Tuvalu flag post 1978 independence

Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a small island nation in the South Pacific, roughly halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. It is a Polynesian nation, similar to neighbouring Fiji and Samoa, and consisting of four reef islands and five atolls. Tuvalu is the second least-populous nation in the world, exceeding only the Vatican City with a population of 12,373. At a land mass of 26 square kilometres (10 square miles), it is the fourth geographically smallest nation in the world, besting Nauru, Monaco and the Vatican.

Tuvalu has become an important subject of discussion with respect to climate change. At 4.5m above sea level, Tuvalu will be one of the first nations to experience a rise of sea level, and one of the most vulnerable. A significant rise in sea level could also damage the nation's water table, destroying the little remaining arable land and food crops.


Tuvalu is located midway between Hawaii and New Zealand, at coordinates 8°31′S 179°13′E. It is a Polynesian island nation, formed from volcanic action. It has four reef islands and five coral atolls. Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, is the largest of the atolls.

Since Tuvalu has an elevation range of 0 - 4.5m above sea level, it is threatened by rising sea levels. There is fear that continued climate change will lead to the complete inundation of all Tuvaluan land. There are contingency plans to evacuate the population to Fiji, Australia or New Zealand in this eventuality. In addition, Tuvalu is affected by king tides, especially high tides that occur when the gravitational pull of the moon and sun are in line and combined.

Language and History

Tuvalu was first inhabited by Polynesian explorers who settled 3000 years ago. Europeans first encountered Tuvalu in the 16th century but because of the difficulty in landing on the atolls, it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that more frequent contact between the native population and Europeans were established.

The island became a British protectorate in 1892 and was dubbed the Ellice Islands. In 1916, it, along with present day Kiribati, were incorporated together as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Later during the Second World War, Tuvalu became a staging ground for United States marines and other Allied forces.

Due to ethnic differences, Gilbert and Ellice Islands were separated in 1974. The Ellice Islands became the British colony of Tuvalu and was given full independence in 1978. The Gilbert Islands was given independence and became the Republic of Kiribati.

Tuvalu Independence day is celebrated on October 1st.

Due to the heavy British influence, English is one of the official languages, the other being Tuvaluan. However, it is Tuvaluan, with its close relations with other Polynesian languages, that is the lingua franca. Tuvaluan is used in daily life as well as in government and judicial functions.

Economy and Government

The government of Tuvalu is a constitutional monarchy, and the nation is part of the Commonwealth. As a constitutional monarchy that was previously a British colony, Tuvalu's head of state is currently Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning queen of the United Kingdom. The Queen appoints a Governor General who represents the Queen in Tuvalu.

The governing organ of Tuvalu consists of only one parliamentary body, the Fale I Fono, and elects 15 members every four years. The members select a Prime Minister. On the advice of the Prime Minister, the Governor General then proceeds to appoint the cabinet. There are no formal political parties or campaigns. Instead, political power is informally held by a council of elders (te sina o fenua), a high chief (ulu-aliki) on each island and several subchiefs (aliki). Elections are usually decided on the basis of personal or clan ties.

Eight Island Courts and one High Court form the judicial organ. Appeals of High Court rulings can be made to the Court of Appeal of Tuvalu and the UK Privy Council.

There is little arable land and no natural resources in Tuvalu. Tuvaluans engage in subsistence farming or fishing. The primary income of Tuvalu is via foreign aid. Citizens often work in government positions or in extranational companies. Many work aboard foreign ships. The country later generated revenue through sales of .tv domain names.

Tuvalu has adopted the Australian Dollar as its primary currency.


Tuvalu is primarily Polynesian in ethnicity. 4% are Micronesians. Most of its Polynesian heritage stands in daily life. Families contribute to specific tasks in the greater community, whether it is fishing, farming or building. Islands have central, government operated shops along the lines of general stores. There are also village halls where the community can congregate and discuss issues.

Getting to Tuvalu

Want to go to Tuvalu? Your options are somewhat limited. There is only one airstrip located in Funafuti, an international airport with the designation FUN (yes, it's a great name). There is limited service via Air Fiji that makes a run two or three times a week from Suva.

A few government-owned passenger and cargo ships travel between Tuvalu, Suva and Fiji.