Situated almost exactly midway between Tahiti and Nouméa, Wallis sits on the threshold of Polynesia and Melanesia. Around the year 1400, warriors sent by the Tu'i Tonga conquered the island and installed the first member of Uvéa's current ruling dynasty. The 15th century forts at Talietumu and Malama Tagata, built to enforce Tongan domination of Wallis, have recently been excavated.
English explorer Samuel Wallis anchored off the island for two days in 1767, but he didn't disembark. Whalers began calling in 1825, and in 1832 they established a base on Nukuatea. Catholic missionaries arrived in 1837 and within five years the entire population had been converted.
The missionaries protected the islanders from the excesses of other Europeans and controlled all aspects of society in congruence with the king. Massive stone churches were erected at Mata-Utu, Mu'a, and Vaitupu; the interior decoration of the one at Vaitupu is the best. Even today the bishop and king together carry more weight than the French prefect.