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ETHNONYMS: East Uvean, Uvean, Wallis Island

Uvea, like its twin island Futuna, is culturally and linguistically closely related to Tonga. Uvea is a volcanic high Island located 180 kilometers northeast of Futuna at 13° S and 176° W. There are close to 6,000 people in Uvea and Futuna. In 1982 there were 12,000 migrant workers from these islands in Nouméa, New Caledonia. Uvean is classified in the Eastern Polynesian Group of Austronesian languages. Settlements are now mainly along the coast. In the past, wetland taro cultivators were nucleated along coastal areas while the settlements were scattered in the more arid uplands.

Uvea is a well-watered, fertile island. Yams, taro, and breadfruit were the traditional staples, complemented by fish, pigs and chickens. Sea turtles were eaten only by the chiefs, who could also place conservation taboos on certain crops. There were irrigation works for taro in the lowlands. Artisans specialized in the three respected trades of canoe making, house building, and dye preparation. Households and Lineages engaged in ritual feasting and property exchanges with each other.

Important kin groups included patrilineages, ramages, and broad bilateral kin groups. Individuals had some freedom in the choice of a spouse. Residence was usually patrilocal, but could have been matrilocal if specific advantages warranted the deviation. Chiefs were formerly polygynous. The people of a common residence group (api ) occupied several dwellings and shared a single cook house. Uvean families were ranked according to genealogical prestige. Both noble and commoner ramages held land and comprised several households. The chiefs tended not to play a central role in either economy or ritual. The first paramount chief (aliki ) was evidently installed by the Tui Tonga of Tonga. Succession to this office was from oldest to younger brothers and then to the son of the oldest (deceased) brother. Great deference was shown the paramount chief, who was very powerful and could put his subjects to death.

Uvean religious beliefs centered on the concept of tapu or sacredness, a quality greatly revered and feared. There were originally three types of gods, hierarchically ordered by degrees of power. The more important deities had associated maraes, which were administered by the priests.

See also Futuna, Rotuma, Tonga


Burrows, E. G. (1937). The Ethnology of Uvea, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 145. Honolulu.

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u·ve·a / ˈyoōvēə/ • n. the pigmented layer of the eye, lying beneath the sclera and cornea, and comprising the iris, choroid, and ciliary body. DERIVATIVES: u·ve·al adj.

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uvea (uveal tract) (yoo-vi-ă) n. the vascular pigmented layer of the eye, which lies beneath the outer layer (sclera). It consists of the choroid, ciliary body, and iris.
uveal adj.