Legend tells how the Polynesian god of creation Tangaloa caught an especially large fish in his net one night. He rushed home to get a knife, but upon seeing how huge the fish really was, decided to wait until daybreak to pull it in. As dawn rose in the east, Tangaloa saw that the large fish had changed into the island we call Uvéa, and some smaller fish also in the net were now little islets held together by the net itself, which had become a coral reef.
Although these islands were discovered by the Polynesians more than 3,000 years ago, not until April 26, 1616, did the Dutch navigators Schouten and Le Maire arrive at Futuna and Alofi.
They named Futuna Hoorn, after their home port of Hoorn on the IJsselmeer, 42 km north of Amsterdam. The name of Cape Horn, in South America, is derived from the same old port. Captain Samuel Wallis in HMS Dolphin was the first European to contact Wallis (on August 16, 1767). American whalers began to visit from 1820 onward.
Marist missionaries arrived on both Futuna and Wallis in 1837, and from Wallis Bishop Pierre Bataillon directed Catholic missionary efforts in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga. Futuna is well known to Catholics around the Pacific as the site of the 1841 martyrdom of Pierre Chanel, patron saint of Oceania
Wallis and Futuna was declared a French protectorate in 1887, and in 1924 the protectorate officially became a colony. This was the only French colony in the Pacific to remain loyal to the collaborating government in Vichy France until after Pearl Harbor.
From 1942 to 1944, Wallis was an important American military base, with as many as 6,000 U.S. troops on the island. Hihifo airport dates from the war, as does an abandoned airstrip just south of Lake Kikila.
In a 1959 referendum, the populace voted to upgrade Wallis and Futuna's status to that of an overseas territory, and this status was granted by the French Parliament in 1961. In 2007 the designation was changed to "overseas community".
Continue to Wallis and Futuna Dateline »