The population is primarily Polynesian and about 98% Protestant; most are members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Congregationalist denomination. Tuvaluan, English, Samoan, and Kiribati (on the island of Nui) are spoken. Subsistence farming and fishing are the mainstays of the economy. The smallness and remoteness of the islands hinder the development of a tourist industry. The sale of postage stamps and coins accounts for the largest portion of the country's income. Remittances from overseas workers are also important. Other substantial income is received through a trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain and also supported by Japan and South Korea. Copra and fish are the main exports; food, animals, mineral fuels, machinery, and manufactured goods are imported. The main trading partners are Germany, Fiji, Italy, Japan, and China.
Tuvalu is governed under the constitution of 1978. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by the governor-general, is the head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is elected by the Parliament. Members of the 15-seat unicameral Parliament or House of Assembly (Fale I Fono) are popularly elected for four-year terms.
Capt. John Byron visited the islands in 1764 and they were administered by Britain as part of a protectorate (1892-1916) and as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony (1916-74). The colony became self-governing in 1971, and in 1974 the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status as Tuvalu. They became fully independent in 1978 and in 1979 signed a treaty of friendship with the United States, which recognized Tuvalu's possession of four small islands formerly claimed by the United States. Ionatana Ionatana, prime minister since Mar., 1999, died in Dec., 2000; the following February, Faimalaga Luka was elected to succeed him. In 2001 the government requested help from Australia and New Zealand in resettling its citizens if global warming leads to a significant rise in ocean waters; the highest point in the country is about 16 ft (5 m) above sea level. In Dec., 2001, Luka lost a no-confidence vote. Koloa Talake was chosen to succeed him, but he lost his seat in the elections in July, 2002. Saufatu Sopoanga became prime minister the following month. Sopoanga lost a no-confidence vote two years later, and in Oct., 2004, Maatia Toafa succeeded him. Following the Aug., 2006, parliamentary elections, in which all members of the government except Toafa lost their seats, Apisai Ielemia became prime minister.
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Tuvalu , formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji. Comprising four reef islands and five true atolls with a gross land area of just , it is the third-least populated independent country in the world, with only Vatican City and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. It is also the second-smallest member by population of the United Nations. In terms of physical land size, Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than the Vatican City—0.44 km²; Monaco—1.95 km² and Nauru—21 km².
The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesian people. The islands came under the UK's 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.
No other Europeans turned up again until the late 1700s when other European 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, and no settlements were 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 Funafuti and Nukulaelae, 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 British 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 Kiribati). 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 States that recognized 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.
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 in Fiji.
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.
Tuvalu's small population is distributed across 9 islands, 5 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:
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 States, 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 five meters (16 ft) above sea level, which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country (after the Maldives). 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 Zealand, Niue or the Fijian island of Kioa. 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 westerly gales and heavy rain from November to March and tropical temperatures moderated by easterly winds from March to November.
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 Taiwan 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 Zealand, and the United Kingdom and supported also by Japan and South Korea. 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 an effort to reduce its dependence on foreign aid, the government is pursuing public sector reforms, including privatization of some government functions and personnel cuts of up to 7%.
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. However, the Canadian entrepreneur who negotiated the deal, Jason Chapnik, was unable to raise the $50 million in the contracted time period, and the contract eventually fell into other hands.
Due to 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.
Tuvalu allegedly participated in Japan's vote-buying scheme at the International Whaling Commission in 2006. Greenpeace maintains that vote-buying took place and Tuvalu was one of the countries to receive economic assistance from Japan in 2006.
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 Nui. English is also an official language, but is not spoken in daily use. Parliament and official functions are conducted in Tuvaluan.
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)
Traditional music prior to European contact included poems performed in a sort of monotonal recitation, though this tradition has since become extinct , as well as work songs which the women performed to encourage the men while they worked.
Most islands have their own futi, 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 due to government subsidy.
Another important building is the falekaupule or village hall, where important matters are discussed and which is used with certain events.
The most famous form of Tuvaluan dance music, fatele, is influenced by European melody and harmony and is competitive, with each island divided into two sides or teams (called feitu's). Feitus exist not only with the dancing at fatele's (which is conducted much like a competition), but for other activities as well.
Funafuti International Airport serves the country.