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Pacific Island Guide  >  Tuvalu

General Information

Tuvaluan man's costume, 1841, U.S. Navy Exploring Expedition.
Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is an island nation consisting of a group of nine small atolls in the western Pacific Ocean. The main island lies north of Fiji. Tuvalu is the world’s second smallest country. The languages spoken are Tuvaluan and English.

Tuvaluans are threatened by rising sea levels because the highest point is just 16 feet above sea level. The estimated population is 10,500.

The islands are Nanumea, Nanumanga, Niutao, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita.

Historical Background

1400: The first settlers are Samoans or Tongans
1818-25: Whalers and traders visit the islands. Some settle there.
1826: The islands are mapped and named after a British Member of Parliament named Edward Ellice, who owned the ship that landed on Funafuti in 1819.
1850s: Jack O’Brien, of Australian-Irish descent, comes to Funafuti and marries Sarai, the daughter of the King of Funafuti. This royal family still bears the O’Brien name.
1860: Britain annexes the islands to protect them from Peruvian slave traders, who have kidnapped 400 Tuvaluans.
1865: The London Missionary Society installs Samoan pastors on various islands.
1892: The islands form part of a protectorate of Britain, known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Traders from American, British, French, and German trading companies settle and leave their names: Duffy (Nanumea), Buckland (Niutao, Nitz (Vaitapu), O’Brien (Funafuti), Restieaux, Fenisot (Nukufetau), and Kleis (Nui).
1915: Britain annexes them as the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony.
1975: The Ellice Islands break away from the Gilbert Islands and become known as Tuvalu. The Tuvaluans are more Polynesian while the I-Kiribati of the Gilbert Islands are more Micronesian in ethnicity and culture.
1978: The islands become independent with the name Tuvalu.
1979: The U.S.A. gives Tuvalu four islands that have been U.S. territory.
2000: Tuvalu joins the United Nations.

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