South Pacific isles split over dance that Queen Elizabeth did not see
SYDNEY — A vist by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, as head of the Commonwealth, to one of the world's tiniest and poorest nations had consequences the monarch could not possibly have imagined.
Isolated from the world, the little country of Tuvalu -- a group of South Pacific islands formerly the Ellice group of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands -- all but broke apart because some islanders weren't allowed to dance for the Queen.
So angry was the snubbed group that they and their kin considered secession from Tuvalu. The Queen's visit was last year, but fury smoldered on and was only recenlty doused.
Although the unity of Tuvalu, with its 9,000 people, is once more assured, it is doubtful whether any government will try in the future to stop inhabitants of islands in the group from showing the rare dignitary who visits here their painstakingly rehearsed dance routines.
What happened was this: Customarily, dancers are paid to perform. But Tuvalu is exceedingly short of funds. To save money, the authorities decided the people of Funafuti wouldn't perform for the royal party. The wrath of the people of Funafuti island was intense.
Finance Minister Henry Naisali wouldn't budge, even though the dancers normally would have been paid about $80 each. Prime Minister Tomasi Puapua's government is wedded to a policy of economic belt-tightening in a nation that exports only small quantities of copra and still hasn't decided whether the the economic advantages of large-scale tourism are worth the social upheavals that might result.
The furious people of Funafuti dropped a bombsell when their represntatives raised the possibility of proposing secession in the little democracy's Parliament.
But ruffled feathers were smoothed and the matter fizzled out. The group of nine Polynesian atolls -- eight of them inhabited -- remains an entity.
Funafuti's secession would have caused severe administrative problems. Roughly 1 Tuvaluan in 4 lives there. It is the capital, with a cluster of small government buildins located at Fongafale.
Formerly a British colony, Tuvalu become independent in 1978.