), is hilly and dotted with numerous lake-filled craters surrounded by steep cliffs. The Futuna Archipelago consists of two mountainous islands, Futuna (Hooru) and Alofi.
The total population of the territory at the 2003 census was 14,944 (67.4 percent on the island of Wallis, 32.6 percent on the island of Futuna).
Archaeological excavations in Wallis have uncovered sites dating back to 1400 B.C.E. The Tongans arrived in the fifteenth century and took possession of the island after battles that have become legendary. Wallis emerged from the Early Tongan Maritime Empire in the 1500s.
Futuna and Alofi were sighted by two Dutch navigators, Jakob Lemaire and Willem Cornelis Schouten, in 1616. British explorer Samuel Wallis visited Wallis in 1767. The French were the first Europeans to settle in the territory, when missionaries arrived in 1837, and converted the population to Catholicism.
On April 5, 1842, the missionaries asked France for protection after part of the local population rebelled. In 1917, the three traditional chiefdoms were annexed to France and turned into the Colony of Wallis and Futuna. Today, the territory has been a French overseas collectivity since 2003. Between 1961 and 2003, it had the status of an overseas territory.
The culture of Wallis and Futuna is typically Polynesian, with strong emphasis on marriage and extended families centered on the church. The kava bowl and tapa cloth are important symbols of culture. Kava is drunk both ritually and secularly in Futuna. The kava bowl is used to honor chiefs and the existing hierarchy. Tapa cloth is made by women from the bark of the breadfruit tree for exchange at rituals that draw extended families together. The music of Wallis and Futuna has a rich tradition, and is overwhelmingly Polynesian in form. Traditional music is taught by specialists called “mâau.”