1. When I read Garrett’s post, I thought he said look for a country that starts with the same letter as your last name (probably was the military hardwiring of my brain that put the little ‘last’ in before name, can’t break that habit…) and I couldn’t think of any countries that start with W. Turns out there aren’t any ‘countries’ per se, just two territories, Wallis and Futuna and Western Sahara.
2. I had never heard of Wallis and Futuna before and had to click on the link to see if it was for real. Yep, it’s a tiny French territory in the South Pacific near Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. It’s composed of three main tropical volcanic islands split into two groups (hence the Wallis AND Futuna name). Each of the three main islands is also a kingdom, but they are collectively governed by French law and elect a representative to the French government. The population is about 15,000 people.
3. The South Pacific seemed like a more fun place to dig around in than the very complicated political issues facing Western Sahara – I figured we would cover enough fighting and military issues in class this week with milblogs and that Wallis and Futuna would be a nice diversion for me.
Having spent about a year in Hawaii before moving here, I am somewhat familiar with the plight of very small, isolated islands in the Pacific region. Wallis and Futuna are the embodiment of that plight: a beautiful island setting with very real challenges for the economy, government, and the future of its young people.
The blogs I found on Wallis and Futuna are either quick mentions of the territory from passing travelers or blogs written by foreigners who have moved to Wallis and Futuna. The blogs actually written by people living there are in French – so while it is fun to try to make sense of the blogs using my very rusty French sills, I was forced to default to Google Translate (once again, thankful for Google). For the most part, the blogs just detail ordinary life for the writers, and many seem like an update for friends and family elsewhere in the world.
It looks like there are the typical challenges of internet access in a very remote area that bloggers have to contend with, plus some vague mentions of government monitoring of blogs. I wasn’t able to find any blogs written by native islanders so it’s hard to say what their opinion on the matter is. The expats living there gave the impression of a lovely place, with nice people and a government that sometimes upsets the population with hints of official corruption.
Wikipedia mentioned a 2005 scandal with the former king granting his grandson sanctuary under tribal law after he was convicted of manslaughter in court. Protesters rioted in the street but were overwhelmed by the king’s supporters and eventually the issue died down. Wallis and Futuna was also in the news recently after three teenagers were found near the islands after they spent 50 days adrift and lost at sea.
So there you have it, the Long Tail of tiny places you’ve never heard of now accessible to you thanks to the magic of the internet.
photo: flickr.com/Romain [ apictureourselves.org ] used under Creative Commons license