Ouvéa (Iaai) is everything you'd expect in a South Pacific island. Twenty-five km of unbroken white sand borders the western lagoon and extends far out from shore, giving the water a turquoise hue. The necklace of coral islands and barrier reef protecting this lagoon is unique in the Loyalties. Croissant-shaped Ouvéa is tilted, with rocky cliffs pounded by surf on the eastern ocean side of the island, but fine beaches are found here too. At one point on this narrow atoll, only 45 meters separates the two coasts. To watch the sun dip below the lagoon from anywhere along Ouvéa's western beach is a sublime experience.
Traditional circular houses with pointed thatched roofs still predominate in the villages, and the compound of each village chief on Ouvéa is surrounded by a high palisade of driftwood logs. Two of the finest of these are at St. Joseph. Due to a Polynesian invasion in the 18th century, the inhabitants of the far ends of the island (St. Joseph, Lékine, Mouli) speak the Wallisian language (Ua), while those in the center speak Iaai, the original Kanak tongue. All 3,500 Ouvéa islanders speak French as well. Ouvéa produces most of the territory's copra, and a few small industries are based on this product, including a coconut oil soap factory near the main wharf, a coconut fiber rope factory at Mouli, and a coconut oil burning electricity generator. A coconut oil-fueled desalination plant between Wadrilla and the wharf ensures a steady water supply.
On May 5, 1988, this enchanted island was the scene of the Ouvéa Massacre when 300 French police stormed a cave near Gossanah to rescue 16 gendarmes held hostage after being captured on April 22 by Kanak freedom fighters. Nineteen Kanaks died in the assault, including several who suffered extrajudicial execution at the hands of the French police after being wounded and taken prisoner. None of the hostages had been harmed. Thus Ouvéa is a symbol of martyrdom and the heroic resistance of the Kanak people to French colonialism.
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