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ETHNONYMS: East Futuna, Hoorn Islands, Horn Islands


Identification. Futuna and its neighboring island of Alofi (or Tua) are politically joined to Wallis Island under French administration as overseas territories. They were named the "Hoorn [or Horn] Islands" after the birthplace in Holland of one of the first European explorers to sight the islands. This Futuna must not be confused with West Futuna, east of Tanna in Vanuatu.

Location. Futuna is located 240 kilometers northeast of Vanua Levu (in Fiji), and 200 kilometers southwest of Wallis at 14° S, 178° W. Futuna and Alofi are both volcanic islands with steep mountainous interiors rising to the highest point of 850 meters. There are many streams and a plentiful supply of fresh water. Futuna is subject to cyclones.

Demography. In 1983 the population on the island of 44 square kilometers of land was 4,324, and it was growing at about 4 percent per year. In addition, approximately 4,000 Futunans were living in New Caledonia. About 50 French people are resident as administrators, teachers, and doctors.

Linguistic Affiliation. East Futuna is an Austronesian language, included in the Nuclear Polynesian Subgroup of the Polynesian Group. It is mutually understandable with Wallisian but distinct from West Futunan, and it has some close cognates with Samoan. French is now spoken by some of the younger Futunans, particularly those living in New Caledonia.

History and Cultural Relations

Occupation of Futuna has been documented for about 3,000 years, divided into three periods: Kele Uli, Kele Mea, and Kele Ula. Lapita~associated pottery has been found related to the first period, when first settlement apparently was on the coast. In the Kele Mea period, Futunans took up residence in the interior of the island in fortified sites; Alofi was also inhabited during this period. Kele Ula is the period covered by oral tradition, when Futuna was linked with Tonga and Samoa (and possibly Fiji) through visits by chiefs and their followers for both peaceable and warlike purposes. Oral tradition also records the arrival of a "Chinese" ship whose crew left numerous descendants. In 1837 Father Chanel, a French Marist priest, was one of the first Europeans to take up Residence on Futuna; he was murdered in 1841, but the Catholic mission continued its strong presence. Chanel was beatified and his relics returned in 1976 to rest in a shrine on Futuna. In 1842, the lavelua (high chief) of Wallis sought protection from France, a move with which the two traditional leaders of Futuna agreed. Futuna, together with Wallis, became a protectorate of France in 1887 and a colony in 1913. In 1961, Futuna and Wallis became an overseas territory of France. Futuna was marginally involved in World War II with a few ships being wrecked there, particularly off its northern coast. When nickel mines opened in New Caledonia, Futunans took advantage of the opportunity to work for wages; the stream of migration has continued to the present day, with a few returning to their home island, especially in their old age.


The island of Futuna is divided by the Vaigaifo River into two kingdoms, Sigave in the west and Alo (including the island of Alofi) in the east. Villages are located around the coastline of Futuna and linked by one road; there are no permanent inhabitants on Alofi. The main commercial and administrative center is in Leava in Sigave, but there are small shops and a church in each of the villages. Most of the houses are set on the inland side of the road, with their household garden plots behind the house. The oval-shaped thatched houses are surrounded by low concrete walls to keep the pigs from attacking the crops and have open sides, except for coconut-frond blinds that can be let down in bad weather. Most houses have very recently been wired for electricity and have outside piped water.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Futuna is a very fertile island with high rainfall, so everything grows well. The main dietary items are starchy vegetables with a little accompaniment, such as coconut, fish, or a faikai pudding. Taro and yams are the main root crops grown on a rotational System; breadfruit, bananas, and coconuts are also important. All of these crops are liable to cyclone damage such as that inflicted by Cyclone Raja in December 1986. At the eastern end of the island where the coastal belt is narrow, plantations are cut into the hillside; at the western end, extensive fields of irrigated taro are planted. Fishing is limited because of the lack of a protecting reef and high seas for most of the year. Men fish in the shelter of Alofi Island, using the few boats that are owned jointly; older women fish on the reef for smaller fish. Pigs predominate in the villages, roaming around their households and on the reef where they scavenge for food; each family has its own pigs as these are the main representation of wealth. Formerly copra was sold; now the people rely for cash on the few administrative and public-works jobs, the sale of handicrafts, pensions for those over age 60, and occasional gifts from relatives in New Caledonia.

Industrial Arts. Women spend a good part of their time weaving mats and beating tapa; both these items are shipped to New Caledonia as gifts for relatives and for sale. Some of the mats are also used locally as gifts on large communal occasions.

Trade. Goods are imported from New Caledonia for sale in Futuna, or sent as gifts by relatives. Futuna's imports far outweigh its exports, especially since copra has ceased to be a marketable crop.

Division of Labor. Men cultivate the land, including both household plots and the plantations farther afield. This task requires them to clear any vegetation, turn over the soil, plant, weed, and harvest the crops; the latter job may necessitate carrying loads of taro or kape (kava) several kilometers. Men also go fishing together, though this activity is considered more like sport than work. Women look after the Household, take care of children, weave mats, and make tapa. Older women also fish on the reef. Children fetch water and act as runners between households, bearing goods and messages.

Land Tenure, The two halves of Futuna, Sigave and Alo, are distinct entities with separate land holdings; it is rare for a person to hold land in both kingdoms. Each saut or leader, is custodian of all lands in his territory, and in former times waged war in response to any violation of his lands. In each village the headman was responsible for ensuring that lands were properly used, but individual families could cultivate their household land and also use the vacant land behind the village. Some village land was maintained in production by a group of men in order to provide a bountiful supply of yams and kape for any large communal feast. Families depended on their household strip for day-to-day supplies of taro, bread-fruit, bananas, kape, and cassava. But in these days of large households, the men find it necessary to cultivate their own plantation land, and sometimes that of their wives, in order to grow enough to feed the family. Land rights are passed on to both sons and daughters, but a couple prefers to live on the man's land.


Kin Groups and Descent. Kin ties linking a large number of Futunans into overlapping social entities center on brothers and sisters. The oldest sister has certain privileges within the family group. There is a strong protective relationship Between brothers and their sisters as well as avoidance regarding certain issues with sexual implications. The privileged relationship to a father's sister (vasu ) that allows the younger person to take food from her is restricted to royal lineages. Kin groups are the basis for working parties, such as for fishing, thatching, or making a canoe. Descent is reckoned through both mothers and fathers, mainly for inheritance of land rights or to trace a relationship to a chiefly family. "Family" to a Futunan means a bilaterally extended family, consisting of a wide-ranging group of people living both on Futuna and on Wallis, as well as in New Caledonia. Relatives are recognized even though contact may not have been sustained for several years.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology is of the Hawaiian type where the terms for mother, father, brother, sister, and grandparents are extended to collaterals. Sibling terms are determined by the sex of the speaker.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is preferred between two people of the same or neighboring villages, as long as they are not too closely related. The sau or one of his councillors must approve each marriage. The young couple is likely to live with either his or her parents, and the mother-in-law feeds her new daughter-in-law well lest the latter's family criticize her.

Domestic Unit. Two or more siblings and their spouses and children are likely to share a household together with additional kin or adoptive kin. Household size averages eight persons, representing three generations as well as some Siblings of those in the older generation and their offspring. This is the main group that interacts within the village and beyond.

Inheritance. Land and property, such as kava-making equipment, canoes, and planting implements, are passed on from fathers to their children, while tapa beaters and special mats are passed on in the female line. Titles within the Tuiagaifo and Sau chiefly families are passed between two separate groups; e.g., the incumbent family passes the Tuiagaifo title to the person selected by the family group of the past incumbent.

Socialization. Children are raised within a very close Family network that consists of many people. They are carefully guarded and watched over, and not allowed to roam far from home without good reason. This pattern dominates their lives even as adults. Every Futunan is bound into a system of "Faka Futuna" or "the Futuna Way," which he or she must honor and respect. It includes obligations to the traditional leaders and to the Catholic mission as well as to senior members of the extended family. This system has been extended to New Caledonia where the number of Futunans is large enough to continue the caring and sharing tradition.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Traditionally, there were three social classes, with the sau, or chiefly group, at the head and the aliki as the assistant leader. The ordinary people were bound to their households. Kava was the classic means by which Status was expressed in villages at both the district and island levels.

Political Organization. The two polities of Futunan Society, Sigave and Alo, each have their own traditional Leadership consisting of the sau, his family, aliki and village chiefs, and their families. The rest of the population is organized by village groups, each with its own faipule (village official) and advisers, all of whom are responsible to the sau. The sau has authority over internal affairs including settling disputes and signing passports; any Futunan wishing to go overseas must seek his permission. Villages are grouped according to traditional affiliations. Futuna also has eight elected members of the territorial assembly of Wallis and Futuna. The Catholic mission is also a notable political force in the lives of Futunans, as the Bishop of Wallis and Futuna, the two sau of Futuna, the lavelua of Wallis, and the high commissioner representing France share the power of decision making affecting the lives of Wallisians and Futunans.

Social Control and Conflict. The church is a very strong agent of social control, along with the families and the faipule of each village. Moral guidance is sought from the priests and nuns, and this source of authority has dominated the lives of Futunans for more than 100 years. The staves carried by the deacons in church, used to keep the congregation awake and seated attentively during services, are but one symbol of this control. Conflict between individuals and between families is resolved through mediation by a senior family member, the faipule, or, if serious enough, by a member of the sau's family.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Traditionally, mana and tapu were Concepts that were widely observed. The main gods included Tagaloa, the sky god; Mafuike, who brought fire to the islands; Sina and the demigod Maui; and ancestral gods and spirits of animals such as Feke (octopus), Fonu (tortoise), and Tafolaa (whale). The Catholic faith has dominated the lives of Futunans for 150 years, and it has diminished though not completely replaced faith in the supernatural powers of the sau. Futunans today attend Mass and belong to various groups within the Catholic organization, though a few have expressed their dissatisfaction with the dominance that the church has over their lives. There is a church in each village, as well as several shrines, all of which are carefully tended with flowers each week. A significant though unknown proportion of people's income is donated to the church for general upkeep as well as for ideological causes.

Religious Practitioners. The Catholic priests on Futuna are both European and Wallisian, as are the nuns. Futunans train at the Pacific Theological College in Fiji to enter the priesthood.

Ceremonies. The church calendar dominates, with First Communion as well as Christmas and Easter as major social festivities. Bastille Day (14 July) and Armistice Day (11 November), as well as a day commemorating Father Chanel's beatification, are all celebrated.

Arts. Tapa making and mat weaving incorporate uniquely Futunan designs. The Futunans' fine black-ink etching on tapa is particularly distinctive. Men carve wooden staves and other objects with particular designs, mainly for sale.

Medicine. A central hospital is located in Leava, Sigave, with a clinic in Ono village and another in Poi. The medical service is staffed with a French doctor and local nursing staff. Many Futunan people also use their traditional doctors, who may be women or men. They massage and rub affected areas using local oils and leaves; they may also give medicines made of local ingredients. Pregnant women in particular visit the Futunan doctor in order to ensure a successful birth. Some love potions are also administered when requested.

Death and Afterlife. Futunans are buried according to Catholic ritual in cemeteries in the dead person's village. Every funeral is followed by a special Mass each evening for six days following the death. A large feast also marks the passing of each Futunan. Catholic beliefs in the afterlife, such as Heaven and Hell, are very much part of Futunan thinking, resembling traditional beliefs in an immortal spirit and in an afterlife in a place known as "Lagi" (meaning "sky") or "Pulotu," while "Fale Mate" (literally, "house of suffering") was a kind of hell

See alsoRotuma, Samoa, Tonga, Uvea


Burrows, Edwin C. (1936). The Ethnology of Futuna. Bernice B. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 138. Honolulu.

Kirch, Patrick (1976). "Ethno-Archeological Investigations." In "Futuna and Uvea (Western Polynesia): A Preliminary Report." Journal of the Polynesian Society 85:27-69.