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Wallis & Futuna

Introducing Wallis & Futuna

These two forgotten specks that lie smack in the centre of Polynesia/Melanesia make up one of the world's least known countries. The inhabitants, who are markedly more reserved than in most Polynesian isles, are happy to keep it that way. And why not? This French colony has managed to keep its culture remarkably intact throughout serious Catholicism and a strong French presence. France pours in the money and the people continue to live as they always have, fishing and planting taro and manioc - but now they also drive brand-new Toyota 4WDs, go to church and watch satellite TV. This is a country that has figured out how to get all the perks of colonialism without losing its soul. There are no plans for a push for tourism and, as long as the airfares and cost of living stays as high as they are (this place makes Tahiti seem cheap), it's not likely to receive heaps of honeymooners or package tourists any time in the near future. Movements for independence are few: the hospitals, schools and highly paid government jobs are all welcome enough additions that the people are happy to put up with a few handfuls of French expats.

Wallis Island and Futuna & Alofi, which lie 230km away from each other, are linked through French colonialism, period. Wallis has ancestral connections with Tonga while Futuna traces its roots to Samoa. This is evident in the languages, which are quite different although mutually comprehensible, as well as the Samoan-like tapa designs of the Futunans and the Tongan-influenced designs found on Wallis. The two islands remain competitive with each other but Wallis, being more populous and the centre of government, retains the upper hand.