From New World Encyclopedia
Flag of Tuvalu Coat of arms of Tuvalu
Motto"Tuvalu mo te Atua" (Tuvaluan)
"Tuvalu for the Almighty"
AnthemTuvalu mo te Atua (Tuvaluan)
Tuvalu for the Almighty

Royal anthem: God Save the King
Location of Tuvalu
8°31′S 179°13′E / -8.517, 179.217
Official languages Tuvaluan, English
Demonym Tuvaluan
Government Unitary non-partisan parliamentary constitutional monarchy
 -  Monarch Charles III
 -  Governor-General Tofiga Vaevalu Falani
 -  Prime Minister Kausea Natano
 -  from the United Kingdom October 1, 1978 
 -  Total 26 km² (226th)
10 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) negligible
 -  2022 estimate 11,544[1] (221st)
 -  2017 census 10,645 
 -  Density 475.88/km² (22nd)
1,142/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2016 estimate
 -  Total $39 million[2] (226th)
 -  Per capita $3,566[2] (156th)
GDP (nominal) 2020 estimate
 -  Total $45 million[2] (194th)
 -  Per capita $2,970[2] (118th)
Gini (2010) 39.1[3] 
Currency Tuvaluan dollar
Australian dollar (AUD)
Time zone (UTC+12)
Internet TLD .tv
Calling code +688

Tuvalu (pronounced too-VAH-loo) is an island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. With the exception of tiny Vatican City, Tuvalu has the fewest inhabitants of any other independent nation. Due to their low elevation of about 16 feet (five meters) above sea level, the islands that make up this nation are threatened by any future sea level rise. While some commentators have called for the relocation of the population of Tuvalu to Australia, New Zealand or Fiji, early in the twenty-first century, Prime Minister Maatia Toafa declared his government did not regard rising sea levels as such a threat that the entire population would need to be evacuated.


Tuvalu consists of four reef islands and five true atolls. Its small, scattered group of atolls spread out over 350 miles (560 kilometers), north to south, has a total land area of less than 10 sq. mi. or only about 26 square kilometers, making it the fourth smallest country in the world. The land is very low lying with narrow coral atolls. The highest elevation is 16 feet (five meters) above sea level. Funafuti is the largest atoll of the nine low reef islands and atolls that form the Tuvalu volcanic island chain.

Tuvalu also has almost no potable water, and the thin poor soil is hardly usable for agriculture. The climate features westerly gales and heavy rain from November to March, and a mean annual temperature of about 83 F (28 C); tropical temperatures are moderated by easterly winds from March to November.

Because it is a small, low-lying island nation, the country is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise due to climate change.


Tuvaluan man in traditional costume drawn by Alfred Agate in 1841 during the United States Navy Exploring Expedition.

Tuvaluans are a Polynesian people who possibly settled the islands around 2,000 years ago, coming from Tonga and Samoa. Before European contact, there was frequent canoe voyaging between the nearer islands.

Tuvalu was first sighted by Europeans in 1568 with the arrival of Alvaro de Mendaña y Neyra from Spain, who encountered the island of Nui but was unable to land. Further European explorers reached the area in the late 1700s. By the early 1800s, whalers visited Tuvalu only infrequently due to the difficulties of landing ships on the atoll. Peruvian slave raiders ("blackbirders") who combed the Pacific between 1862 and 1864, took over 400 people from Funafuti and Nukulaelae, none of whom returned.

In 1865, the London Missionary Society, Protestant congregationalists, began evangelizing Tuvalu. Also in the late 1800s, European traders began to live on the islands. Europeans brought diseases new to the Pacific that caused many deaths in Tuvalu. In 1892, the islands became part of the British protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, with Tuvalu being called the Ellice Islands. The protectorate became a colony in 1915.

During World War II, Tuvalu was selected as an operations base for Allied forces battling the Japanese in the Pacific in 1943. Thousands of marines were stationed there until December 1945.

In 1974, ethnic differences within the colony caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (later Kiribati). The following year, the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. Independence was granted in 1978. Independence Day is celebrated on the 1st of October. In 1979, Tuvalu signed a treaty of friendship with the United States, which recognized Tuvalu's possession of four small islands formerly claimed by the United States.


Tuvalu is a constitutional monarchy and is part of the Commonwealth Realm, with King Charles III recognized as King of Tuvalu. He is represented by a Governor-General, who is appointed upon the advice of the Prime Minister.

The local Parliament, or "Fale I Fono," has 15 members and is chosen every four years. Its members elect a Prime Minister, who is the head of government. Some elders exercise informal authority on a local level. There are no formal political parties and election campaigns are largely on the basis of personal or family ties and reputation.

The highest court in Tuvalu is the High Court, and there are eight island courts with limited jurisdiction. Rulings from the High Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal in Fiji.

Tuvalu has no regular military force. Its police force includes a Maritime Surveillance Unit for search and rescue missions and surveillance. The police have a Pacific-class patrol boat provided by Australia for use in maritime surveillance and fishery patrol.

Map of Tuvalu

The nine atolls of Tuvalu have no administrative subdivisions. The smallest island, Niulakita, was uninhabited until people from Niutao resettled there in 1949. The name Tuvalu means "eight standing together" in Tuvaluan.

Tuvalu maintains close relations with Fiji and Australia. It has diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan); Taipei maintains the only resident embassy in Tuvalu and has a large assistance program in the islands.

Tuvalu became a member of United Nations in 2000 and maintains a mission at the UN in New York. A major international priority for Tuvalu in the UN, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and in other international fora is promoting concern about climate change and possible sea level rise. It also is a member of the Asian Development Bank.


Tuvalu has almost no natural resources, and its main form of income consists of foreign aid. Main industries are fishing and tourism, even though, due to the remote location of the islands, only a small number of tourists arrive annually. The only jobs that pay a steady wage or salary are with the government. Only 30 percent of the labor force participates in the formal wage economy. The remaining 70 percent are primarily in rural subsistence and livelihood activities. There is high youth unemployment and few new jobs being created. There has been an inflow of people from the outer islands to Funafuti.

Government revenues largely come from the sale of stamps and coins, and worker remittances. A significant number of Tuvaluans have worked in Nauru mining phosphate. However, Nauru began repatriating Tuvaluans as phosphate resources declined. Substantial income is received from an international trust fund established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and supported by Japan and South Korea. Wise investments and conservative withdrawals meant this fund grew from an initial US$17 million to over US$35 million in 1999. Payments from the US as part of a 1988 treaty on fisheries brought in about US$9 million in 1999. To reduce dependence on foreign aid, the government is reforming the public sector, including privatizing of some government functions and laying off up to seven percent of staff.

In 1998, Tuvalu began deriving revenue from use of its area code for "900" telephone lines and about US$1.5 million annually from the sale of its ".tv" Internet domain name. Domain name income paid most of the cost of paving the streets of Funafuti and installing street lighting in mid-2002.

Export commodities include copra, a coconut product, and fish. Export partners include Germany, Fiji, Italy, UK, and Poland. Import commodities include food, animals, mineral fuels, machinery, and manufactured goods. Import partners include Fiji, Japan, Australia, China, and New Zealand .


Tuvalu’s small population has more than doubled since 1980, and may be contributing to its environmental damage. The population is almost entirely of Polynesian ethnicity, with just a small proportion of Micronesians. Overseas, significant clusters of Tuvaluans are found on Kioa Island in Fiji, in Kiribati, and in New Zealand.

About 97 percent of the Tuvaluans are members of the Church of Tuvalu, a Protestant Christian church. Seventh Day Adventists and Bahá'í make up the rest. On Tuvalu, Christianity has been mixed with some elements of the indigenous religions.

Tuvaluan is spoken by virtually everyone. Each island community has a distinct dialect. Tuvaluan is historically related to Polynesian Outlier languages in Melanesia, and is a more distant relative of Samoan and Tokelauan. Gilbertese is spoken by some people on Nui. Since the mid-1970s, English has become the prestige language and the medium of communication with the outside world.

Many Tuvaluans are competent in Samoan, which was the language of the church and (to a lesser extent) the government until recently, as well as Gilbertese, the dominant language of the colony for seven decades. Samoan in particular has influenced the structure of Tuvaluan.

Marriage is one of the most important rites of passage in Tuvalu. It legitimizes children and establishes new kinship links in relation to land rights and the flow of resources. Few people fail to marry. Missionaries suppressed polygamy (having more than one wife). The Christian religion shapes attitudes concerning marriage, sexuality, and family obligation. Divorce and remarriage, rare until recently, are on the increase.

Occupational specialization, the increasing importance of cash, and the development of business led to the beginning of class formation on Funafuti. But kinship obligations tend to neutralize class-generated upward mobility. On most islands, traditional chiefs (“aliki”) headed the major descent groups and deferred to one or two paramount chiefs. The chiefs were as much religious leaders as political ones, sharing religious authority with spirit mediums and diviners. The missionaries successfully suppressed mediums, but the chiefs survived.


Imported rice and flour are now important in the Tuvaluan daily diet, as well as canned and frozen meat. The most important cultivated plant is swamp taro (“pulaka”), which is grown in large pits dug into the top layer of a freshwater lens, and valued for its resistance to drought and high salinity. Coconut palms are the source of toddy (“kaleve”) and coconuts. Pandanus, bananas, and breadfruit are cultivated. Fish is the main source of protein. Feasts comprise larger quantities of the daily staples, with pork and fowl meat, and occasionally wild birds and turtle.

Each island has one or two villages, each of which is divided into two or four "sides" (“feituu”). The church, the meetinghouse (“maneapa”), and the village green (“malae”) are located in the center of the village. The island’s office, school, first-aid station, and rest house are built on the outskirts. Until the 1970s, houses were open rectangular structures supported by pandanus posts and roofed with pandanus thatch. After a devastating hurricane on Funafuti in 1972, dwellings were rebuilt with timber, wood-chip board, cement, and corrugated iron. Other islands gradually followed suit.

To a large extent, the traditional community system still survives on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building, or defense. The skills of a family are passed on from father to son. A traditional sport played in Tuvalu is "kilikiti," which is similar to cricket.

A radio station broadcasts (highly sanitized) information and entertainment for several hours a day. There is an intermittent government news sheet and an occasional church newsletter. There is no broadcast television. Videos are popular and have replaced film screenings as a mode of entertainment.

Children, especially girls, are involved in the rearing of younger siblings. Physical punishment is used but it is rarely severe. Shaming and peer pressure are more effective. Education is valued, but most non-elite 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 children on the outlying islands. There are only two secondary schools for the entire island group, and entry is competitive.

Despite the high rate of literacy, there is no tradition of written literature. The only graphic artistry is the decoration of mats, dancing skirts, and fans with dyed fibers.

Traditional Tuvalu music consists of a number of dances, most popularly including fatele, “fakanu” and “fakaseasea,” and were used to celebrate leaders and other prominent individuals. Traditional music prior to European contact included poems performed in a sort of monotonal recitation, though this tradition has become extinct, as well as work songs that the women performed to encourage the men while they worked.

The most famous form of Tuvaluan dance music, “fatele,” is influenced by European melody and harmony and is competitive, with each island divided into two sides. Lyricism is an important part of the "fatele" tradition, which begins with the older men singing a song in a meeting hall ("maneapa"), then gradually repeating it louder and quicker as the others join in; they also use empty cabin cracker cans to play the rhythm and a wooden box. Dancers enact the story being retold, and the music finally climaxes and ends abruptly. This tradition is shared with the music of Tokelau.

The "fakanu" dance has died out, though the "fakaseasea" continues to be performed only by elders. It is a slower song with very loose rules on how to perform it. The "fakanu" was a rhythmic dance, performed by people standing on their feet, swaying their body. The swaying was considered erotic by missionaries after the arrival of Europeans, and most traditional dancing was forbidden. The ban came along with restrictions on religious activity, for the "fakanau" served a spiritual purpose as well. Both dances were used for celebrations and for praising fellow islanders.

Tuvalu and global warming

Global warming and climate change has become the “cause celebre” of the early twenty-first century. As low-lying islands lacking a surrounding shallow shelf, the island communities of Tuvalu are especially susceptible to changes in sea level and storm patterns leading to storms that hit the island undissipated. One estimate has a sea level rise of 8 to 16 inches (20-40 centimeters) in the next 100 years. That amount of change could make Tuvalu uninhabitable. Over the past decade, the islands have seen a disappearance of ten feet (three meters) of beachfront and an increase in the severity and frequency of storms. In mid-February 2004, unusually high tides caused seepage that transformed much of the interior into a salty lake, harming root crops.

Tuvaluans are worried about the submerging of the islands and a growing number have left the island. While blaming the islands' problems on climate change has gained Tuvalu much publicity, there are other factors that affect the nation's future. One of these is the population boom on a resource-scarce island which has wreaked environmental damage. Since 1980, the population of Funafuti has more than doubled to almost half of Tuvalu's citizenry. Another major factor is airport construction which has contributed to gradual sinking of the island, salinization of its fresh water source, bringing a sizable part of island's area within inches of sea level, and causing significant damage to the island's coralline base.


  1. CIA, Tuvalu - People and Society The World Factbook. Retrieved November 6, 2022.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified. International Monetary Fund.
  3. "Gini index (World Bank estimate)".. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Brady, Ivan, and Barry Isaac (eds.). A Reader in Culture Change. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 1975. ISBN 0470095342
  • Broughton, Simon, and Mark Ellingham (eds.). World Music, Vol. 2: Latin & North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books, 2000. ISBN 1858286360
  • Connell, John (ed.). Migration and Development in the South Pacific'.' National Centre for Development Studies, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. 1990. ISBN 0731506685

External links

All links retrieved May 2, 2023.

  • Tuvalu Countries and Their Cultures
  • Tuvalu The World Factbook

Countries and territories of Oceania
Australia.png Australia : Australia · Norfolk Island
Melanesia.png Melanesia : East Timor · Fiji · Maluku Islands & Western New Guinea (part of Indonesia) · New Caledonia · Papua New Guinea · Solomon Islands · Vanuatu
Micronesia.png Micronesia : Guam · Kiribati · Marshall Islands · Northern Mariana Islands · Federated States of Micronesia · Nauru · Palau · Wake Island
Polynesia.png Polynesia : American Samoa · Cook Islands · French Polynesia · Hawaii · New Zealand · Niue · Pitcairn Islands · Samoa · Tokelau · Tonga · Tuvalu · Wallis and Futuna


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