A French Polynesian island nation which lies at the very Western end of the Polynesian Islands, Wallis and Futuna is made up of three main volcanic islands and a number of small islets. The islands have a population of around 15,000, with the capital Mata-Utu being the most populous area. The Dutch and the British were the first European colonisers to come across the territory in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was the French who first settled on the islands. French missionaries settled in 1837 and instilled Roman Catholicism throughout the population. In 1887 the islands became a French Protectorate and later came under the administrative control of the French colony of New Caledonia. In 1959 the islanders held a referendum on their political status and voted to become a French overseas territory, which became official in 1961.
The majority of the Wallis and Futuna Islanders are of Polynesian origin but there is a minority of French people on the islands. Much of the population of Wallis and Futuna have immigrated to New Caledonia and there are now more Wallis and Futuna islanders on New Caledonia than there are on Wallis and Futuna. Economically the island is limited to traditional subsistence agriculture and the country is reliant on aid from France to develop its infrastructure.
The culture of Wallis and Futuna is similar to that of Samoa, Tonga and other Polynesian nations in its vicinity, although the influence of both French colonialism and Roman Catholicism is evident. Wallisians and Futunans think of themselves as from separate cultures although there is much that they share in terms of cultural traditions. Festivals are manifestations of the cultural traditions still observed by the islanders and they also bring about a chance for inter-island relations to develop. The Wallis and Futuna Islanders also take part in the various Pacific arts, culture and sports events held throughout the year. The islands are featured in A History of the Pacific Islands and Pacific Island Style. Wallis and Futuna also feature in the Lonely Planet Guide to the South Pacific.