Discontent growing in Wallis and Futuna

In Wallis and Futuna, three kings and the Catholic Church have held their grip on power hundreds of years after France became a secular republic, according to a recent syndicated news report.

Life has remained unchanged in Wallis and Futuna for centuries, its young people are packing their bags and leaving the islands’ tropical shores forever, driven away by a lack of opportunities and little prospect of reform, the report says.

In the last 10 years the population has declined by a fifth, with emigration exacerbated by a falling birth rate.

There are now double the number of expatriate islanders living in New Caledonia, its nearest sister territory, than on Wallis and Futuna.

The trio of monarchs are beneficiaries of the French state, paid a generous monthly salary to perpetuate Polynesian customs that have merged with strong Catholic beliefs since the arrival of Christianity in the mid-19th century — but discontentment is growing.

Kapeliele Faupala, King of Uvea (Wallis), was removed from the throne by village elders in September.

His rule over the larger and more populated Wallis island led to resentment over his allegedly autocratic style and seeming disinterest in the job.

The Church is responsible for islanders’ primary-level education, in contrast to metropolitan France where state education is separated from religious institutions by law.

The construction of a gigantic church on Wallis drew criticism from villagers, who told AFP in October costs ran to millions of dollars partly drawn from private donations, leaving some in debt as a result.

Although the project, supported by the vicar general, has sparked controversy in the population, given its cost, the goal is also to make a pilgrimage site.

“Cette église est un peu démesurée, mais maintenant qu’elle est là il faut la prendre en compte”, reconnait Monseigneur Ghislain de Rasilly, évêque de l’archipel.

“L’idée est de faire de Futuna un centre de pèlerinage dans le Pacifique, qui devrait être opérationnel en 2015”, explique à l’AFP de Rasilly.

“Je ne m’attends pas à voir débarquer 10.000 personnes. Les pèlerins viendront essentiellement de Wallis et Futuna, de Nouvelle-Calédonie et de Fidji”, poursuit-il, conscient de l’enclavement de ce territoire français, le plus éloigné de la métropole avec 22.000 km de distance.

Situé au beau milieu du Pacifique sud, Wallis et ses 8.600 habitants sont reliés deux fois par semaine par une seule compagnie aérienne avec Fidji et Nouméa.

“Il est envisagé de mettre en place une desserte maritime entre les deux îles, mais le quai de Futuna ne sera pas construit avant 2018 ou 2019”, s’inquiète l’évêque. (Automated English translation available)


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News category: Asia Pacific.

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