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Tuvalu ( or ), formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Oceanmarker, midway between Hawaiimarker and Australia. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribatimarker, Samoamarker and Fijimarker. It comprises four reef islands and five true atolls. Its population of 11,992 makes it the third-least-populated sovereign state in the world, with only Vatican Citymarker and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. In terms of physical land size, at just Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than the Vatican Citymarker at , Monacomarker at and Nauru at .

The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesian people. The islands came under the UK'smarker sphere of influence in the late 19th century. The Ellice Islands were administered by Britain as part of a protectorate from 1892 to 1916 and as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony from 1916 to 1974. In 1974, the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status as Tuvalu, separating from the Gilbert Islands which became Kiribati upon independence. Tuvalu became fully independent within the Commonwealth in 1978.


Tuvaluans are a Polynesian people who settled the islands around 3000 years ago coming from Tonga and Samoa. During pre-European-contact times there was frequent canoe voyaging between the nearer islands. Eight of the 9 islands of Tuvalu were inhabited; thus the name, Tuvalu, means "eight standing together" in Tuvaluan. Possible evidence of fire in the Caves of Nanumanga may indicate human occupation thousands of years before that.

Tuvalu was first sighted by Europeans in 1568 with the arrival of Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira from Spainmarker who also encountered the island of Nui marker but was unable to land. The next Europeans to appear did not do so until the late 1700s when explorers reached the area. By the early 1800s, whalers were roving the Pacific though visiting Tuvalu only infrequently because of the difficulties of landing ships on the atolls. No settlements had been established by them.

Peruvian slave raiders ("blackbirders") combed the Pacific between 1862 and 1864 and Tuvalu was one of the hardest-hit Pacific island groups with over 400 people taken from Funafutimarker and Nukulaelaemarker, none of whom returned.

In 1865 the London Missionary Society, Protestant congregationalists, began their process of evangelisation of Tuvalu and the people's conversion to Christianity was complete by the 1920s . Also in the late 1800s, European traders began to live on the islands hoping to profit from local resources.

In 1892 the islands became part of the Britishmarker protectorate known as the Ellice Islands. The protectorate was incorporated into the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1916. In 1943, during World War II, Tuvalu was selected as an operations base for Allied forces battling the Japanese in the Pacific. Thousands of marines were stationed there until December 1945.

In 1974 ethnic differences within the colony caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (to become Kiribatimarker). The following year the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. Independence was granted in 1978.

Tuvalu Independence Day is celebrated on 1 October. In 1979 Tuvalu signed a treaty of friendship with the United Statesmarker that recognised Tuvalu's rightful possession of four small islands formerly claimed by the United States.

As low-lying islands, lacking a surrounding shallow shelf, the island communities of Tuvalu are especially susceptible to changes in sea level and storm patterns that hit the island undissipated. It is estimated that a sea level rise of 20–40 centimetres (8–16 inches) in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable. The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) suggests that while Tuvalu is vulnerable to climate change there are additional environmental problems such as population growth and poor coastal management that are affecting sustainable development on the island. SOPAC ranks the country as extremely vulnerable using the Environmental Vulnerability Index. While some commentators have called for the relocation of the population of Tuvalu to Australia, New Zealand, or Kioa (Fiji), the former Prime Minister Maatia Toafa said his government did not regard rising sea levels as such a threat that the entire population would need to be evacuated. In spite of persistent Internet rumours that New Zealand has agreed to accept an annual quota of 75 evacuees, the annual residence quota of 75 Tuvaluans under the Pacific Access Category (and 50 places for people from Kiribati) replaced the previous Work Schemes from the two countries and are not related to environmental concerns.


Tuvalu is a constitutional monarchy and Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II recognised as the official Queen of Tuvalu. She is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor General, who is appointed upon the advice of the Prime Minister. The local unicameral parliament, or Fale I Fono, has 15 members and is elected every four years. Its members elect a Prime Minister who is the head of government. The Cabinet is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Each island also has its own high-chief or ulu-aliki, and several sub-chiefs (alikis) and elders. The elders form together an island council of elders or te sina o fenua (literally:"grey-hairs"). In the past, another caste, namely the one of the priests (tofuga) was also amongst the decision-makers. The sina o fenua, aliki and ulu-aliki exercise informal authority on a local level. Ulu-aliki are always chosen based on hericy, and their powers are now shared with the pule o kaupule (elected village presidents; one on each atoll). There are no formal political parties and election campaigns are largely on the basis of personal/family ties and reputation.

The highest court in Tuvalu is the High Court; there are eight Island Courts with limited jurisdiction. Rulings from the High Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal of Tuvalu. From the Court of Appeal there is a right of appeal to Her Majesty in Council, i.e., the Privy Council in London.


Tuvalu has no regular military forces, and spends no money on the military. Its police force includes a Maritime Surveillance Unit for search and rescue missions and surveillance operations. The police have a Pacific-class patrol boat (Te Mataili) provided by Australia under the Pacific Patrol Boat Program for use in maritime surveillance and fishery patrol.


Map of Tuvalu

Tuvalu's small population is distributed across nine islands, five of which are atolls. The smallest island, Niulakita, was uninhabited until it was resettled by people from Niutao in 1949.

Local government districts consisting of more than one islet: Local government districts consisting of only one island:

Foreign relations

Tuvalu maintains close relations with Fijimarker, New Zealandmarker, Australia and the United Kingdommarker. It has diplomatic relations with the Republic of Chinamarker (Taiwanmarker); the ROC maintains the only resident embassy in Tuvalu and has a large assistance program in the islands. Tuvalu became a member of United Nations in 2000 and maintains a mission at the UN in New York. A major international priority for Tuvalu in the UN, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and in other international fora is promoting concern about global warming and possible sea level rise. Tuvalu advocates ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. It also is a member of the Asian Development Bank. Tuvalu is a party to a treaty of friendship with the United Statesmarker, signed soon after independence and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1983, under which the United States renounced prior territorial claims to four Tuvaluan islands under the Guano Act.


Tuvalu consists of four reef islands and five true atolls. Its small, scattered group of atolls has poor soil and a total land area of only about 26 square kilometres (less than 10 sq. mi.) making it the fourth smallest country in the world. The land is very low lying with narrow coral atolls. Funafuti is the largest atoll of the nine low reef islands and atolls that form the Tuvalu volcanic island chain. It comprises numerous islets around a central lagoon that is approximately 25.1 kilometres (15.6 mi) (N–S) by 18.4 kilometres (11.4 mi) (W-E), centred on 179°7’E and 8°30’S. An annular reef rim surrounds the lagoon, with several natural reef channels.

The highest elevation is above sea level, which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country (after the Maldivesmarker). Because of this low elevation, the islands that make up this nation may be threatened by any future sea level rise. Under such circumstances, the population may evacuate to New Zealandmarker, Niuemarker or the Fijianmarker island of Kioamarker. Additionally, Tuvalu is affected by what is known as a king tide, which can raise the sea level higher than a normal high tide. In the future, this may threaten to submerge the nation entirely. Tuvalu has very poor land and the soil is hardly usable for agriculture. There is almost no reliable supply of drinking water. Tuvalu has westerly gales and heavy rain from November to March and tropical temperatures moderated by easterly winds from March to November.


Tuvalu has almost no natural resources, and its main form of income consists of foreign aid. Virtually the only jobs in the islands that pay a steady wage or salary are with the government. Subsistence farming and fishing remain the primary economic activities, particularly off the capital island of Funafuti. Government revenues largely come from the sale of stamps and coins, fishing licences and worker remittances.

About 800 Tuvaluans previously worked in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry or aboard foreign ships as sailors. When phosphate mining ceased in Nauru, 378 Tuvaluans were stranded in the country until they were repatriated in 2006 by a joint program in which Australia, New Zealand, and the EU paid most of the cost of their return passage, and Taiwanmarker paid the back wages they were owed. Substantial income is received annually from the Tuvalu Trust Fund, which was established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealandmarker, and the United Kingdommarker and supported also by Japanmarker and South Koreamarker. This fund grew from an initial $17 million to over $35 million in 1999. The US government is also a major revenue source for Tuvalu, with 1999 payments from a 1988 treaty on fisheries at about $9 million, a total which is expected to rise annually.

In 1998, Tuvalu began deriving revenue from use of its area code for "900" lines and from the sale of its ".tv" Internet domain name. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties.

Because of the country's remoteness, tourism does not provide much income; a hundred tourists are estimated to visit Tuvalu annually. Almost all visitors are government officials, aid workers, non-governmental organization officials or consultants.


A woman from Tuvalu dated 1894

The island population has more than doubled since 1980 and was estimated to reach 11,810 in July 2006. The population of Tuvalu is primarily of Polynesian ethnicity; about 4% of the population is Micronesian. About 97% of the Tuvaluans are members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Protestant Christian church. The religion has been mixed with some elements of the indigenous religions. Other religions practised on the island include Seventh-Day Adventist (1.4%) and Bahá'í (1%). The Tuvaluan language is spoken by virtually everyone, while a language very similar to Gilbertese is spoken on Nuimarker. English is also an official language, but is not spoken in daily use. Parliament and official functions are conducted in Tuvaluan.



The traditional community system still survives to a large extent on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building or defence. The skills of a family are passed on from father to son. Most islands have their own fusi, or government owned shops. Similar to a convenience store, you can buy canned foods and bags of rice, but goods are cheaper and fusis give better prices for their own goods because of government subsidy. Another important building is the falekaupule or village hall, where important matters are discussed and which is used with certain events.


The traditional foods eaten in Tuvalu are pulaka, seafood (crab, turtle, some fish), bananas and breadfruit, coconut, and pork.Pulaka is the main source for carbohydrates. It is grown in large pits below the watertable in composted soil. Seafood is the main source of protein. Bananas and breadfruit are supplemental crops. Finally, coconut is used for its juice, making beverages and to make food tastier. Pork is eaten most with fateles (or parties with dance to celebrate certain events)


Tuvaluan is a Polynesian language of the Ellicean group spoken in Tuvalu. It is more or less distantly related to all other Polynesian languages, such as Hawaiian, Māori, Tahitian, Samoan, and Tongan, and most closely related to the languages spoken on the Polynesian Outliers in Micronesia and Northern and Central Melanesia. Tuvaluan has borrowed considerably from Samoan, the language of Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are about 13,000 Tuvaluan speakers worldwide.

Sport and leisure

A traditional sport played in Tuvalu is kilikiti, which is similar to cricket. Another sport popular and specific to Tuvalu is ano, which is played with 2 round balls of 12 cm diameter. More common sports such as football, volleyball and rugby union are also played in the country as recreational activities. Tuvalu has a national football team and competes officially with local nations, despite not being a FIFAmarker member. However, there are no records of a rugby team, in either code, and rugby remains undeveloped in the country, despite its great popularity.

There are no training facilities for any sport in the country. Tuvalu entered the Olympic Games for the first time at the 2008 summer games in Beijing, China, sending three competitors in two events.



Transport services in Tuvalu are limited. There are about eight kilometres of roads. The streets of Funafuti were paved and lit in mid-2002, and other roads are unpaved. Tuvalu is among a few countries that do not have railroads. Funafutimarker is the only port, there is also a deep-water berth in the harbour at Nukufetaumarker. , the merchant marine fleet consists of four ships of or over, totaling / . This includes two cargo ships and one passenger/cargo ship. A ferry runs between the main atolls.The only airport is Funafuti International Airportmarker; it is a tarred strip.


Education in Tuvalu is free of charge and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15 years. In 1998, the gross and net primary school enrollment rates were 100 percent. Primary school attendance rates were unavailable for Tuvalu as of 2001. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect children’s participation in school.

Climate change

At its highest, Tuvalu is only 4.5 m above sea level, and could be one of the first nations to experience the effects of sea level rise caused by climate change. Not only could parts of the island be flooded, the rising saltwater table could destroy deep rooted food crops such as coconut and taro.

In 1978, a tide gauge was installed at Funafutimarker by the University of Hawaii. It has measured a sea rise of 1.2 mm per year over 23 years—a figure consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) global mean estimate of 1 to 2 mm per year over the twentieth century. The 40 cm rise in sea level predicted by the IPCC by the end of the twenty-first century (not including potential increases in sea level rise from dynamic ice sheet behaviour) could have significant effects for Tuvalu.

This concern is compounded by the effects of subsidence—both as the islands naturally sink into the sea, and as non-natural land use (such as farming) causes compaction.

Tuvalu’s local community governance, called the Falekaupule, responds to the climate change problem with the combined efforts of several local outlying bodies. The main office, aptly named the Department of Environment, is responsible for coordinating the Non-Governmental Organizations, Religious Bodies, and Stakeholders. Each of the named groups are responsible for implementing Tuvalu’s National Adaptation Programme of Action, the main plan to adapt to the adverse affects of human use and climate change.

The state of Tuvalu has said it wants all its energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

See also


  1. Patel, S. S. 2006. A sinking feeling Nature 440:734-736
  2. Hunter, J. A. 2002. Note on Relative Sea Level Change at Funafuti, Tuvalu. Retrieved 2006-05-13.
  3. SOPAC. 2005. Tuvalu - Environmental Vulnerability Index. Retrieved 2006-05-13.
  4. Political Parties Cautious On Tuvalu-Kioa Plan, Pacific Magazine, February 21, 2006 URL Accessed 2006-05-13
  5. Kioa relocation not priority: Tuvalu PM, Tuvalu Online, February 21 2006 URL Accessed 2006-05-13
  6. Time & Tide: The islands of Tuvalu by Lonely Planet
  7. CIA World Fact Book. Retrieved 2006-05-13.
  8. Simati Faaniu and Hugh Laracy. Tuvalu: A History‎. 1983, page 84
  9. Squires, N. April 1, 2006. Testing time for tiny Tuvalu. BBC News URL Accessed 2006-05-13
  10. "Belize". 2001 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor (2002). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  11. Kennedy Warne, "Dance of a Dangerous Sea", Canadian Geographic Magazine, October 2008, p. 58
  12. Kennedy Warne, ibid, p. 61
  13. Tuvalu’s National Adaptation Programme of Action

Further reading

  • A Guide to the Birds of Fiji and Western Polynesia: Including American Samoa, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Wallis and Futuna by Dick Watling
  • Literacy, Emotion and Authority: Reading and Writing on a Polynesian Atoll by Niko Besnier
  • Lonely Planet Guide: South Pacific & Micronesia by various
  • Time & Tide: The Islands of Tuvalu by Peter Bennetts and Tony Wheeler
  • Where the Hell is Tuvalu? by Philip Ells

Clips and documentary

External links

General information
  • Tuvalu from UCB Libraries GovPubs

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