From British daily The Independent:
King of Wallis
Published: 08 May 2007
Tomasi Kulimoetoke, farmer: born Mata-Utu, Wallis 26 July 1918; enthroned 1959 as King of Wallis; married (six children); died Mata-Utu 7 May 2007.
One of the first tasks facing President Nicolas Sarkozy is likely to be the resolution of a looming constitutional crisis in the faraway French territory of Wallis and Futuna, after the death yesterday of King Tomasi Kulimoetoke II.
Tomasi, whose formal title was the 50th Lavelua of Uvea, was foremost among three remaining monarchs in France’s overseas territories, subject to republican law but permitted to exercise customary law in the resolution of local disputes.
That prerogative repeatedly set his clan at odds with Paris, most recently in 2005 when French paramilitary police were sent to quell an attempt to oust him.
Tomasi reigned, with two other elected customary regents, over the 14,000 Wallisians and Futunans who live on a group of 20 islets situated 500 miles north-east of Fiji in the South Pacific.
Strongly dependent on French and European Union subsidies, and on money sent back by migrant workers, their sole export commodity is trocas, a seashell used for making buttons.
Elected in 1959, Tomasi, who came from a respected subsistence farming clan, immediately understood the economic advantages of remaining attached to France, of which Wallis and Futuna had become a protectorate in 1887.
In 1961 – after a referendum widely believed to have been undemocratic – he, the governor and the local bishop signed a treaty that made the archipelago France’s most distant Territoire d’Outre-Mer (Overseas Territory).
The historic vote secured rights to free education and infrastructure grants.
But King Tomasi’s greatest achievement was to gain the support of French historians and ethnologists in defence of Wallis and Futuna’s unique ethnic make-up – half-Samoan and half-Tongan.
He argued that traditional clan structures could cohabit with France’s highly centralised republican ideals, and thus secured the survival of the archipelago’s non-hereditary, aristocratic monarchy.
Thus, also, the monarch could continue to insist that his subjects dismount from their bicycles when passing his palace, and sit on the ground whenever in his presence.
Successive Supreme Administrators – French civil servants with the rank of prefect – struggled to bring to heel the excesses and favouritism of Tomasi’s clan.
Some threatened to slash French subsidies, and did so; others arranged rewards, such as appointment to the Légion d’honneur, for clan chiefs and their representatives.
In 2005, King Tomasi objected to a court ruling that his grandson, Tomasi Tuugahala, should serve 18 months in jail for the involuntary manslaughter of a pedestrian he allegedly hit after a drunken binge on New Year’s Eve.
The French authorities finally convinced King Tomasi to give him up for arrest.
After the crisis, reformist clans chose a new Lavelua, Sosefo Mautamakia. and their attempt to oust King Tomasi sparked riots which left one person dead.
When France attempted to send gendarmes from New Caledonia, Tomasi’s allies blocked the Hihifo airport runway with vehicles and tree trunks to prevent their landing.
In the past five years, due to his declining health, Tomasi’s daughter Etua had taken over his ceremonial duties.
It will now be for her to negotiate her constitutional future with the restive clans and with French authorities.
Alex Duval Smith
King of Tonga: here.
King of Tonga resists democratic reform vote: here.