TO outsiders it may look like an island paradise but a right royal dispute has disrupted the peacefulness of the French Pacific territory of Wallis and Futuna.

Disenchantment with the choice of a new king has caused tensions to boil over and dozens of protesters have stormed the palace on Wallis to prevent his enthronement tomorrow.

Chiefs last week chose Tominiko Halagahu to be king or Lavelua but this has caused fury from other traditionally royal families who claim it is their job to choose. The chiefs, they say, should merely organise the crowning ceremony.

While the islands are an overseas prefecture of France, French security forces are so far largely hanging back to see how the drama plays out.

Last time they intervened in a succession issue, islanders prevented riot police from landing at the airport by strewing the runway with chopped-up palm trees and concrete blocks. After one would-be reformer died, Paris backed off and allowed the controversial king to stay on the throne while local police eventually established control.

This time France has sent riot police over from New Caledonia to beef up security on Wallis but there are no plans so far to intervene any further.


A GROUP of islands between Fiji and Samoa where the people are mostly subsistence famers and pig breeders, Wallis and Futuna have a history of prolonged disputes over who should take the throne.

At times these have turned ugly as was seen in 2005 when a civil conflict was sparked over the rule of Tomasi Kulimoetoke, the controversial king who had been in power in Wallis for almost half a century.

Apart from the fact that he made his subjects dismount their bicycles as they passed the palace, there was anger over the sanctuary he gave to his grandson Tomasi Tuugahala who had been found guilty of killing a pedestrian while driving when drunk. Rather than hand him over, the king sheltered him for four months until pressure from protesters and France became too great. The grandson was finally transported to New Caledonia to serve his 18-month jail sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Before that, in 2002, the king had caused anger by closing the country’s only newspaper after it berated him for giving refuge to his friend Make Pilioko who had been found guilty of embezzling public funds.


THE royal title is not hereditary ­— and before taking the throne in 1959, Kulimoetoke was a pig breeder and subsistence farmer like many of his subjects.

He quickly adapted to life as a king and refused to give up, even during the armed rebellion of 2005, carrying on until his death in 2007 at the age of 88.

Since then there has been considerable upheaval. Kapeliele Faupala took over in 2008 but after he sacked two prime ministers he was deposed in 2014 by rival royal families and the post has been vacant ever since.

Despite the two-year gap, many on the island do not like the chiefs’ choice of 57-year-old Halagahu as the next king even though his royal pedigree stretches back for generations into the pre-colonial past.

One of the main families opposing his appointment is that of Kulimoetoke, whose death resulted in six months of mourning during which it was forbidden to talk about a successor.

When, or if, a successor is crowned, he is unlikely to change the islands’ status as a French overseas prefecture. The islands still rely on French aid along with substantial remittances from about 20,000 Wallesian immigrants now living in New Caledonia.


DISTINCT from French Polynesia, the territory of Wallis and Futuna is made up of three main volcanic islands and their islets.

They are split into two island groups ­— the Wallis Islands in the northeast which are also known as Uvea, and the Futuna Islands in the southwest which are otherwise known as the Hoorn islands.

There are three traditional kingdoms on the territory; Sigave on the west of Futuna, Alo on the east of Futuna and the island of Alofi, and Uvea on Wallis which also boasts the capital of the territory, Mata-utu.

Polynesians settled here around the year 1000 during the expansion of the Tongan Empire. And although British and Dutch forces came upon the islands in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was eventually the French who stayed, converting the inhabitants to Roman Catholicism. The Wallis islands, named after the explorer Samuel Wallis, retained their name, however.

The French missionaries and settlers asked for the protection of France in 1842 during a rebellion against them and in 1887 the Wallis queen agreed to sign a treaty with Paris establishing a French protectorate. The other kings also signed and the islands were subsumed under the authority of New Caledonia, a French colony.

In 1959, the islanders voted to become a French overseas prefecture which ended their subordination to New Caledonia. The French penal system is still in force for criminal law although civil disputes can be settled under tribal law.

Wallis is not alone in finding it hard to decide who should be king or queen. Last month a seven-year vacancy on the kingdom of Sigave was only ended when Eufenio Takala took the throne.