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CAPITAL: Funafuti

FLAG: The national flag has the Union Jack in the upper quarter nearest the hoist; nine yellow stars on a light blue field are arranged in the same pattern as Tuvalu's nine islands.

ANTHEM: Tuvalu mo te Atua (Tuvalu for the Almighty).

MONETARY UNIT: Both the Australian dollar (a$) and the Tuvaluan dollar (t$) of 100 cents are legal tender. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 Tuvaluan cents; 1 and 5 Tuvaluan dollars; and notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 Australian dollars. t$1 = us$0.76336 (or us$1 = t$1.31) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is being introduced, but imperial measures are still commonly employed.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; National Children's Day, first Monday in August; Tuvalu Day, 1 October; Christmas Day, 25 December; Boxing Day, 26 December. Movable holidays include Commonwealth Day (March), Queen's Official Birthday (June), and Prince of Wales's Birthday (November); movable religious holidays include Good Friday and Easter Monday.

TIME: Midnight = noon GMT.


Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands) comprises a cluster of nine islands, plus islets, located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean just south of the Equator. These remote atolls are situated about 1,050 km (650 mi) n of Suva, Fiji, and 4,000 km (2,500 mi) ne of Sydney, Australia. They lie in a 595-km-long (370-mi) chain extending over some 1,300,000 sq km (500,000 sq mi) of ocean and have a total land area of 26 sq km (10 sq mi). Comparatively, the area occupied by Tuvalu is about 0.1 times the size of Washington, D.C. Tuvalu has a coastline of 24 km (15 mi).

Tuvalu's capital city, Funafuti is located on the island of Funafuti.


Tuvalu consists entirely of low-lying coral atolls, none of which is more than 5 m (16 ft) above sea level; few of the atolls are more than 0.8 km (0.5 mi) wide. The islands are coral reefs on the outer arc of ridges formed by pressure from the Central Pacific against the ancient Australian landmass. On five islands, the reefs enclose sizable lagoons; the others are mere pinnacles rising abruptly from the ocean floor. Only two of the islands, Funafuti and Nukufetau, have natural harbors for oceangoing ships. There are no rivers on the islands.


Tuvalu has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation. The annual mean temperature of 30°c (86°f) is moderated by trade winds from the east. Rainfall averages over 355 cm (140 in), with most rain falling between November and February. Although the islands lie north of the main cyclone belt, Funafuti was devastated in 1894, 1972, and 1990.


The surrounding sea is rich in flora and fauna, but land vegetation is limited to coconut palm, pandanus, and imported fruit trees. Pigs, fowl, and dogs, all of which were imported in the 19th century, flourish on the islands. The only indigenous mammal is the Polynesian rat. Birds include reef herons, terns, and noddies. There are 22 known species of butterfly and moth.


Environmental dangers include uncontrolled spread of the crown of thorns starfish, which flourishes in deepened channels and is destructive to coral reefs; erosion of beachheads from the use of sand for building materials; and excessive clearance of forest undergrowth for firewood. About 40% of Funafuti is uninhabitable because the United Kingdom authorized the United States to dig an airstrip out of the coral bed during World War II. Global warming and the related rise of sea levels are also a significant environmental concern for Tuvalu's residents. The encroachment of sea water also poses a threat of contamination to the nation's limited water supply, whose purity is already at risk due to untreated sewage and the by-products of the mining industry and farming. Natural hazards include earthquakes, cyclones, and volcanic activity.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 1 species of bird, 1 type of reptile, 5 species of fish, and 1 type of mollusk. Current fishing methods threaten Tuvalu's marine life. The green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, bay shark, and the leatherback turtle are endangered.


The population of Tuvalu in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 10,000, which placed it at number 192 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 6% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 36% of the population under 15 years of age. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be less that 0.5%, due to ongoing emigration. The projected population for the year 2025 was 14,000. The population density was 386 per sq km (1,000 per sq mi). Population is distributed among the islands as follows: Vaitupu (approximately 15%), Niutao (11%), and Nanumea (11%), with the remaining 63% divided among Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Nui, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita (formerly uninhabited).

The UN estimated that 47% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.51%. The capital city, Funafuti, had a population of 6,000 in that year.


During the 19th century, recruitment of Tuvaluans to work on plantations in other Pacific islands, Australia, and South America reduced the resident population from about 20,000 to 3,000. Migrants account for about 3% of the total population. A steady rate of emigration has resulted in little population growth over the past decade. The net migration rate was zero in 1999 and in 2005. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


Apart from a few Europeans, the islanders are almost entirely Polynesian (96%) and have strong ties with the Samoans and Tokelauans. There is no evidence of pre-Polynesian settlement. Language and tradition indicate that the Tuvaluans were part of a Samoan-Tongan migration from the 14th through the 17th century.


English and Tuvaluan, a Polynesian tongue related closely to Samoan, are the principal languages. A Gilbertese dialect (Kiribati) is spoken on Nui.


In 1865, a member of the London Missionary Society reached Tuvalu from Samoa and Samoan pastors were sent to the islands. The Tuvaluans rapidly embraced the Christian faith and about 91% of them are Protestant members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Congregationalist group. Seventh-Day Adventists account for 3% of the population, Baha'is for 3%, Jehovah's Witnesses for 2%, and Catholics for 1%. There are also small numbers of Muslims, Baptists, Mormons, and atheists.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state; however, the government seems to favor Christian practices, even by opening sessions of parliament with Christian prayer. Traditional chiefs from all of the nine island groups are members of the Church of Tuvalu. Religious groups are required to register with the government and may be prosecuted for failure to due so. A group must have more than 50 members in order to register.


Transportation is inadequate. Most roads are little more than tracks, although Funafuti has about 19.5 km (12.1 mi) of coral-impacted roads for use by the island's few cars and trucks. Funafuti and Nukufetau are the only seaports, used chiefly by freighters in the copra trade. Ships drawing up to 9 m (30 ft) can dock in Funafuti harbor at a deepwater wharf completed in 1980. In 2005, Tuvalu had a merchant fleet of 23 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 54,993 GRT. All the islands are served by Tuvalu's one inter-island ferry. As of 2004, Funafuti had one lone airport, a grass strip that cannot be used for jet aircraft.


The islands were probably settled between the 14th and 17th centuries by Polynesians drifting west with prevailing winds from Samoa and other large islands. The first European to discover Tuvalu is thought to have been the Spanish navigator çlvaro de Mendaa de Neyra, who sighted Nui in 1568 and Niulakita in 1595. Further European contact was not made until the end of the 18th century. Between 1850 and 1875, the islands were raided by ships forcibly recruiting plantation workers for South America, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, and Queensland. To help suppress such abuses, the Office of British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific was created in 1877.

In 1892, after ascertaining the inhabitants' wishes, the United Kingdom proclaimed the Ellice Islands (as Tuvalu was then known), together with the Gilberts, as a British protectorate. After further consultation, the protectorate became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1916. After the Japanese occupied the Gilberts in 1942, US forces occupied the Ellice group in 1943 and drove the Japanese out of the Gilberts. After the war, the ethnic differences between the Micronesians of the Gilberts and the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands led the Ellice Islanders to demand separation. In 1973, a British commissioner appointed to examine the situation recommended administrative separation of the two island groups. The British government agreed, provided that the Ellice Islanders declared their wishes by referendum. The vote, held during August-September 1974 with UN observers in attendance, produced an overwhelming majority of 3,799293 for separation. Accordingly, on 1 October 1975, the Ellice Islands were established as the separate British colony of Tuvalu, and a ministerial system was instituted. Pursuant to a constitutional conference held at London in February 1978, Tuvalu became an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 October 1979. Sir Fiatau Penitala Teo became Tuvalu's first governor-general, and Toaripi Lauti, chief minister at the time of independence, took office as Tuvalu's first prime minister. Following new elections in September 1981, Tomasi Puapua, who was reelected in September 1985, succeeded Lauti in office. In March 1986, Tupua Leupena replaced Sir Fiatau Penitala Teo as governor-general. In a poll held that same year, Tuvaluans rejected the idea that Tuvalu should become a republic. As a result of the 1989 general election the parliament elected Bikenibeu Paeniu as prime minister in September 1989. In the same election, Naama Latasi became the first woman to serve in Tuvalu's parliament.

In the 1993 legislative elections Paeniu and Puapua, the man who he replaced as prime minister, each received six votes from the newly elected 12-member parliament. A second round of votes were held in December that year, from which Puapua withdrew, and Kamuta Latasi was elected prime minister. In 1994 Latasi spearheaded a movement to remove the British Union Jack from the country's flag as a symbolic gesture of independence. In 1995, after conservative French President Jacques Chirac announced his country's intention to conduct above-ground nuclear tests in the South Pacific, Tuvalu emerged as a regional leader in the highly vocal opposition.

In April 1997 the Union Jack was restored as part of Tuvalu's national flag by a vote of seven to five in the Parliament. Newly reelected Prime Minister Bikenibeau Paeniu restored the former flag design, which Latasi had changed without consideration of the views of Tuvalu's citizens. Tuvalu, Nauru, and Kiribati aligned with the Cook Islands and Niue to put pressure on Australian production of "greenhouse gases." These low-lying island nations are particularly vulnerable to future global warming. Already flooding in stormy weather, they pressed for a worldwide cut of 20% of 1990 emission levels by 2005. Australia rejected the proposal, citing 90,000 jobs would be lost if Australia was forced to reduce emissions. None of Tuvalu's islands rise more than 16 feet (5 m) above sea level, and their future existence may be imperiled.

In 1998 Tuvalu began selling Internet addresses in its TV domain, i.e., all Tuvaluan Internet addresses end with the letters "tv."

By April 1999 there was growing dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Paeniu's leadership. Paeniu was forced to give up his office after a no confidence vote of parliament. On 27 April 1999 Ionatana Ionatana, former Minister of Education, was elected as prime minister by the 12-member parliament.

In August 1999 Tuvalu sought economic aid as it suffered through a severe drought. Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Britain promised assistance to ease the water shortage with desalination plants. Japan agreed to provide the plants; New Zealand would pay to transport them. Australia would provide technical assistance toward formulating water policies.

Reportedly, Tuvalu licensed its dot-tv domain for us$50 million over 10 years to an Internet incubator. In February 2000 Prime Minister Ionatana received the first installment of the licensing deal, us$20 million, and invested it in trust funds. In the continuing dispute with Britain over Tuvaluan separation with the Gilberts (Kiribati), Ionatana suggested that Tuvalu become a republic. In 2000 Tuvalu was admitted to the United Nations.

On 9 December 2000, Ionatana collapsed from cardiac arrest and died. Tuvalu had 4 prime ministers from 2000 to 2002. Faimalaga Luka, who was elected prime minister in February 2001, was replaced by Koloa Talake in December 2001 after a vote of no confidence. Saufatu Sopoanga became prime minister in August 2002 after general elections were held on 25 July. The elections and appointment of Sopoanga were expected to herald a period of stability in Tuvalu after Ionatana's death. However, Sopoanga's majority was by one seat. When the seat of Nanumea was declared vacant after the Chief Justice ruled that a government member of parliament had lodged his nomination papers after the legal deadline and a second seat held by the government became vacant following the death of the parliamentary speaker, a by-election was called. After the by-election Sopoanga did not have a majority. Sopoanga was defeated 86 in the 15-seat parliament, with one absentee. His defeat resulted mainly from Parliament Speaker Otinielu Tausi's joining the opposition camp because of his disagreement with Sopoanga's financial policies. Following this noconfidence vote on 25 August 2004, Saufatu Sopoanga resigned his parliamentary seat on 27 August 2004.

Deputy Prime Minister Maatia Toafa succeeded Sopoanga in an acting capacity on 27 August 2004. After having earlier resigned as prime minister, Sopoanga won the by-election on Nukufetau. He did not seek reelection for prime minister, but supported Toafa. Toafa was confirmed as Tuvalu's ninth prime minister in a Parliamentary election (87 vote) on 11 October 2004. He is the first prime minister of Tuvalu to hail from the island of Nanumea, the most northern of the group. In June 2005, Toafa lost one of his key allies with the resignation of Sio Patiale for medical reasons.


Tuvalu is an independent constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the British monarch, whose representative on the islands is the governor-general, a Tuvaluan who has the power to convene and dissolve parliament (Filoimea Telito since 15 April 2005) There is a unicameral legislature, or Fale I Fono, the House of Assembly, with 15 members elected to four-year terms by universal adult suffrage. Seven islands elect two members each and one island elects one member. The prime minister and deputy prime minister are elected by and from the members of parliament. The cabinet is headed by the prime minister and has up to five ministers (all House members). Suffrage is 18 years of age. An election for prime minister was last held 11 October 2004, the next was to be held following parliamentary elections in 2006.


There are no political parties, and political life and elections are dominated by personalities. Small island constituencies with a few hundred kin-related electors judge the leaders by their service to the community.


Local administration by elected island councils was established following the creation of the protectorate in 1892. Local governments were established on the eight inhabited islands by a 1966 ordinance that provided the framework for a policy aimed at financing local services at the island level. Funafuti's town council and the other seven island councils each consist of six elected members, including a president. Under the Falekapule Act of 1997, increasing power devolved from the central government to the island councils.


District magistrates were established with the protectorate in 1892, and native courts have observed a simple code of law based on mission legislation and traditional councils. Eight island courts (with limited jurisdiction) were constituted in 1965 to deal with land disputes, among other local matters. In 1975 a High Court of Justice was set up to hear appeals from district courts. Appeals from the High Court may go to the Court of Appeals in Fiji and ultimately to the UK Privy Council in London. In the High Court a chief justice visits twice a year to preside over its sessions.

The right to a fair public trial is respected in practice. Services of the public defender are available to all Tuvaluans free of charge. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses, present evidence, and to appeal. The judiciary is independent and free of governmental interference.


Tuvalu has no armed forces except for the local police, which includes a maritime surveillance unit. For defense the islands rely on Australian-trained volunteers from Fiji and Papua New Guinea.


Tuvalu became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations on 1 September 2000, and the 189th member of the United Nations on 5 September 2000. Tuvalu serves on the FAO, IMO, ITU, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, and the WHO. The country is also part of the Asian Development Bank, the ACP Group, the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement (Sparteca), the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and the Pacific Island Forum (formally called the South Pacific Forum).

In 1979, Tuvalu signed a treaty of friendship with the United States, which in 1983 formally dropped its prior claim to four of the nine islands. Tuvalu opposes French nuclear testing in the South Pacific and signed the 1985 Rarotonga Agreement declaring the region a nuclear-weapons-free zone. In environmental cooperation, Tuvalu is part of the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.


Prime Minister Toaripi Lauti noted at the time of independence (1979) that all Tuvalu has is sun and a portion of the Pacific. Economic life is simple, but there is no extreme poverty. Subsistence is based on intensive use of limited resources, namely coconuts and fish; copra is the only cash crop. The sale of stamps and coins and worker remittances were the primary sources of government revenue in the mid-2000s. About 1,000 Tuvaluans work in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry. The islands are too small and too remote for development of a tourist industry. Fewer than 1,000 visitors visit the island annually, most attached to international aid delegations. However, the largest export sector is tourism, which in 2003 accounted for 34.8% of total exports of goods and services. Its vulnerability to external shocks includes the real possibility that the nine low-lying coral islands that constitute the country could disappear beneath a rising ocean level as one of the effects of global warming. Already, thousands in this rather densely populated country have been displaced by ocean swamping parts of the land.

In the meantime, the economy has been kept afloat by two more fortunate developments: the success of the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) and proceeds from the sale of Tuvalu's internet address, ".tv." The Trust Fund was set up in 1987 with a$27 million derived from contributions from Tuvalu, Australia (the largest donor at a$8 million), New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, with smaller grants from Japan and South Korea. Helped by occasional lump sum contributions from Australia, and modest withdrawals by Tuvalu, the TTF had grown to a$37 million by 1999. The TTF was valued at more than a$70 million in 2006. The government derives about one-fourth of its revenues from returns on Trust Fund investments. More unique are the profits the government has been able to derive from its internet domain name. In 1990, the government leased the right to the suffix. tv to Idealab, a California company, for a$90 million over 12 years, retaining a 20% share in the. tv Corporation. Some of the funds generated have been put in other investments and some have been used for infrastructure projects like airport development, electrification, and the construction of roads, office buildings and hospitals. The corporation. tv became a major shareholder in Air Fiji, which has exclusive flying rights to Tuvalu. In January 2002. tv Corp. became a wholly owned subsidiary of VeriSign Corp., which bought it for us$45 million in an agreement by which Tuvalu maintains control of the management of its domain name. Returns from. tv Corp. have been highly variable. The United Nations ranks Tuvalu among the least-developed countries.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Tuvalu's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at us$12.2 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at us$1,100. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3%. The average inflation rate in 2000 was 5%.


The estimated workforce numbered 7,000 in 2001. The economy relies primarily on subsistence ventures including fishing, and gathering coconuts. Many laborers work abroad and send wages home. In Funafuti, the government-controlled philately bureau is the largest single employer, with a staff of several dozen workers. There is no data on Tuvalu's unemployment rate. The nation's only trade union, the Tuvalu Seamen's Union, has about 600 members who work abroad on foreign merchant vessels. The nearly 1,000 public employees in Tuvalu were not unionized as of 2002, but do belong to associations. The law protects the right to strike, but no strike has ever occurred.

The minimum working age is 14 (15 for industrial employment). Generally children do not work outside of the traditional economy. The minimum age for shipboard employment is 18. As of 2002, the biweekly minimum wage was us$75.66. The law sets the workday at eight hours. Basic health and safety standards, such as clean drinking water, are mandated by law but irregularly enforced.


Although agriculture is the principal occupation, it contributes only 26% to the GDP. Agriculture is limited because of poor soil quality (sand and rock fragments), uncertain rains, and primitive catchment. Coconuts form the basis of both subsistence and cash cropping; the coconut yield in 2004 was about 1,600 tons. Other food crops are pulaka (taro), pandanus fruit, bananas, and papayas.


The Agricultural Division, based on Vaitupu, has attempted to improve the quality and quantity of livestock to lessen the islands' dependency on imports. Pigs and fowl, which were imported in the 19th century, have been supplanted by goats and rabbits. In 2005, there were some 45,000 chickens and 13,500 pigs on the islands. Honey is also produced.


Sea fishing, especially for tuna and turtle, is excellent. Although fishing is mainly a subsistence occupation, fish is sold in the capital, and bêche-de-mer is exported. The fish catch in 2003 was 1,505 tons, up from around 500 tons annually between 1997 and 2001. Japanese aid in 1982 provided a commercial fishing vessel for the islands. The Republic of Korea and Taiwan are both licensed to fish within the territorial waters of Tuvalu. In October 1986, Tuvalu, along with several other Pacific island nations, signed an agreement with the United States giving US tuna boats the right to fish its offshore waters. The sale of fishing licenses annually contributes about a$80,000 to the government's revenues. Fishery exports amounted to us$301,000 in 2003.


There is little useful timber on the islands.


There was no commercial mining.


International aid by UNDP and the European Development Fund is helping to develop electrical power. Funafuti has a limited amount of electricity to operate its meteorological and broadcasting stations and for use by the hospital and hotel; very few private households have electrical service. Installed electrical capacity totaled 2,600 kW in 1990. Both production and consumption of electricity amounted to 3,000,000 kWh, or 330 kWh per capita, in 1995. The Tuvalu Solar Electric Cooperative Society, formed in 1984, provides a limited supply of photovoltaic electricity.


There is no industry apart from handicrafts, baking, and small-scale construction; the islands lack the population, capital, and resources to make commercial enterprises cost effective. In 1995, the latest year for which data was available, manufacturing accounted for 3% of GDP and construction about 14%. With the utilities sector, industry accounted for 19%of GDP. In recent years, construction has particularly benefited from the windfalls of money the government has through the. tv Corporation and related ventures.


There is no advanced science and technology except for that imported under foreign aid programs.


The local economy is based primarily on agriculture, which employs a majority of the resident population. Most residents of smaller villages and islands can grow or create their own necessary goods. Barter remains an important part of this subsistence economy. In larger communities, cooperative societies dominate commercial life, controlling almost all retail outlets, the marketing of local handicrafts, and the supply of fish to the capital. Offices are open from 7:30 am to 4:15 pm, Monday through Thursday, and from 7:30 am until 12:45 pm on Friday.


Copra, the main cash crop, took many years to recover from the 1972 hurricane and has been affected by fluctuating market prices (although there is a subsidy to producers). Other exports include handicrafts and postage stamps. Most food, fuel, and manufactured goods are imported. Tuvalu's principal export partners in 2004 were: Germany (56.5%), Fiji (14.3%), Italy (10.9%), the United Kingdom (7.7%), and Poland (4.9%). The principal import

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 1.1 8.1 -7.0
United Kingdom 0.9 0.9
Spain 0.1 0.1
() data not available or not significant.

partners in 2004 were: Fiji (50.2%), Japan (18.1%), Australia (9.6%), China (8%), and New Zealand (5.5%).


In 2004, Tuvalu's exports were valued at an estimated us$1 million, while imports were valued at us$31 million. Tuvalu's main economic aid donors are Australia, Japan, and the United States. Official development assistance (ODA) net inflows amounted to us$8 million in 2004.


The Bank of Tuvalu was founded in Funafuti in 1980 and has branches on all the islands. The bank is jointly owned by the Tuvalu government (75%) and by Barclays Bank, which was responsible for its operation until mid-1985.

In 1995, the government bought Westpac's 40% shareholding in the National Bank of Tuvalu and now owns the bank outright. Westpac has managed the bank since it was established in 1980 and is expected to provide an advisory support service.


Insurance plays a minimal role in Tuvaluan life.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2000 Tuvalu's central government took in revenues of approximately us$22.5 million and had expenditures of us$11.2 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately us$11.3 million.


Revenue is obtained principally by means of indirect taxation: stamp sales, the copra export tax, fishing licenses, telephone line leasing, earnings from the Tuvalu Trust Fund, and profits from. tv Corporation, the enterprise set up in 1990 through a leasing arrangement with Idealab, a California corporation, to market the country's internet address,. tv.

The personal income tax rate on chargeable income is 30%. The company income tax rate on chargeable income is also 30%, down from 40%. The income of both nonresidents and foreign resident companies is taxed at a flat rate of 40%. There are a variety of sales taxes applied to a variety of goods and services. Island councils also levy a head tax and a land tax based on territorial extent and soil fertility.


Since a single-line tariff was implemented on 1 January 1975, trade preferences are no longer granted to imports from Commonwealth countries. Tariffs, applying mostly to private imports, are levied as a source of revenue. Most duties are ad valorem, with specific duties on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, certain chemicals, petroleum, cinematographic film, and some other goods.


The cash economy is not sufficiently developed to attract substantial foreign investment. In 1981, the government established the Business Development Advisory Board to promote local and foreign investment in the Tuvalu economy; in 1993, the board became the Development Bank of Tuvalu, the country's only commercial bank. UNCTAD reported that the annual flow of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Tuvalu for 1997 and 1998 was no more than us$100,000, zero for 1999, us$100,000 in 2000, and zero again in 2001. In 2004, net FDI inflow amounted to us$8.5 million. More important ate the government's returns on its outward investments through the Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) and the. tv Corporation, returns on which are used to meet government expenses and invest in infrastructural development, lessening dependence on external aid. Profits from the. tv Corporation, for instance, were used to pay the country's UN dues, build a school and improve roads. The TTF is the leading source of revenue, regularly supplying about one-fourth of the government's budget, and is reported to have increased from its original a$27 million capitalization in 1987 to over a$70 million in 2006.


Development aid, which rose rapidly during the 1960s, peaked at independence in 1979, when the United Kingdom undertook to provide £6 million. The Tuvalu Trust Fund (TTF) was established in 1987 with a$27 million. The Fund receives contributions from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan, Korea, and Tuvalu itself. The net income is paid to the Tuvalu government annually. As of 2006, the Fund amounted to more than a$70 million. In 1990, the government discovered a very profitable, if variable, source of income in leasing its internet domain address,. tv, to a California company, Idealab, and then retaining a 20% share in. tv Corporation that was established to market the suffix. Besides direct lease payments and dividends from its operations, the country stands to gain profits from other enterprises in which the corporation invests. The corporation,. tv, owns a major share, for instance, of Air Fiji which has exclusive rights on flights to Tuvalu. Unlike the prudently managed TTF, however, income from. tv Corp. is highly variable, presenting potential problems for rational budgeting. Due mainly to income received by from Tuvalu fishermen working for non-Tuvalu operations, the country GNP's is considerably higher than its GDP. Fishing and telecommunications license fees are an increasingly important source of government revenue, as are remittances from workers overseas, official transfers, and revenue from overseas investments.

In 2002, the government announced the Island Development Program (IDP) designed to reduce the disparity between household income on the main island, Funafuti, and the outer islands, and thereby slow the migration to the capital city. The program centers around the creation of a trust fund, the Falekanpule Trust Fund (FTF), modeled on the successful TFF. The FTF was capitalized at us$8.2 million, contributed by the government and donor countries (principally New Zealand and Australia). Four types of policies are to be followed to achieve IDP goals: 1) decentralization of administration; 2) improvement of public service delivery; 3) promotion of small business development, and 4) a sustained augmentation of money available for the IDP through the prudent management of the FTF. In the first distribution of earnings from the FTF, the island councils were each given us$318,000 for development projects, and us$104,000 was allocated to a buffer account.

All development efforts in Tuvalu are overshadowed by the real possibility that an increase in global warming that ends up raising normal sea level could mean the disappearance altogether of the nine low-lying coral islands that constitute the country. The government has consequently pushed hard on two fronts: urging industrialized countries to ratify and adhere to the Kyoto Protocol on limiting greenhouse gasses, and, in other countries, particularly, Australia, to have a plan for accepting displaced Tuvaluans.


Tuvaluans cling strongly to their traditional way of life. Villages are organized on a communal rather than a clan basis and have a customary system of social welfare. Young men's clubs and women's committees are standard features of social life, concerning themselves with sailing, fishing, crafts, and child welfare.

Women generally play a subordinate role within the family and society at large. Working women are primarily concentrated in the education and health sectors. Violence against women and domestic abuse are not widespread problems. Children's welfare is protected, and free medical care is provided until 18 years of age.

Human rights are well respected in Tuvalu. Serious crime is virtually nonexistent, and most prisoners are held for one night for offenses such as public drunkenness.


There are no serious tropical diseases on the islands except for a dwindling number of leprosy and dysentery cases. In 2004, there were an estimated 57 physicians, 277 nurses, 96 midwives, and 19 dentists per 100,000 people. Approximately 85% of the population had access to sanitation, and the entire population had access to safe water.

The infant mortality rate was estimated at 20.03 per 1,000 live births in 2005. In the same year, the fertility rate was an estimated 3.1 per 1,000 people. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 21.4 and 7.5 per 1,000 people. Immunization rates for a child under one were as follows: diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 82%; polio, 92%; measles, 94%; and tuberculosis, 88%. About 49% of children under one had been immunized for hepatitis B. The average life expectancy was estimated at 68.01 years. Malaria was one of the most reported diseases.


Most islanders live in small villages and provide their own housing from local materials. After the 1972 hurricane, Funafuti was rebuilt with imported permanent materials, but there is still a critical housing shortage on Funafuti and Vaitupu. Government-built housing is largely limited to that provided for civil servants. At the 2002 census, the housing stock stood at about 1,568 houses. About 640 houses, or 40% of the housing stock, are on Funafuti. Niulakita only reported eight houses at the census. About 74% of all houses are single-family permanent structures. These are made of wood or concrete or both. A little over 17% of all homes are of traditional construction, primarily with thatch and mud walls and thatched or iron-sheeted roofs. About 22% of the housing stock was between 21 and 50 years old. Another 26% was between 11 and 20 years old. Only about 30% of all houses had an indoor flush toilet. About 89% of all households had kerosene stoves for cooking. Only 40 households had microwave ovens.


All children receive free primary education from the age of seven. Education is compulsory for 10 years. The Tuvaluan school system has seven years of primary and six years of secondary education. Secondary education is provided at Motufoua, a former church school on Vaitupu now jointly administered by the government. In 2004, there were 2,010 students enrolled in primary schools with a student-teacher ratio of about 24:1. The same year, there were about 446 students enrolled in secondary schools with a student-teacher ration of 11:1.

Tuvalu Marine School was opened in 1979 with Australian aid. In the same year, the University of the South Pacific (Fiji) established an extension center at Funafuti. The Tuvalu Technical Education Center offers technical and vocational training for adults.


The first book published in Tuvalu was the Bible, in 1977. The National Library and Archives of Tuvalu is located on Funafuti; documents from parliamentary proceedings are collected there. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning maintains a small depository library for the Asian Development Bank.


In 2002, there were 700 mainline telephones in use nationwide. As of 2004, there were no registered mobile phone subscribers. The government-owned Tuvalu Broadcasting Service, on Funafuti, transmits daily in Tuvaluan and also broadcasts news in English. The only radio station in the country was converted from government owned to public corporation status in the form of the Tuvalu Media Corporation in 2001. According to the charter, the secretary to government serves as the chairman of the board, and the prime minister's duties include oversight of the TMC. There is no national television station, but some islanders own satellite dishes to receive foreign broadcasts. Internet access is available through the management of the Office of the Prime Minster and the Department of Telecommunications. In 2002, there were about 1,300 Internet users.

There is no commercial press, but Tuvalu Echoes (2002 circulation, 250) is published biweekly by the government. Other local publications are produced by the churches or the government. The government is reported to respect freedom of speech and of the press.


Apart from cooperative societies and local traditional bodies connected with island councils, there are few organizations. Organized youth groups include the Boy's Brigade, the Tuvalu Youth Fellowship and Pathfinder, and Girl Guide and Boy Scout troops. The Tuvalu Amateur Sports Association and the Pacific Red Cross are also notable. The Tuvalu Association of Nongovernmental Organizations is an umbrella group that provides a network for several religious organizations and some political and human rights advocacy groups. The National Council of Women of Tuvalu serves as an umbrella organization for women's cooperatives.


Tuvalu's remoteness has discouraged tourism; the few visitors are on commercial or official business. The many atolls, flora and fauna, and the World War II remains are the primary attractions of the islands. In 2003, about 1,300 tourists visited Tuvalu; half of the visitors were there on business. A valid passport, onward/return ticket and proof of sufficient funds are required to enter Tuvalu. Visitor permits are issued upon arrival and are valid for up to three months.


Tuvalu's first prime minister was Toaripi Lauti (b.Papua New Guinea, 1928). He later became governor-general of Tuvalu. Sir Tomasi Puapua (b.1938) was prime minister from 198189, and the governor-general from 19982003. Faimalaga Luka (19402005) was governor-general (200305) and prime minister of Tuvalu (2001).


Tuvalu has no territories or colonies.


Craig, Robert D. Historical Dictionary of Polynesia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2002.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38th ed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

Lockwood, Victoria S. (ed.). Globalization and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2004.

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Tuvalu is an island group of 5 atolls (coral islands consisting of a reef surrounding a lagoon) and 4 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It is located midway between Australia and Hawaii. The island chain stretches some 676 kilometers (420 miles) from the southern island of Niulakita to the northern-most island of Nanumea and covers 757,000 square kilometers (292,278 square miles) of ocean, but it has a total land area of only 26 square kilometers (10 square miles), including 24 kilometers (15 miles) of coastline. Tuvalu's land area is one-tenth the size of the city of Washington, D.C., making it one of the smallest nations in the world. Funafuti, the capital and largest city, is located on the islet of Fongafale in the Funafuti Atoll. The nation's largest island is Vaitupu at 4.9 square kilometers (1.89 square miles) and the smallest is Niulakita at 0.41 square kilometers (0.16 square miles). All of Tuvalu is less than 4.5 meters (15 feet) above sea-level. Due to environmental factors such as rising ocean levels and soil erosion, Tuvalu is slowly shrinking in land mass at a rate of 2 millimeters per year. It is expected that some time in the future Tuvalu will be entirely underwater.


The population of Tuvalu was estimated at 10,838 in July of 2000, up from 8,229 in 1985 and 9,043 in 1991. The current annual population growth rate is 1.41 percent, which would result in a population of 12,600 by 2010. However, the loss of island territory has spurred many Tuvaluans to abandon their homes to start over in New Zealand, a population shift that is certain to become more pronounced as the islands gradually disappear underwater. New Zealand has agreed to take in the entire Tuvaluan population as "environmental refugees" at a rate of 60 people per year. The birth rate is 21.78 births per 1,000 population or 3.11 children born per woman. The death rate is 7.66 deaths per 1,000 population.

Most Tuvaluans are young. Some 34 percent of the population is younger than age 15, while just 5 percent is over age 65. Most Tuvaluans are ethnically Polynesian (96 percent), but the inhabitants of the island of Nui are Micronesian. The population is mainly urban and more than half live on the islet of Fongafale. This has led to a high population density in the area. Partially because of sanitation problems caused by the lack of fresh water, Tuvalu has a high infant mortality rate (23.3 deaths per 1,000 live births).


A tiny nation with a tiny economy, Tuvalu spent much of its history under the control of foreign powers. The islands were originally populated by immigrants from other South Pacific islands nearly 2,000 years ago. Later, Europeans seized many of the islands' inhabitants to serve as slaves; during the 19th century, slave traders from South America reduced Tuvalu's population by nearly 80 percent. Efforts to harvest copra (dried coconut meat which produces coconut oil) and mine guano (seafowl excrement used as fertilizer) led the United States to claim the 4 southern islands in 1856 and the British to claim the northern territory in 1892 as part of its Gilbert Islands Protectorate. Many Tuvaluans emigrated to the larger Gilbert Islands to find employment, especially after World War II. In 1974, Tuvaluans voted for independence from the other Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati). Tuvalu became independent from the British Commonwealth in 1978, but the new nation possessed few economic resources. In 1979, the United States relinquished its claim to the 4 southern islands.

Even among the developing nations of the South Pacific, Tuvalu's economy is relatively undeveloped. The bulk of the nation's economy is based on subsistence farming and fishing. However, the soil is poor and there are no natural sources of fresh water. This has created pressure for the limited arable land. The only significant cash export is copra, although the government derives funds from the overseas sale of stamps and coins to collectors and there is limited export of garments. There is little unemployment in the nation because of the prevalence of subsistence farming (unemployment hovers around 4 percent). The nation's main port is located in Funafuti and a major harbor dredging in 1980 made the port accessible to deep-draft ocean vessels.

During the latter part of the twentieth century, some 1,000 Tuvaluans worked in the phosphate mines in the island nation of Nauru and their remittances (money sent home to family or friends) contributed substantially to the nation's economy. However, by the turn of the century, the phosphate industry was in decline in Nauru and the government began repatriating (returning to their home-land) Tuvaluans. Many Tuvaluans are employed as sailors on foreign-based ships and also contribute remittances.

Until the year 2000, the principal source of foreign revenue for Tuvalu was international aid. In 1987, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom established a US$17 million trust fund for the territory. Later, Japan and South Korea also made contributions. Tuvaluan governments have only cautiously made withdrawals from the fund and generally adopted a conservative investment strategy which has substantially grown the fund. By 1999, the fund was valued at US$35 million. In addition, the United States makes payments to Tuvalu for fishing rights under the terms of a 1988 treaty between the 2 nations. In 1999, these payments totaled US$9 million.

The government has traditionally played a major role in the economy and controls many of the main economic sectors. In an effort to improve the economy, the government has undertaken a variety of reforms, including the privatization of many functions and personnel cuts of 7 percent. These reforms are especially significant in light of the fact that almost 20 percent of the Tuvaluan workforce is employed by the government. To raise revenue, the government began licensing Tuvalu's area code of 688 to international companies to use for "900" number calls in 1998. The arrangement has generated US$1.2 million per year. After it was discovered that a Hong Kong company was using the number for adult businesses, the overwhelmingly Protestant population of Tuvalu forced the government to revoke the licenses. In 1998, the government negotiated a contract to lease its Internet domain name ".tv" to companies in exchange for an estimated US$50 million over the next decade. Under the terms of the agreement, Tuvalu will receive a minimum of US$4 million annually for 10 years. These new sources of income could triple Tuvalu's GDP.


The first parliamentary elections in the independent nation of Tuvalu were held in 1981, and the nation is now governed by a revised constitution which was adopted in 1986. Under the terms of the new constitution, the British monarch is the nation's head of state and is represented by a governor-general chosen from among the Tuvaluans by the prime minister. Tuvalu does not have formal political parties, but the 12 members of the unicameral (single-chamber) parliament often align themselves in factions. In 1999, Ionatana Ionatana was elected prime minister on a platform devoted to governmental reform to liberalize the economy and to bolster Tuvalu's international standing.

From independence onward, the government has been a major actor in the national economy. For instance, the only hotel in the nation is government-owned as is the islands' only radio station. In addition, the government owns about one-fourth of the land on the islands (most of these lands are leased to clans to be farmed on a communal basis), and almost one-quarter of the nation's population works for the government. Until his death in December 2000, Ionatana sought to divest the government from these publicly-held ventures and encourage private enterprise. The main policy used to encourage new business and to attract foreign companies is the designation of "pioneer status" for certain new businesses (including tourism) which gives them tax-exempt status.

The government has also endeavored to lessen its reliance on foreign aid. The arrangement to lease its Internet domain name, ".tv," to the Canadian company dotTV is a major part of this effort. In order to assure input into the marketing of the domain name, the government is a significant minority shareholder in dotTV and has a seat on the company's board. The government merged the operations of the nation's 2 main banks in order to improve efficiency and reduce redundancy. In addition, the government has sought to improve the economies of the outer islands through a US$4 million program underwritten by the Asian Development Bank and through the construction of airfields on all of the nation's islands. A central goal of this effort is to direct power away from the central government and into the hands of localities. As the national government lessens its reliance on foreign aid to conduct day-to-day operations, it plans to shift the bulk of the funds it receives into programs to improve the health and living conditions on the outer islands where some two-thirds of the population live below the national poverty line with incomes of less than US$1,000 per year.

There is a fixed income tax of 30 percent on all income above US$1,900, and all corporate profits are also taxed at the flat rate of 30 percent. There are also sales taxes on certain goods and services. The government also taxes stamp sales, copra, and fishing licenses. The government maintains price limits on fuel and basic food items.

Under Ionatana, Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations and a full member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The government also supports the establishment of a free-trade zone in the region. One of the major political issues is the status of the islands, as an increasing number of Tuvaluans support the removal of Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state and the establishment of a full republic. Tuvalu has likewise been a vocal supporter of international efforts to stop global warming, believed to be a factor in the rising ocean levels that are reducing the nation's land.


The infrastructure of Tuvalu is rudimentary. Only the island of Funafuti has a network of paved roads (the government owns only 1 paving tractor to maintain the roadways). The other islands have either no or only limited paved roads. In fact, there are only 8 kilometers (5 miles) of paved roads in the entire nation. There are a few privately-owned vehicles and some government-owned ones. The most prevalent methods of transportation are bicycle and small motorcycle. The only airport is located on Funafuti. Government plans to build an airfield on each island have long been opposed for environmental and economic reasons. Estimates are that 3,000-4,000 palm trees would have to be cut down to make a serviceable landing strip. Since there is little arable land on any of the islands, such palm depletion would seriously undermine the local economies.

Inter-island shipping on small craft remains the main form of transport between the islands. The capital island and the island of Nui have navigable harbors in their lagoons,

Country a Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular Radio Stations a Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Tuvalu 1,000 0 (1994) AM 1; FM 0; shortwave 0 4,000 0 800 1 N/A
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Philippines 1.9 M 1.959 M (1998) AM 366; FM 290; shortwave 3 (1999) 11.5 M 31 3.7 M 33 500,000
Solomon Islands 8,000 658 AM 3; FM 0; shortwave 0 57,000 0 3,000 1 3,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

but only Funafuti is capable of servicing deep-draft ships after a harbor dredging was completed in 1980.

There is a satellite dish in the capital and the government has put receivers on each of the islands so that transmissions are available to those with electricity and televisions. There is telephone service on Funafuti with about 700 subscribers in 1999 and radiophone communications exist between all of the inhabited islands. Electricity is available in the capital and in a limited fashion on some of the islands. While there are no broadcast stations, there is 1 Internet service provider and 1 local radio station. The government publishes the only newspaper, Tuvalu Echoes. Funafuti has a hospital, and each island has a dispensary (an office to dispense medical supplies). With the proceeds from the licensing of ".tv," the government expects to engage in several major infrastructure programs, although the main concern is the development of measures to protect the islands from flooding caused by storms.


Tuvalu's economy is limited due to its small size and narrow range of natural resources. The nation's economic base is divided into 2 main sectors: agriculture and revenues from external licensing. Agriculture remains based on subsistence farming, with minor exports of copra. Concurrently, licensing of fishing, the nation's phone prefix, and the ".tv" domain name provide the majority of revenue for both the government and the national economy.

The government's main economic priority is to develop the economy to such an extent that foreign aid is no longer required. In addition, the government is endeavoring to support international efforts to stop global warming and pollution in general in order to protect both the islands themselves and the agricultural sector on the lands. For instance, in the spring of 2000, floods of 3.2 meters (11 feet) left most of the islands underwater. The government subsequently entered into agreements which would allow those Tuvaluans permanently displaced by global warming to immigrate to Australia or New Zealand. Finally, although substantial revenues are expected from the ".tv" licenses, the government is attempting to protect the local way of life from overt commercialism.


As much as 75 percent of the population of Tuvalu is involved in agricultural production of some sort. Subsistence farming is the main source of both food and income for many Tuvaluans. Agriculture, in the form of the production of copra, also provides the nation's only true export. Total agricultural exports in 1998 amounted to US$400,000, and agriculture accounted for 25 percent of the nation's total GDP.

The main crops include copra, taro (a large tuber), bananas, and sugarcane. There is little or no livestock production, although many families keep small numbers of pigs and chickens for personal consumption. While copra is harvested from coconut trees, the other crops are planted according to traditional practices. The islands receive about 2,500 millimeters (100 inches) of rainfall per year, but the porous, volcanic nature of the soil means that islanders have to use cisterns to collect rainwater as the water rapidly soaks through the ground and there are no natural springs or wells on any of the islands. Because there is little fresh water, islanders often use coconut milk in place of drinking water. Water constraints have also led to the evolution of a distinctive form of planting. Crops are planted in trenches that are 3 to 6 meters (10 to 20 feet) wide and dug down to the water table (usu-ally a depth of between 2 to 4 meters or 6 to 12 feet). In order to compensate for the nation's poor soil, these trenches are filled with leaves and natural fertilizers to produce a mulch capable of sustaining the crops. Indigenous foodstuffs such as breadfruit (a round seedless fruit from the mulberry family the texture of which resembles bread when cooked) are often cultivated on the banks and edges of the trenches for local consumption.

Most farms are small (less than an acre in size) and communally owned. The Agriculture Division has been implementing programs designed to join together communal lands into larger farms in order to increase efficiency with the ultimate goal of ensuring that no land capable of agriculture remains unproductive. As the communal farms are joined together, profits from production would be divided into 3 parts: one-third for the original land owners; one-third for the agricultural workers; and the final third would be deposited in a communal fund in a bank. This group fund would serve as a resource for future land improvements or to offset periods of underproduction or price declines.

Fishing is done extensively throughout the islands, but the majority of the catch is used for local consumption. Tuvalu allows other nations, including South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States, to fish for tuna in its territorial waters in exchange for license fees that totaled US$5.5 million in 1998. In addition, small quantities of sea cucumbers are harvested by Tuvaluans for export to China.


Industry in Tuvalu is quite limited. Copra production is the main industry and provides the nation with its main export. In addition, about 600 Tuvaluans are employed by foreign firms on merchant ships and 750 are employed in the phosphate mines of Nauru. Many families are supported by the remittances from these 2 groups. There is some local manufacture of handcrafts, clothing, and footwear for tourists and for export.


There is a small, but steady, tourist sector which generates some US$300,000 per year. The nation receives about 1,000 tourists per year. In addition to the 16-room hotel in Funafuti, there are about 12 guest houses on the islands. Because of the relative isolation of the islands, many indigenous Polynesian customs and traditions have survived. Tourists are exposed to dancing, singing, and variety of local crafts. There is also extensive diving, snorkeling, and fishing. Efforts to encourage tourism have resulted in government policies that give new tourist businesses tax-exempt status.

The subsistence nature of most of the population and strong cultural influences have combined to prevent the development of any significant retail trade. Instead local markets and home production of products is the norm. Each island has a cooperative store (Fusi) to sell local crops and products. All stores are closed on Sunday.


Tuvalu has an import-driven economy and relies upon products produced elsewhere. Though import and export statistics are outdated, they give a sense of the reliance upon imports: in 1989, the country imported US$4.4 million in goods and services while exporting just US$165,000 worth of goods and services. The main export of Tuvalu is copra, while the nation's main imports include food, animals, mineral fuels, machinery, and manufactured goods. Tuvalu's main trading partners are Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and the United States.


The Australian dollar is legal currency in Tuvalu, but the nation mints its own coins. Since Tuvalu's currency

Exchange rates: Tuvalu
Tuvaluan dollars (T$) per US$1
Jan 2001 1.7995
2000 1.7173
1999 1.5497
1998 1.5888
1997 1.3439
1996 1.2773
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Tuvalu N/A N/A N/A 1,100 N/A
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Philippines 2,600 3,200 3,500 3,600 3,800
Solomon Islands 3,000 3,000 2,600 2,650 2,000
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

is tied to that of Australia, it is relatively stable and its value is determined by supply and demand in international exchange markets. The government-owned National Bank of Tuvalu is responsible for most financial services; however, the limited capital of the institution means that funds for development must come from abroad. In 1995, 1 U.S. dollar equaled 1.35 Australian dollars and in 2000, 1 U.S. dollar equaled 1.52 Australian dollars.


Of the nation's inhabitants (not including persons employed outside of Tuvalu), only about 1,500 are formally employed. The average per capita income is only about US$1,000 per year, making Tuvalu one of the poorest nations on earth. However, education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 13. Health care is also free, though limited by access (each of the main islands has a dispensary, but the only hospital is on Funafuti).

The society is egalitarian and democratic. Low income levels are mitigated by the strong social and village support networks. In 1998, Tuvalu was judged to be the only nation in the world above reproach for human rights violations.


Forced or compulsory labor is prohibited. Labor laws set a minimum wage and 8-hour work day, but the market determines most wage scales in Tuvalu. Average hourly wages in Tuvalu for unskilled workers are between 40 and 92 U.S. cents an hour with 47 cents per hour being the average. The current minimum wage is US$81.25 biweekly, regardless of age or gender. Managerial or technical wages range from US$3,000 to US$9,000 per year. Although workers may organize and have the right of collective bargaining, there has never been a strike in the nation's history. The only registered trade union is the Tuvalu Seamen's Union which is affiliated with the International Transportation Workers' Federation. However, government workers belong to associations that have some features of unions.

Children under the age of 14 are prohibited from working, and children under the age of 15 are prohibited from working on ships or in industry. Employers are required to provide adequate potable water, sanitary facilities, and medical care. The Ministry of Labor, Works, and Communications is responsible for overseeing labor practices and law.


0-100 A.D. Polynesians colonize Tuvalu; Samoans settle in the southern atolls, while Tongans settle in the north; Micronesians from Kiribati conquer Nui.

1861. Elekana, a Cook Islander castaway, brings Christianity to Tuvalu.

1863. Slave traders take 450 Tuvaluans as slaves to work in the guano mines of Peru.

1865. Elekana returns to islands with a Congregation-alist missionary, A. W. Murray.

1877. Tuvalu comes under British control.

1880s. European traders establish a post on Tuvalu in order to acquire copra.

1892. In an effort to forestall American expansion in the area, Great Britain declares a protectorate over the northern islands.

1916. Tuvalu becomes a formal British colony.

1942-45. The United States lands military troops in the region during World War II and builds the nation's current airfield at Funafuti.

1974. The United Kingdom grants Tuvalu self-governing status; Tuvaluans vote for independence.

1976. Tuvalu is formally separated from the Gilbert Islands.

1978. Tuvalu becomes an independent nation and a special member of the Commonwealth of Nations (a voluntary association of nations giving symbolic or actual allegiance to the British crown).

1997. Three cyclones devastate the islands.

1998. Tuvalu signs a 10-year deal worth at least US$50 million to license the nation's Internet domain name, ".tv."

2000. Tuvalu becomes a member of the United Nations and a full member of the Commonwealth of Nations.


With its Internet deal, Tuvalu entered the 21st century with prospects for dramatic economic growth. Royalties from the first year provided over US$20 million or US$2,272 for every Tuvaluan. These funds formed the core of a new government trust fund. If the royalties are as much as expected, the standard of living on Tuvalu will rise considerably. The government indicated that some of the revenues would be spent on communication links with the outer islands and the rest of the world. Some observers are concerned that the newfound wealth of the nation may destroy the traditional society and lifestyles of the islands. In addition, continued global warming, with the subsequent rise in ocean levels, and population increases have exerted considerable land pressure on the tiny nation.


Tuvalu has no territories or colonies.


Icon Group. Strategic Assessment of Tuvalu, 2000. San Diego: Icon Group, 2000.

Kelly, Robert C., Stanton Doyle, and N. Denise Youngblood. Country Review: Tuvalu, 1999/2000. Houston:, 2000.

Laracy, Hugh, ed. Tuvalu: A History. Suva, Fiji: University of South Pacific, 1983.

Pacific Island Business Network. "Tuvalu: Country Profile." <>. Accessed December 2000.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2000: Tuvalu. <>. Accessed February 2000.

U.S. Department of State. 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Tuvalu. <>. Accessed February 2000.

Tom Lansford




Tuvaluan dollar (T$). There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents, and 1 dollar. One Tuvaluan dollar equals 100 cents. The currency is tied to the Australian dollar at an exchange rate of 1 Tuvaluan dollar per 1 Australian dollar.


Copra, clothing, footwear.


Food, animals, mineral fuels, machinery, manufactured goods.


US$7.8 million (1995 est.).


Exports: US$165,000 (f.o.b., 1989). Imports: US$4.4 million (c.i.f., 1989).

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ETHNONYMS: Ellice Islands, Lagoon Islands


Identification. The name "Tuvalu" is apparently traditional and refers to the original "cluster of eight" islands. It was adopted as the national name when the group achieved self-governing status in 1975, after breaking away from the Gilbert Islands with which it had been administered by Britain since 1892. The name "Ellice Islands" was initially given only to Funafuti in 1819 by Captain de Peyster of the Rebecca in honor of the owner of his cargo, Edward Ellice, an English member of Parliament.

Location. Tuvalu is an archipelago of nine small islands lying in a northwest-southeast chain stretching over 640 kilometers of ocean between 176° and 180° E and between 5° and 11° S. Closest to the equator is Nanumea, followed southwards by Niutao, Nanumaga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita. The first three constitute the northern geographical subgroup proper, with Nui occupying an ambiguous position between them and the more widely scattered southern grouping. The environment is tropical maritime (with the average daily maximum temperature ranging from about 24° to 30° C) and there is no distinct dry season, though December, January, and February are normally the wettest (and stormiest) months. Strong westerlies are a common occurrence at this time but for most of the year easterly trade winds predominate. Rainfall is generally adequate (about 300 to 350 centimeters per year) though limited water storage capacity means that rationing may be imposed after a relatively short dry spell. The northern islands tend to be the driest.

Demography. It is now generally acknowledged that early estimates of a precontact Tuvaluan population of 20,000 were grossly in error and that the total actually fluctuated around 3,000 people. After European contact, Tuvalu generally escaped the depredations wrought by epidemic diseases in other parts of the Pacific, but two of the islands (Nukulaelae and Funafuti) suffered huge population losses in 1863 when blackbirders (Peruvians operating a form of labor trade akin to slavery) kidnapped hundreds of people. The population has more than recovered since then. The 1979 census enumerated 7,349 persons but the total population of Tuvaluans was estimated at about 10,000, including all those living in Kiribati, Nauru, Fiji, New Zealand, and other parts of the Pacific. A 1989 estimate of the de facto population in the group itself was 8,619, and no doubt considerable numbers of Tuvaluans continue to dwell outside the home group. The population is presently growing at a rate of 1.9 percent per year and has an average density of 332 persons per square kilometer, though the latter varies greatly from Funafuti (highest) to Vaitupu (lowest). The absolute size of each community also shows considerable range, from the 50 persons or so on Niulakita to the more than 2,000 on Funafuti, the capital and main communication center. The vast majority of this population is of Tuvaluan ethnic origin, though some inhabitants belong to other Pacific ethnic groups and there is a sizable cadre of expatriate (mainly White) advisers, officials, development workers, and volunteers, especially on Funafuti.

Linguistic Affiliation. The majority of people speak Tuvaluan, a Polynesian language, although the inhabitants of one island, Nui, speak a mainly Gilbertese (Micronesian) dialect. Although all varieties of Tuvaluan are mutually intelligible, a clear dialectal difference exists between the northern and southern clusters of islands, and within those groupings each island has its own distinctive communalect. Tuvaluan is one language of the relatively nonhomogeneous Samoic-Outlier Subgroup of Nuclear Polynesian languages; the subgroup's other major component is Eastern Polynesian. Samoan used to be the dominant language of literacy but has since been supplanted by Tuvaluan for Christian scriptures, church and government publications, and personal letter writing. Samoan is being replaced by English as the main second language.

History and Cultural Relations

Tuvalu was probably settled as part of the backwash by which the outliers were populated after the main eastward historical wave of Polynesian migration. Prehistoric Samoan cultural influence was undoubtedly strong, as the linguistic affiliation suggests, but this influence also may have been retrospectively enhanced by religious and administrative links in the modern era. Precontact history is difficult to reconstruct, since there has been very little archaeological investigation. Moreover, local traditions, while essential for a proper historical understanding, often contradict each other as political charters for descent groups within local status hierarchies. Different island communities claim different founding ancestors, some autochthonous and some hailing from Samoa, Tonga, East Uvea, and/or Kiribati. Funafuti is also cited as the immediate homeland of some of the other islands. Evidence from material culture, comparative linguistics, and culture history all indicate relatively recent settlement dates from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Skeletal remains from Vaitupu, however, may point to a slightly longer time scale of 500 to 800 years. The first sighting of a Tuvaluan island (Nui) by a Westerner (ppaalagi ) was probably made by the Spanish explorer Mendaña, in 1568, but it was not until the early nineteenth century that real contact began. Explorers, traders, and whalers charted the group and, as the century wore on, White traders and beachcombers settled on some of the islands. The most intensive phase of contact began in 1865 with the arrival of (mainly) Samoan teachers and pastors sent by the London Missionary Society. Their version of evangelical and congregationalist Protestantism continues to be a major sociocultural influence to the present day, though the Tuvalu church is now autonomous. Other churches and religions have obtained footholds but remain minorities in a society that emphasizes individual conformity with communal ideology. In 1892, Great Britain declared a protectorate over what were then called the Ellice Islands, which was administered jointly with the Gilbert Islands (as a colony after 1916) until 1975. While the Gilberts were occupied by Japanese troops during World War II, Tuvalu became a forward base for U.S. forces. It largely escaped the direct effects of battle but the presence of large numbers of servicemen on Nanumea, Nukufatau, and Funafuti had a substantial impact. As Great Britain moved to divest itself of its Pacific possessions in the 1960s, Tuvaluans decided against remaining tied to the Gilbertese (who were culturally different, negatively stereotyped, and much more numerous). They seceded in 1975 and became fully independent in 1978, retaining ties to Great Britain through membership in the Commonwealth.


Most scholars accept that, prior to Western contact, each island probably had a fairly scattered distribution of subcommunities based on core kin groups. Centralized habitation complexes (one village or two contiguous ones) were established either late last century by the London Missionary Society or early this century by the British administrationor possibly by the combined efforts of both. It appears, for example, that large centralized meetinghouses (maneapa ) did not exist on the southern islands before the late nineteenth century, despite the fact that these structures have become symbols of traditional culture and Tuvaluan identity.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The most important cultigens are coconut palms (used for the collection of kaleve "toddy" as well as for the nuts), pandanus, bananas, breadfruit, and pulaka (swamp taro). The latter is grown in large pits dug into the top layer of a freshwater lens. Its great value stems from its ability to withstand both drought and flooding by seawater. Fish, mollusks, and birds were traditionally the main sources of dietary protein. It is not clear whether pigs, like chickens, were a postcontact introduction. As a major component of ceremonial meals, they are the principal focus of animal husbandry.

Industrial Arts. The main traditional craft activity of women is the weaving of pandanus mats, which are important items in gift exchange (for example, at weddings). Women also sew clothes, usually with imported machines and using imported materials. Men's crafts include canoe and house building, tackle making, and wood carving (which may be combined with any of the others). The technology of fishinghooks, lures, canoes, nets, traps, and the techniques for their usewas and is highly elaborated. Traditional forms are now supplemented or supplanted by imported boats, engines, hooks, lines, and nets. Today, clothing is almost all made of imported fabrics, but some dance skirts are made from traditional materials. Items for the small tourist traffic such as shell necklaces, fans, and wooden artifacts are also made.

Trade. It is unlikely that the separate islands were involved in significant trade networks before Western contact, though there was interisland voyaging and visiting that may have been accompanied by exchanges, marriages, and political tribute. Foreign traders were originally interested in coconut oil and subsequently in copra (dried coconut flesh for the food and cosmetics industries). Copra is still exported but has declined in importance, owing to inefficiencies of scale, difficulties of transport, and fluctuating prices on the world market.

Division of Labor. At the ideological level, though perhaps less assiduously in practice, there was and is a general sexual division of labor, in which men engage in pelagic and lagoon fishing from canoes as well as the gathering of coconuts and palm toddy and the more strenuous forms of cultivation. Women share the activity of reef fishing and collecting and take responsibility for weaving and infant care, as well as harvesting some crops and preparing food. This division is less clear-cut in the modern occupational fields opened up by Western-style education. Women, however, are still underrepresented in positions of authority in government, civil service, and the church. Traditionally, there was little fulltime specialization, though certain men were acknowledged experts at fishing, navigation, defense, canoe making, house building, and gardening. Both men and women were able to inherit or acquire skills as curers and diviners. On at least some of the islands, this division was formalized into bodies of knowledge (poto ) or tasks (pologa ) pertaining to and jealously guarded by separate descent groups. Traditional chiefs do not seem to have been exempt from working at the common range of pursuits. It was with introduced models of organization in the church and in government that specialization really took hold. Fishing, however, remains a valued activity for many men who are otherwise full-time waged workers.

Land Tenure. Reconstruction of fully traditional forms is speculative. It is possible that the original form of tenure was communal, as this arrangement still exists and is accorded symbolic priority. From a system in which chiefs probably allocated land rights on a usufruct basis, more complex forms of title have evolved. Land may now be held privately, either by individuals or by groupsthough this distinction is blurred by the developmental cycle of groups with rights in estates. Landholding groups go by different names on different islands: puikaaiga (most southern islands), kopiti (Nanumea), etc.


Kin Groups, Descent, and Inheritance. Kinship is cognatic, with important links being traced through both parents in the construction of ego-centered kindreds. Descent, however, has an agnatic bias, as shown in the calculation of genealogical links and in property inheritance, title succession, and postmarital residence patterns (virilocal). Thus, while the apex of a descent group was and is typically a founding set of siblings, and the estates that accrued to them could be inherited by males and females alike, eldest sons inherited most. Genealogical knowledge is shallow by Polynesian standards.

Kinship Terminology. Despite variation from one island to another (and within communities), kinship terminology can be summarized as a modified version of the Hawaiian or generational type. Probably the most marked relationship is that between "brother" and "sister" since cross-sex relations produce terms for "father's sister" and "mother's brother" in the parental generation (even though their children are not marked in the same way). Most of these terms are capable of wide genealogical extension, including to affines, and many of them are reciprocal. Given the multiplicity of genealogical paths in a cognatic system, choice of kinship terms is often a matter of choice, rhetoric, and pragmatic advantage.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygyny was suppressed by missionization, and present-day attitudes concerning marriage, sexuality, and family obligation are heavily influenced by Christianity. Marriage is one of the most important rites of passage in Tuvaluan culture, since it legitimizes children and establishes links of kinship in relation to land rights. Divorce is comparatively rare. All those who descend from a recognized ancestral sibling set and have rights in its estate are obliged to provide food and labor for each other's marriage celebrations. Not to do so is tantamount to a rupture of relations. Hence, contributions come from the cognatic kindreds of all four parents of the marrying couple, in the form of appropriate kinds of labor, the provision of food at specific times, and the exchange of gifts (especially pandanus mats, clothes, and tobacco). Such reciprocity often acquires a competitive edge.

Domestic Unit. Marriage is seen as establishing a new economic unita nuclear family usually living virilocally (though sometimes with the bride's parents until after the first child is born). It is this group that provides the core of any domestic unit. Extended families are not commonly residential units. Children are often redistributed among related families by different levels of adoption. In this way, grandparents or childless siblings may maintain multigenerational domestic units.

Socialization. Mothers are infants' primary care givers, but a wide range of kin may be mobilized if necessary. Children, especially girls, are involved in the rearing of younger siblings. Physical punishment is used but it is rarely severe, with amicable relations restored almost immediately. Shaming and peer pressure generally prove more potent sanctions.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Apart from the primary dimension of kinship, many other social identities and collectivities are important. Individuals identify strongly with their natal island (fenua ). Most of the centralized villages are divided into two "sides" (and on some islands there are four sections). These have competitive functions in games, gift exchanges, and certain kinds of fishing and communal projects. Class formation is incipient in Tuvaluan society, with the growth of specialized occupations, the cash economy, and business development. Chiefly status is more salient, however, with a few descent lines acknowledged as meriting traditional respect. High status can also be achieved through the Tuvalu church, with pastors commanding great prestige but less political power than before, since their tours of duty are now limited and they cannot be posted to their natal village. Consequently, deacons and lay preachers probably wield more longterm influence in the village. In comparison to the complex quasi state forms of some larger Polynesian societies, Tuvalu has always been fairly egalitarian.

Political Organization. Traditionally, each island was politically self-sufficient, though a wider grouping based on common ancestor worship and ritual hierarchy seems to have connected Funafuti to Vaitupu, Nukufetau, and Nukulaelae. Chiefs (aliki ) headed the major descent groups and on most islands they deferred to one or two paramount chiefs (often termed "kings" in early accounts). The chiefs seem to have been as much religious leaders as political ones, though there were also religious specialists (spirit mediums, diviners, etc.). While the latter were suppressed by missionaries, the chiefly system survived. Its political clout was greatly reduced under missionary and colonial hegemony but has never disappeared and it is occasionally revived as a source of local prestige. Nowadays, elected island councils exercise direct political control over local affairs with advice from central government, including island executive officers. There are no organized political parties, however, and much of the requisite upper-level administrative expertise is provided by expatriates on short-term contracts.

Social Control and Conflict. A good deal of control is effected by such social sanctions as gossip, shaming, and public admonition. Tuvaluans try to avoid direct confrontation, placing emphasis on maintaining smooth and harmonious interpersonal relations. By reputationand probably in factthe society has lower levels of violence and crime than many others in the Pacific, even in the relatively urbanized capital. Nevertheless, serious fights did take place occasionally in the precolonial era. More frequent was low-intensity warfare between different islands in the group in which various male warriors (toa ) took part. There are also oral accounts of invasions from Kiribati and Tonga, most of which were successfully repulsed.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Tuvalu is a solidly Protestant society, with other sects and religions still having only minor significance. Beliefs and practices associated with ancestor worship and animism began to crumble even before the arrival of missionaries, though some of the northern islands, where visitors were subjected to rigorous "quarantine ceremonies," initially proved recalcitrant. Nevertheless, some syncretic beliefs in magic and sorcery remain. The Christian deity, known to Tuvaluans as "Te Atua Ieova," is universally acknowledged, with the Tuvalu church (unlike some of the more fundamentalist sects) giving equal prominence to Jesus, known as "Iesu, Te Aliki." In pre-Christian times, supernaturals included worshiped ancestors, culture heroes, and some natural phenomena. It is also possible that some pan-Polynesian deities were recognized (e.g., Tagaloa).

Religious Practitioners. Missionary accounts never specified whether pre-Christian priests were chiefs as well as religious specialists. Their roles and powers are extremely difficult to reconstruct, though it seems clear that chiefs themselves had important ritual duties and were hedged in by taboo. For several decades after missionization, great power was wielded by (predominantly Samoan) pastors of the London Missionary Society, and the role became a prestigious career choice for Tuvaluan males as well, a number of whom were appointed to other parts of the Pacific. Locally, deacons (men and women) and lay preachers (men only) play important parts in religious affairs.

Ceremonies. Apart from regular Christian holidays and days of worship, Tuvaluans celebrate islandwide festivities held to commemorate a variety of significant events and people (founding ancestors, arrival of missionaries, deliverance from human or natural disaster, etc.) Ceremonies are also held in conjunction with communal activities. Some rites of passage are also held on a communal basis (e.g., multiplevillage-sponsored wedding ceremonies), but the preference is for nuptials to be organized by the families concerned. Next to weddings, funerals are the most important life-cycle rituals.

Arts. The major artistic traditions are performance-orientedoratory, plays composed for specific occasions, and, above all, the action songs known as faatele. These songs take the form of seated singers and standing dancers singing and acting out the repeated verses of a song faster and faster until they reach a crescendo. Faatele may involve competition between different sides, be an adjunct to other festivities, or be an end in themselves at family gatherings. Tuvaluans also enjoy other kinds of musical activity: hymn singing (often on a competitive basis between choirs as well as in church), Western-style dances, and pop music, among others.

Medicine. Western medicine is practiced by trained doctors and nurses, but it is variably available throughout the archipelago. Local curing practices are a syncretic combination of traditional, Christian, and scientific ideas; massage; herbal and other medicines; special foods or food prohibitions; faith healing; prayer; and other methods.

Death and Afterlife. In contemporary Tuvalu, Christian ideology proclaims the existence of Heaven and Hell as the destinations of souls. Alternative views, if they exist, are not officially condoned, though the spirits of the dead are believed to have the power of action under certain circumstances (lack of filial piety, bad relations between kin, etc.).

See also Anuta, Kiribati, Nauru, Ontong Java, Rotuma, Tokelau


Chambers, Anne (1984). Nanumea. Canberra: Australian National University Development Studies Centre.

Brady, Ivan A. (1975). "Christians, Pagans, and Government Men: Culture Change in the Ellice Islands." In A Reader in Culture Change, Vol. 2, edited by I. Brady and B. Isaac. New York: Shenkman.

Goldsmith, Michael (1985). "Transformations of the Meeting-House in Tuvalu." In Transformations of Polynesian Culture, edited by A. Hooper and J. Huntsman. Auckland: Polynesian Society.

Laracy, Hugh, ed. (1983). Tuvalu: A History. Suva: University of the South Pacific; Funafuti: Government of Tuvalu.

Noricks, Jay Smith (1983). "Unrestricted Cognatic Descent and Corporateness on Niutao, a Polynesian Island of Tuvalu." American Ethnologist 10:571-584.


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Major City:


Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, TUVALU is a group of nine scattered atolls whose only export product is copra (dried coconut meat). The islands were probably first settled by Polynesians between the 14th and 17th centuries. After determining the inhabitants ' wishes, the Ellice Islands (together with the Gilberts, now known as Kiribati) came under British protection in 1892. After the Japanese occupied the Gilbert Islands in 1942, US forces occupied the Ellice group in 1943 and drove the Japanese out of the Gilberts. After the war, the ethnic differences between the Micronesians of the Gilberts and the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands led the Ellice Islanders to demand separation, which won approval in 1974. Tuvalu later became an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations on October 1, 1979.



Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, is the largest and most populated island, with about 4,000 inhabitants. The village of Fongafale is the main settlement, with a hotel, hospital, and an airstrip (recently upgraded with Commonwealth assistance). About 40% of the island of Funafuti is uninhabitable because the United Kingdom authorized the United States to dig an airstrip out of the coral bed during World War II. There is a deepwater port at Funafuti which accepts vessels with a draft of up to 30 feet. A passenger and cargo vessel based there occasionally sails to Suva, Fiji. Tuvalu's only airfield is located on Funafuti, and the airstrip occupies about one-third of the island's land area. In 1992, a new runway replaced the grass strip. There are flights to the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, and Nauru, but no internal air service is available. There are only a dozen cars on the island. The residents of Funafuti have a higher income level than those of the other islands, who mainly live at a subsistence level. Although the soil is sandy and not very fertile, the island still manages to produce copra for export.

Recreation and Entertainment

Soccer, rugby, and cricket are played along Funafuti's airstrip. A siren warns players to clear the area when an airplane is approaching.

Tuvalu is too small and remote for the development of a tourist industry. Only about 1,000-1,200 tourists per year visit the country, which has just one hotel with 17 rooms.

Funafuti's maneava (meeting house) is the site where the council of the island's elders gets together to discuss important issues and to socialize. The country's only library is in Funafuti and it also houses national archives. Young men's clubs and women's committees are standard features of social life, concerning themselves with sailing, fishing, and crafts.


Geography and Climate

Tuvalu is a cluster of nine islands, plus islets, located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean just south of the Equator. The country is located about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Tuvalu is one of the world's smallest nations in terms of land area (about 10 square miles), but its territory covers some 500,000 square miles of ocean.

The entire country is low-lying atolls, none of which is more than 16 feet above sea level. Some scientists predict that within 50 years, Tuvalu will be one of the first island nations to vanish as a result of erosion and global warming.

Few of the atolls are more than a half mile wide. On five atolls, the reefs enclose sizable lagoons. There are no rivers. Since copra (dried coconut meat) is the country's primary export, coconut palm trees cover much of the land. The climate is tropical, with little seasonal variation. The annual average temperature is 86° F, and rainfall averages 140 inches per year. The wet season is from November to February. Severe cyclones struck in 1894, 1972, and 1990.


There are about 10,750 inhabitants, with a population density of 1,011 per square mile. About half the population lives on Funafuti. Only about 15% of the population lives on Vaitupu, followed by Niutao (11%), Nanunea (11%), Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Nui, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita. Some 1,000 Tuvaluans work abroad. Unemployment is expected to rise as the phosphate mining on Nauru declines and Tuvaluans employed there return home. New Zealand permits Tuvaluans to live and work there for up to three years. The islanders are almost entirely Polynesian, with strong cultural ties to the Samoans and Tokelauans. Nearly all Tuvaluans are Protestant, members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Congregationalist group. There are small numbers of Roman Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Baha ' is. The Tuvaluan language, closely related to Samoan, and English are the principal languages.


In 1892, the United Kingdom proclaimed the Ellice Islands (as Tuvalu was then known), together with the Gilberts, as a British protectorate. The proclamation was made after ascertaining the inhabitants' wishes. After World War II, US forces occupied the islands. Political differences between the Gilbert Islanders and the Ellice Islanders led the Ellice Islanders to demand a separation, which they declared by a vote in 1974. In 1975, the Ellice Islands were established as the separate British colony of Tuvalu. After a constitutional conference in 1978, Tuvalu became an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1979. The head of government is the British monarch, who is represented by a governor-general. The unicameral House of Assembly has twelve members elected to four-year terms. A prime minister and deputy prime minister are elected from the members of parliament. A simple code of law, based on mission legislation and traditional councils, is observed by native courts. There are island courts that deal with land disputes. The High Court of Justice hears appeals from district courts.

Tuvalu's flag is a light blue field with the British Union Jack in the upper quarter near the hoist. Nine yellow stars are arranged on the field in the same pattern as Tuvalu's nine islands.

Arts, Science, Education

Education begins at age seven and is compulsory for nine years. Secondary education is provided at Motofoua, a former church school on Vaitupu now jointly administered by the government. The Tuvalu Maritime School was opened in 1979 with Australian aid. The school trains young Tuvaluans with the skills needed to serve overseas on a merchant ship. Fiji's University of the South Pacific also has an extension center at Funafuti.

Commerce and Industry

The United Nations ranks Tuvalu among the least developed nations of the world. Many Tuvaluans in the smaller villages and islands are self-sufficient and live without a money-based economy. Tuvaluans intensively utilize their limited natural resources, namely coconuts and fish. Nearly every part of the coconut palm is utilized to make a useful object. Taro is also grown in pits.

Money sent home from Tuvaluans working abroad can account for up to 30% of the country's annual foreign exchange earnings. The sale of collectible postage stamps contributes up to 40% of foreign revenue, and the remainder comes mainly as foreign aid.

In 1998, Tuvalu began licensing foreign use of its area code for "900" lines. In 2000, leasing of its ".tv" Internet domain name began. Royalties from these new technology sources could raise GDP three or more times over the next decade.


Traffic moves on the left in Tuvalu. The few roads on these tiny islands are generally unpaved. Most roads are little more than tracks, although Funafuti has about five miles of coral-impacted roads for the island's few cars and trucks. Animals and unwary pedestrians walking in the road make night driving on unlit secondary roads hazardous.

Funafuti and Nukufetau are the only seaports, used mainly by freighters in the copra industry. All the islands are served by Tuvalu's interisland ferry.


There is an interisland telephone service. The government-owned Tuvalu Broadcasting Service on Funafuti transmits in Tuvaluan and English. There is no television service. The government publishes a biweekly called Tuvalu Echoes.


There are no serious tropical diseases on the islands except for a dwindling number of leprosy and dysentery cases.


A passport, onward/return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds for the trip are required. Visitor permits are issued upon arrival. For further information about entry requirements, travelers may wish to contact the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. at 202-588-7800. This is particularly true for those persons planning to enter by sea.

There is no U.S. Embassy or diplomatic post in Tuvalu. Assistance for U.S. citizens in Tuvalu is provided by the U.S. Embassy in Fiji, which is located at 31 Loftus Street in Fiji's capital city of Suva. The telephone number is (679) 314-466; the fax number is (679)300-081. Americans may register with the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji and obtain up-to-date information on travel and security in Tuvalu from the Embassy. Information may also be obtained by visiting the Embassy's home page at


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar. Commonwealth Day*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

Mar/Apr. Easter Monday*

June Queen's Birthday Celebrated*

Aug.(1st Mon) Children's Day

Oct. 1 Tuvalu Day

Nov. Prince of Wales Birthday Celebrated*


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Official name: Tuvalu

Area: 26 square kilometers (10 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Unnamed location (5 meters/16 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Southern and Eastern

Time zone: Midnight = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 24 kilometers (15 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Tuvalu is an island group consisting of nine coral atolls located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean region of Oceania, about equidistant from Hawaii and Australia. With a total area of about 26 square kilometers (10 square miles), the country is one-tenth the size of Washington, D.C.


Tuvalu has no outside territories or dependencies.


Tuvalu has a tropical climate with little seasonal variation. The annual mean temperature is 30°C (86°F), moderated by easterly trade winds that blow from March to November. Tuvalu is very wet. Annual rainfall averages more than 355 centimeters (140 inches). Westerly gales bring heavy rain from November to March. Although the islands lie north of the main cyclone belt, Funafuti was devastated by cyclones in 1894, 1972, and 1990.


Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands) is one of the smallest and most remote countries on Earth. Located just south of the equator on the Pacific Tectonic Plate, Tuvalu consists of a cluster of nine low-lying coral islands, plus several islets. These remote atolls lie in a 595-kilometer-long (370-mile-long) chain extending over some 1,300,000 square kilometers (500,000 square miles) of ocean. Too remote and too small to develop a tourist industry, Tuvalu is ranked by the United Nations as among the least-developed countries.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The South Pacific Ocean surrounds Tuvalu in a region that is known as Oceania. Oceania refers to the islands in the central and southern Pacific Ocean and its adjacent seas. The boundaries for the region are the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the southern tip of New Zealand.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Coral reefs on five islands enclose sizeable lagoons, including the very large unnamed lagoon of Funafuti. Funafuti and Nukufetau are the only islands with natural harbors for ocean liners.

Islands and Archipelagos

Tuvalu's islands are coral reefs on the outer arc of ridges formed by pressure from the Central Pacific Tectonic Plate against the ancient Australian landmass. All the islands are low lying with elevations no higher than 5 meters (16 feet). The main islands in the chain are Funafuti, Nanumea, Nanumanga, Niulakita (formerly uninhabited), Niuto, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulailai, and Vaitupu.

Coastal Features

The Tuvalu islands are so low that if the sea level rises significantly in the twenty-first century, most of these islands will be completely submerged.


There are no rivers, lakes, or streams on the islands. Five of the atolls do enclose sizable lagoons, but there is still no fresh water available other than rainfall that can be caught and stored.


There are no rivers in Tuvalu.


There are no desert regions in Tuvalu.


Tuvalu is located in a time zone that lies on the International Date Line. The International Date Line is an imaginary line on the earth's surface that generally follows the 180° meridian of longitude. This meridian is exactly halfway around (or on the opposite side of) the globe from the Prime Meridian, designated as 0° longitude. An international agreement stated that travelers crossing the line would also experience a change in dates. For instance, travelers who head east on a Saturday will end up on Friday as soon as they cross the line. If the party heads west across the line, it will move from Saturday to Sunday.


Coconut plantations have replaced most of Tuvalu's indigenous vegetation of scrubby forest. Its soil is poor, however, and much of its vegetation has been cleared for fuel.


There are no mountain or volcano regions on Tuvalu.


There are no major caves or canyons in Tuvalu.


There are no plateau regions on Tuvalu.


Of all nine islands in Tuvalu, Funafuti is the only one with an airport: a single grass strip too small to support jet aircraft. There are no other major man-made features affecting the geography in Tuvalu.



Lane, John. Tuvalu : State of the Environment Report, 1993. Western Samoa: SPREP, 1993.

Mueller-Dombois, Dieter, and F. Raymond Fosberg. Vegetation of the Tropical Pacific Islands. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998.

Thaman, Randolph R. Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, and Tuvalu: A Review of Uses and Status of Trees and Forests in Land Use Systems with Recommendations for Future Actions. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1995.

Web Sites

Tuvalu Online. (accessed May 6, 2003).

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Tuvalu (tōōväl´ōō), independent Commonwealth nation (2005 est. pop. 11,600), 10 sq mi (26 sq km), composed of nine low coral atolls, formerly known as the Ellice (or Lagoon) Islands, scattered over the W Pacific Ocean. The capital is the atoll of Funafuti.

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, especially on the atolls (the outer islands) other than Funafuti. 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 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 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. Toafa again became prime minister following the Sept., 2010, elections, but his government lost a confidence vote in December; Willy Telavi was elected to succeed him. In Aug., 2013, Telavi was ousted, and Enele Sopoaga became prime minister. A tropical cyclone in Mar., 2015, caused significant damage to many of the country's atolls.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Tuvalu
Region: Oceania
Population: 10,838
Language(s): Tuvaluan, English
Literacy Rate: NA

Tuvalu has a geography of nine coral islands spread over ten square miles in the southern Pacific Ocean. This geography has been a major factor in the limited development of their educational system. Although nearly 40 percent of Tuvalu's residents live on Fanafuti, the island that serves as the nation's capital, the other residents are scattered among the eight remaining atolls, which are accessible only by boat. Education officials in Tuvalu, which gained its independence from Britain in 1978, adopted the Education for Life (EFL) program in 1988, hoping a more accessible and standardized system of education would boost the island nation's economic development.

To fund its educational overhaul, Tuvalu secured financial assistance from Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Japan, France, and other countries. Efforts began in the 1990s to increase free compulsory education, and begins at age six, from eight years to ten years. The island nation also began upgrading its classrooms, an initiative scheduled to be completed in 2004. To secure a base of more qualified teachers, Tuvalu started sending residents who wished to become primary school teachers to international institutes of higher education. The secondary school operated by the Tuvalu Christian Church was merged into Tuvalu's only other secondary school in 1998 as a means of saving operational costs. Plans for a Technical Education Center that will offer training in carpentry, engineering, plumbing, and secretarial work were also launched. This new center would be the third institution of higher education in Tuvalu; the University of South Pacific Extension Center and Tuvalu Maritime School already offer limited vocational, degree, and continuing education programs to residents.

Tuvalu spent 22 percent of its recurrent national budget on education in 1998, compared to 16 percent in 1990. The island nation received a financial boost in 2000 by licensing its internet address extension to a California-based company for US$50 million. The government is spending a portion of the money on internet connections for the islands, as well as computer education for secondary students.


McLaughlin, Kevin. "Tiny Island Nation Reaps Dot-Com Riches." Business 2.0. 6 September 2000. Available from

World Education Forum. "The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports: Tuvalu." Paris: UNESCO, 2000. Available from

AnnaMarie L. Sheldon

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Tuvalu
Region (Map name): Oceania
Population: 10,838
Language(s): Tuvaluan, English
Literacy rate: N/A

Tuvalu is a scattered group of nine coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia. Formerly a British colony, Tuvalu declared independence in 1978. The population is approximately 11,000, and the official languages are English and Tuvaluan. The chief of state is the British monarch, represented locally by a governor general. The head of state is a prime minister, who presides over a 12-seat House of Assembly. Tuvalu's economy centers around subsistence farming and fishing. The country's primary source of revenue comes from a trust fund established in 2000 with fees from the licensing of its Internet country code; this fund could triple the country's gross national product over the next decade.

Although the media community is small, media freedom is respected. The government publishes the fortnightly newspaper called Tuvalu Echoes (Sikuleo o Tuvalu) in two editions, one in Tuvaluan, the other in English. Its circulation is 260.

There is one AM radio station serving 4,000 radios. There are 800 televisions in Tuvalu but no local television station. There is one Internet service provider.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) "Tuvalu," World Factbook (2001). Available from .

"Country Profile: Tuvalu," BBC News. (n.d.). Available from .

"CocoNET Wireless," The University of Queensland, Australia (1995). Available from

Jenny B. Davis

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Tuvalu (formerly Ellice Islands) Independent republic in w Pacific Ocean, s of the Equator and w of the International Date Line. None of the cluster of nine low-lying coral islands rises more than 4.6m (15ft) out of the Pacific, making them vulnerable to rising sea levels. Poor soil restricts vegetation to coconut palms, breadfruit, and bush. The population survive by subsistence farming, raising pigs and poultry, and by fishing. Copra is the only significant export crop, but more foreign exchange is derived from the sale of elaborate postage stamps. The first European to discover the islands (1568) was the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendaña. Between 1850 and 1880, the population was reduced from c.20,000 to just 3000 by Europeans abducting workers for other Pacific plantations. In 1892, the British assumed control, and it was subsequently administered with the nearby Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati). In 1978, Tuvalu became a separate self-governing colony within the Commonwealth. Area: 24sq km (9.5sq mi). Pop. (2000) 11,000.

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Culture Name


Alternative Names

For most of the nineteenth century, Western navigators referred to this archipelago as the "Lagoon Islands," a name gradually supplanted by the "Ellice Islands." This latter term became official in 1892 when Great Britain created the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate (later Colony). The name and its Tuvaluan rendition (Elise) remained in use until the group separated from the Gilberts in 1975.


Identification. The name "Tuvalu" is deemed traditional and roughly translates as "eight traditions." There is no historical evidence of its use, however, until the rise of self-determination in the 1970s. Inhabitants assert their identity as members of distinct societies, referred to by the name of each of the eight traditionally inhabited islands.

Location and Geography. Contemporary Tuvalu is a group of nine small islands and atolls, including the historically uninhabited Niulakita. They lie in a northwest-southeast chain stretching over 250 square miles (645 square kilometers) of ocean in the western Pacific, north of Fiji, east of the Solomon Islands, and south and southeast of Kiribati. Closest to the equator is Nanumea, followed southwards by Niutao, Nanumaga, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita, the smallest. The first four constitute a compact northern subgroup, while the latter five form a more scattered southern group. The climate throughout is tropical maritime. Seasonal variations are slight, though wet and stormy conditions with strong westerlies occur from December to February. During the rest of the year, easterly trade winds predominate. Rainfall is heavier in the south than in the north, although it is generally adequate throughout. Limited storage capacity, however, means that water may become scarce even after a relatively short dry spell.

Demography. The 1991 national census enumerated 9,043 persons, but the total population of Tuvaluans was estimated at about 11,000, including those living in other parts of the Pacific, as well as those working on ships around the world. The separate island populations vary considerably, from over 4,000 on Funafuti, the capital, to fewer than 100 on Niulakita. The vast majority is of Tuvaluan ethnic origin, with a small minority of immigrants from other Pacific nations. A sizable group of advisers, officials, development workers, and volunteers from Western countries resides in Tuvalu at any one time, especially on Funafuti. Overseas, significant clusters of Tuvaluans are found on Kioa Island in Fiji (about 400), in Kiribati (about 400), and in New Zealand (estimated at several hundred). In June 2000, the Tuvaluan prime minister asked New Zealand to take another 3,000 migrants as a response to rising sea levels, but an agreement has not yet been reached. A few remain on Nauru (located northwest of Tuvalu), where they once worked in large numbers in the phosphate and supporting industries. In each case, Tuvaluans living outside their home nation adapt to the dominant culture, while retaining symbols of a distinct identity.

The best estimates suggest a precontact population of around 3,000. After European contact, most of Tuvalu escaped the depredations wrought by diseases and other factors elsewhere in the Pacific, but Nukulaelae and Funafuti suffered significant population losses in 1863 when Peruvian "blackbirders" (labor traders using a mixture of force and inducement) kidnaped several hundred natives. The population of these two islands has since more than recovered through natural increase and migration.

Linguistic Affiliation. The majority of people speak Tuvaluan, a Polynesian language, except for the inhabitants of Nui who speak a mainly Gilbertese (Micronesian) dialect. Although all varieties of Tuvaluan are mutually intelligible, each island community has a distinct dialect. Nanumea, Nanumaga, and Niutao form a loose subgroup, while the inhabitants of the four Southern islands speak closely related dialects. Tuvaluan is historically related to Polynesian Outlier languages in Melanesia, and is a more distant relative of Samoan and Tokelauan. Many Tuvaluans are competent in Samoan, which functioned as the language of church and (to a lesser extent) government until recently, as well as Gilbertese, the dominant language of the colony for seven decades. Samoan in particular has exerted considerable influence on the structure of Tuvaluan. Since the mid-1970s, Samoan and Gilbertese have declined in importance and English has become the prestige language and the medium of communication with the outside world.

Symbolism. While the symbols that relate persons to their home island are numerous, long-standing, and diffuse, those connecting persons to the nation-state are fewer, more recent, less well established, and comparatively self-conscious. National identity is symbolized by a flag, a national anthem, a seal, and an Independence Day celebrated every year. The flag, devised for independence, represents each of the nine islands with a gold star. It also sports the Union Jack in the upper-left-hand corner, symbolic of membership in the Commonwealth, and a reminder of the British colonial presence. This design has been contested, however: it was modified in 1995, entirely replaced in 1996, but restored in 1997. These changes followed partisan politics, heavily influenced in turn by kinship and island affiliations.

The only medium of popular communication for promoting national integration is the radio station, which broadcasts (highly sanitized) information and entertainment for several hours a day. Print media are confined to an intermittent government news sheet and an even more intermittent church newsletter. Both are difficult to obtain and consequently not widely read. There is no broadcast television technology in the country though videos are popular and have replaced film screenings as a mode of entertainment. The educational system exerts conflicting pressures on national identity. There are only two secondary schools for the entire group, but entry is competitive. Any nation-building that results is, as elsewhere in the Pacific, concentrated in the emergent elite.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Tuvalu was probably settled as part of the backwash by which the Polynesian Outliers in Melanesia and Micronesia were populated after the main eastward historical wave of Polynesian migration. Lack of archaeological investigation makes original settlement dates difficult to establish. Ethno-historical evidence suggests that the islands maintained sporadic contacts with one another, as well as with invaders and other visitors, principally from Samoa, Tonga, and Kiribati. First contact with the world outside of the Pacific probably occurred in 1568, when Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira sighted Nui. Sustained contact did not take place until the early nineteenth century. From 1865 to the mid-1870s, Samoan missionaries from the London Missionary Society (LMS) established Christian churches on each island, and from 1892 to 1975 Britain administered the group jointly with the Gilbert Islands, first as a protectorate and after 1916 as a colony.

While the Congregationalist ethos and limited resources of the LMS left each island largely to its own devices, British administration fostered a sense of commonality among the inhabitants of the group, encouraged by and in contrast to the often absent colonial officers, but also in contrast to the Gilbertese. The founding of a boys' secondary school on Vaitupu in 1922 brought together children from around the group. The use of three atolls as bases for U.S. forces during World War II also brought islanders into contact both with one another and with Americans (enabling them to place British authority into perspective).

As Great Britain moved to divest itself of its Pacific possessions, Ellice Islanders decided against remaining tied to the more populous Gilbertese, who were judged to be culturally different and inferior. Britain reluctantly allowed the Ellice Islanders to secede in 1975. The newly renamed Tuvalu became independent in 1978 and its neighbor, renamed Kiribati, in 1979.

Ethnic Relations. Small numbers of migrants from other Pacific islands (particularly Kiribati) reside in Tuvalu, often through marriage, and their integration is mostly unproblematic. The only significant pattern of group identification revolves around a person's island of origin, which is reckoned according to one's kinship affiliations. When numbers permit, Tuvaluans use island of origin as an organizational principle for such purposes as exchange and celebrations, but it is not an ethnic marker as such.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Before Christianity, island communities probably consisted of dispersed hamlets. Under missionary influence, each island population became concentrated in one or two villages, spatially and socially divided into two or four "sides" (feituu ). Membership in these is largely symbolic but serves as a way of organizing gift exchanges, games, fund-raising, and some fishing and communal projects. In the neutral village center are located the church building, the maneapa or meetinghouse, and the village green (malae ). Government buildings (e.g., island office, school, first-aid station, rest house) are generally built on the outskirts. Until the 1970s, houses throughout the group were open rectangular structures supported by pandanus posts and roofed with pandanus thatch. Meeting houses were similar in design but larger, while churches and government buildings were and are built with imported materials. After a devastating hurricane on Funafuti in 1972, dwellings were rebuilt with imported materials (timber, wood-chip board, cement, and corrugated iron). Other islands gradually followed suit, and by the mid-1980s the only structures made of local material were small peripheral buildings such as cooking huts.

The only significant variation from the general pattern is on Funafuti, where space is more fragmented and diversely organized owing to the presence of the national government, the large number of residents from other islands, the greater population, and the airstrip of World War II vintage, which occupies much of the main islet.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The most important cultivated plant is pulaka (swamp taro), grown in large pits dug into the top layer of a freshwater lens, and valued for its resistance to drought and high salinity. Also of importance to the daily diet are coconut palms (used for the collection of kaleve "toddy" as well as for the nuts), pandanus, bananas, and breadfruit. Fish was traditionally the main source of dietary protein. Today, particularly on Funafuti, imported rice and flour figure prominently in the daily diet, as well as canned and frozen meat. Weakly brewed tea has long been part of daily fare, often in preference to the nutrient-rich coconut toddy. Meals are consumed two or three times a day at home. The few restaurants are all on Funafuti.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Feasts consist of the daily staples, but in larger quantities, and with the addition of pork and fowl meat (the product of local animal husbandry), and occasional treats such as wild birds and turtle.

Basic Economy. The daily activities of the inhabitants of the Outer Islands (all islands other than Funafuti) remain primarily subsistence-oriented. Fishing, agriculture, and animal husbandry occupy most individuals' days, supplemented by craft production for local consumption (e.g., mat weaving, house building and repairing, boat and motor maintenance, tackle making, fishing, and net mending). On Funafuti, these activities have lost their prominence, as many inhabitants, particularly non-Funafuti Islanders, do not have access to land, and fishing grounds are not readily reachable. Many residents are dependent on the salaries of relatives employed by the government and the few other bureaucratic or commercial bodies. Even on the Outer Islands, remittances from relatives employed elsewhere have long served to supplement subsistence through the purchase of store-bought food, fuel, and clothing. Little is produced for sale on the Outer Islands; rather, surplus production is used to sustain networks of exchange between families and individuals.

Land Tenure and Property. The original form of tenure may have been communal, as this arrangement still exists and is accorded symbolic priority. From a system in which chiefs probably allocated land rights for use rather than ownership, more complex forms of title have evolved. Land may now be held privately, either by individuals or by groups, although this distinction is blurred by the fact that individuals are always members of groups that wax and wane as the individuals that constitute them are born, reproduce, and die.

Commercial Activities. Small cottage-industry ventures emerge from time to time. They target food needs (e.g., baked items, pigs and fowl, salt fish prepared on the Outer Islands for sale on Funafuti) or cater to the tiny tourist and export industry, through the sale of woven fans, shell necklaces, and model canoes. These efforts are marked by high rates of failure and turnover.

Major Industries. Large-scale ventures, such as the commercial harvesting of the bountiful marine resources, require capital investments (e.g., for harvesting equipment and storage facilities) and adequate transportation between the islands and to the outside world, both of which are currently unavailable. The group's Exclusive Economic Zone does generate revenue, however, through licenses for Distant Water Fishing Nations.

Trade. Trade before Western contact was confined to occasional interisland voyages, which may have been accompanied by exchanges, marriages, and political tribute. Foreign traders became interested in coconut oil and then in copra (dried coconut flesh for the food and cosmetics industries). Copra is still exported but has greatly declined in importance, owing to inefficiencies of scale and fluctuating prices on the world market. Tuvalu's current principal export is its manual labor: since the 1980s, international shipping corporations have employed Tuvaluan seamen, whose remittances make an important contribution to the economy.

Division of Labor. Traditionally, there was little full-time specialization, though certain people were acknowledged experts at fishing, navigation, defense, canoe making, house building, and gardening, as well as curing and divination. This division was often formalized into bodies of knowledge jealously guarded by particular descent groups. Traditional chiefs were not necessarily exempt from working at the common range of pursuits, although today high-status individuals (e.g., the pastor, the island president) are expected not to engage in strenuous activities. Younger people, especially men, are expected to take on more physically demanding tasks, while older individuals attend to more sedentary work. Specialization has taken hold mainly in the church and in government.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. On most islands, traditional chiefs (aliki ) headed the major descent groups and sometimes deferred to one or two paramount chiefs. In no case did chieftainship give rise to a caste system. The chiefs seem to have been as much religious leaders as political ones, but they shared religious authority with spirit mediums and diviners. While the latter were suppressed by missionaries, the chiefly system survived. Its power was greatly reduced under missionary and colonial hegemony but has never disappeared and is occasionally revived.

Embryonic class formation has appeared on Funafuti, caused by occupational specialization, the increasing importance of cash in the economy, and the fledgling development of business. Obligations to kin, however, continue to have a neutralizing effect on class-generated upward mobility.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Traditional chiefly status is said to have been symbolized by certain objects and prerogatives: pearl-shell fishing-lure necklaces, reserved seating against the head post of the meetinghouse, and the right to the head of all turtles caught. Many of these privileges are now bestowed on the village pastor. No clear markers of incipient class differentiation have emerged, other than the mostly subtle material and symbolic correlates of social achievement (e.g., material comforts, self-confidence, fluency in English).

Political Life

Government. The written constitution established a Westminster-style system. The British monarch is nominally head of state and represented locally by a governor-general, whose role is largely honorific. Each island elects one or two members of a twelve-member parliament (apart from Niulakita residents, who vote for a Niutao delegate). The leader of a parliamentary majority becomes prime minister and selects a cabinet from elected members.

Leadership and Political Officials. Achievement of national leadership positions follows quasi-traditional principles. It requires personal charisma, evidence of divine protection (e.g., educational achievement and fluency in English), enough wealth or income to allow generosity, and favorable kinship connections (including large numbers of voting relatives). As in Western parliamentary practice, compromises and informal deals occupy a central role in Tuvaluan politics. Political parties with agendas and policies do not exist at either local or national levels. Political alignment is best understood as loosely structured and potentially unstable factionalism, configured by local-level kinship ties. Politicians receive the same deference as other high-status persons (positive politeness, some avoidance, etc.), although these patterns are highly informal in comparison to larger Polynesian polities, as befits the relatively egalitarian ethos of Tuvaluan society, traditional and modern.

Social Problems and Control. A small police force maintains order on each island, where magistrate courts regularly sit to deal with drunken and disorderly conduct, breaking and entering, unpaid debts, and failure to keep pigs confined. More serious crimes, such as rape and embezzlement, are sent to the high court on Funafuti. Informal mechanisms such as gossip, shaming, and public admonition are effective. Tuvaluans place high value on the maintenance of harmonious interpersonal relations, and have long taken pride in presenting themselves as a peaceful and law-abiding society. This image began to come into question in the late twentieth century with rising crime rates, particularly in the capital, said to stem from increasing contact with the outside world, the greater availability of liquor, the decreasing power of traditional forms of social control, and the presence of returned seamen.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Kinship groups and island communities continue to take primary responsibility for welfare and social services. Tuvalu has a strong tradition of volunteerism, whereby persons and families present food, services, and money to the community on occasions such as a child's educational achievement or a wedding. Feeding the entire island is also a common way of asking for communal forgiveness for a transgression (e.g., causing a serious fight). Competitive fund-raising and other forms of resource pooling occur frequently. The product of these efforts may be destined for a third party, such as a neighboring island in need or the island's pastor, or may be redistributed among the members of the group. Individuals, groups, and communities can gain considerable prestige from generous contributions to such efforts. Conversely, the system can place less fortunate individuals under substantial strain.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Many types of organizations form and reform around specific identities and purposes: women's groups, dancing groups, religious groups, "development" groups. Their purpose is often to raise funds or pool resources. Some, such as village sides and choir groups, are more enduring than others. Individuals may belong to many different groups simultaneously or consecutively, and may thus negotiate their allegiances strategically.

While most groups are confined to particular island communities, some are part of national organizations with links to international bodies (e.g., the Tuvalu Christian Church and the Tuvalu Red Cross Society). A few international organizations, such as the Save the Children Federation and overseas volunteer agencies, have played a notable role in development.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. There was and is a general gender-based division of labor, more marked in ideology than in practice. Men engage in open sea and lagoon fishing from canoes as well as the gathering of coconuts and palm toddy and the more strenuous forms of cultivation. Women share the activity of reef fishing and collecting and take responsibility for weaving and infant care, as well as for harvesting some crops and preparing food. This division is less ideologically clear-cut in modern occupational fields, although in practice women are overrepresented in menial positions while men overwhelmingly control key positions in the labor market.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. In daily life, there is relative gender equality. The coercion of women by men is strongly condemned, although forms of it (e.g., domestic violence) do occur. Women's lack of power becomes evident in formal contexts. They are seriously underrepresented in local structures of authority and power (despite the occasional appointment of a female chief), as well as in the higher ranks of government, civil service, and the church.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. The choice of a marriage partner is today dictated by a mixture of kinship alliance and personal choice. Island communities differ in terms of their preference for endogamy (marriage within one's group) and exogamy (marriage outside one's group) but marriage between "avoidance" relatives (up to third cousins) is always strictly prohibited. Marriage is one of the most important rites of passage in Tuvaluan society, since it legitimizes children and establishes new kinship links in relation to land rights and the flow of resources. Very few people fail to marry. Polygyny (having more than one wife) was suppressed by missionization, and present-day attitudes concerning marriage, sexuality, and family obligation are strongly influenced by Christianity. Divorce and remarriage, rare until recently, are on the increase.

Domestic Unit. Marriage establishes a nuclear family that usually lives with the husband's parents (though sometimes with the bride's parents until after the first child is born). Households of one or more such families are generally headed by the most senior man or (sometimes) woman. Household composition can vary greatly over time and space, and may include distant relatives on long-term visits. Children are often redistributed among related families by different levels of adoption, allowing grandparents or childless siblings to maintain multigenerational domestic units.

Inheritance. Descent has an agnatic (male) bias, as shown in property inheritance. Thus, while the apex of a descent group is typically a founding set of siblings, and the estates that accrued to them could be inherited by males and females alike, eldest sons inherited most.

Kin Groups. Kinship is cognatic, with important links being traced through both parents in the construction of ego-centered kindreds. Extended families do not necessarily live contiguously. They continue to function as significant units as long as they share ownership of particular plots of land, from which they "eat together" (kai tasi ), a condition that encourages the sharing of other resources (e.g., fish, money). When such arrangements are weakened because of genealogical distance or a breakdown in interpersonal relations, the various branches agree on a division of the property held in common and gradually cease to share other resources.


Infant Care. Mothers are infants' primary care-givers, but a wide range of kin may be mobilized if necessary. Infants are generally showered with attention and affection; but they are also socialized to be attentive to surroundings, as in being held facing the center of interactional groups, and adaptive, as in being expected to go to sleep in the middle of well-lit, crowded, and noisy households.

Child Rearing and Education. Children, especially girls, are involved in the rearing of younger siblings, who are expected to stop depending on the attention of mothers early. Physical punishment is used but it is rarely severe, with amicable relations restored almost immediately. Shaming and peer pressure generally prove more potent sanctions, and the peer group tends to play an important role in socialization. Education is highly valued, although most nonelite households do not provide children the space and time to study. Competence in English, a requirement for advancement in the educational system, is a major stumbling block for many children who have few opportunities to practice the language, particularly on the Outer Islands.

Higher Education. Students who graduate from secondary school may attend tertiary institutions overseas (in Fiji, New Zealand, or Australia), usually with the financial assistance of donor countries. Few Tuvaluans have obtained tertiary qualifications, and those that have are guaranteed employment in the national bureaucracy.


Across all contexts, everyday interactions between most people emphasize convivial informality, positive politeness, and indirection. Importance is given to being attentive to the presence and needs of others, and on maintaining a jovial demeanor. Children are expected not to impinge on the social space of adult strangers, particularly those of high status. Lower status persons should not cross directly in front of higher status persons, stand above them, or touch their head.

Within the family, the most constrained type of interaction is between cross-sex first, second, and sometimes third cousins, who were traditionally expected to avoid each other's presence completely. Today, such pairs must avoid talking to one another beyond the absolutely necessary and should strive to orient themselves away from one another. Joking and speaking about bodies and bodily functions in the presence of such cousins is considered a serious faux pas. More relaxed patterns of avoidance characterize interactions between in-laws. At the same time, avoidance can contextually become the subject of jokes. Interactions between fathers and sons tend to be distant and undemonstrative, while interactions between grandparent and grandchild, between adoptive parent and adoptive child, and between mother's brother and sister's child, are generally warm and affectionate.


Religious Beliefs. Tuvalu is solidly Protestant with a Congregationalist flavor. Other sects and religions have few adherents. While some syncretic pre-Christian beliefs in magic and sorcery remain, the Christian deity is universally acknowledged, with the Tuvalu Christian Church giving equal prominence to Jesus.

Religious Practitioners. For several decades after missionization, the (mainly Samoan) pastors of the London Missionary Society wielded great power. The role of pastor became a prestigious career choice for Tuvaluan males as well, a number of whom were appointed to other parts of the Pacific. Locally, deacons (men and women) and lay preachers (men only) play important parts in religious affairs.

Rituals and Holy Places. Church buildings are important holy places on each island, and are among the most impressive structures in terms of size, cost, and design. Tuvaluans celebrate the regular Christian holidays and days of worship. Religious celebrations are often protracted; Christmas festivities, for example, can last several weeks and mobilize abundant resources.

Death and Afterlife. Christian ideology proclaims the existence of Heaven and Hell as the destinations of souls. Alternative views, if they exist, are not officially condoned, though the spirits of the dead are believed to have the power of action under certain circumstances (lack of filial piety, bad relations between kin, etc.).

Medicine and Health Care

Western medicine is practiced by trained doctors and nurses, but is not equally reliable or available on every island. Local curing practices are a syncretic combination of traditional, Christian, and scientific ideas: massage, herbal and other medicines, special foods or food prohibitions, faith healing, divination and magic, and prayer.

Secular Celebrations

Each island community celebrates events such as the return of land from traders or the repayment of a communal debt. The only salient government-related national celebration is Independence Day (1 October), celebrated on Funafuti with a state ceremony, the raising of the flag, and a parade of policemen and schoolchildren; and on the Outer Islands with scaled-down versions of these. Independence Day and all other celebrations are marked by several days of feasting, dancing, and games in the meetinghouse. Other nationally celebrated events not associated with nationhood include International Women's Day, Children's Day, and United Nations Day.

The Arts and Humanities

Literature. Despite the very high rate of literacy, there is no tradition of written literature.

Graphic Arts. The only production of graphic artistry is the decoration of mats, dancing skirts, and fans with dyed fibers.

Performance Arts. The major artistic traditions are performance-oriented. Action songs known as faatele reign supreme. Seated vocalists sing the repeated verses of a song faster and faster until they reach a climax and stop abruptly, while standing dancers act out the lyrics. Faatele may involve competition between different sides, be an adjunct to other festivities, or be an end in themselves, and may be composed and choreographed by anyone with the inspiration to do so. Tuvaluans also enjoy other kinds of musical activity, including hymn singing, Western-style dancing, and pop music. The verbal arts are confined to oratorical performances, which are the exclusive domain of older men.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

No significant local endeavors in this area have taken place.


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Michael Goldsmith and Niko Besnier

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Tuvalu became independent within the Commonwealth in 1978. It was formerly the Ellice Islands and was part of the Gilbert and Ellice colony. The nine small islands lie some 2,500 miles north-east of Australia. They were visited in 1819 by the ship Rebecca, which belonged to Alexander Ellice, a Montreal shipowner.

J. A. Cannon

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TUVALU. A country of Oceania and member of the COMMONWEALTH. Languages: Tuvaluan, English (both official). Formerly known as the Ellice Islands and part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Tuvalu gained its independence in 1978. See KIRIBATI.

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