Capital City: Funafuti
Languages: Tuvaluan, English
Official Currency: Tuvaluan dollar, Australian dollar
GDP (nominal) $14.94 million
Population: July 2009 estimate 12,373. The population of Tuvalu is primarily of Polynesian ethnicity; about 4% of the population is Micronesian.
Land Area: 26 km2
Tuvalu, formerly known as the Ellice Islands, is a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its nearest neighbours are Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji. It comprises four reef islands and five true atolls. Its population of 12,373 makes it the third-least-populated sovereign state in the world, with only Vatican City and Nauru having fewer inhabitants. In terms of physical land size, at just 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi) Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world, larger only than the Vatican City at 0.44 km2 (0.17 sq mi), Monaco at 1.95 km2 (0.75 sq mi) and Nauru at 21 km2 (8.1 sq mi).
Tuvalu consists of four reef islands and five true atolls. Its small, scattered group of atolls has poor soil and a total land area of only about 26 square kilometres (less than 10 sq. mi.) making it the fourth smallest country in the world. The land is very low lying with narrow coral atolls. Funafuti is the largest atoll of the nine low reef islands and atolls that form the Tuvalu volcanic island chain. It comprises numerous islets around a central lagoon that is approximately 25.1 kilometres (15.6 mi) (N–S) by 18.4 kilometres (11.4 mi) (W-E), centred on 179°7’E and 8°30’S. An annular reef rim surrounds the lagoon, with several natural reef channels.
The highest elevation is 4.5 metres (15 ft) above sea level, which gives Tuvalu the second-lowest maximum elevation of any country (after the Maldives). Because of this low elevation, the islands that make up this nation may be threatened by any future sea level rise. Under such circumstances, the population may evacuate to New Zealand, Niue or the Fijian island of Kioa. Additionally, Tuvalu is affected by what is known as a king tide, which can raise the sea level higher than a normal high tide. In the future, this may threaten to submerge the nation entirely. Tuvalu has very poor land and the soil is hardly usable for agriculture. There is almost no reliable supply of drinking water. Tuvalu has westerly gales and heavy rain from November to March and tropical temperatures moderated by easterly winds from March to November.
Tuvalu -- History --
Tuvaluans are a Polynesian people who settled the islands around 3000 years ago coming from Tonga and Samoa. During pre-European-contact times there was frequent canoe voyaging between the nearer islands. Eight of the nine islands of Tuvalu were inhabited; thus the name, Tuvalu, means "eight standing together" in Tuvaluan. Possible evidence of fire in the Caves of Nanumanga may indicate human occupation thousands of years before that.
Tuvalu was first sighted by Europeans in 1568 with the arrival of Alvaro de Mendana de Neira from Spain who also encountered the island of Nui (atoll) but was unable to land. The next Europeans to appear did not do so until the late 1700s when explorers reached the area. By the early 1800s, whalers were roving the Pacific though visiting Tuvalu only infrequently because of the difficulties of landing ships on the atolls. No settlements had been established by them.
Peruvian slave raiders ("blackbirders") combed the Pacific between 1862 and 1864 and Tuvalu was one of the hardest-hit Pacific island groups with over 400 people taken from Funafuti and Nukulaelae, none of whom returned.
In 1865 the London Missionary Society, Protestant congregationalists, began their process of evangelisation of Tuvalu and the people's conversion to Christianity was complete by the 1920s. Also in the late 1800s, European traders began to live on the islands hoping to profit from local resources.
In 1892 the islands became part of the British protectorate known as the Ellice Islands. The protectorate was incorporated into the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1916. In 1943, during World War II, Tuvalu was selected as an operations base for Allied forces battling the Japanese in the Pacific. Thousands of marines were stationed there until December 1945.
In 1974 ethnic differences within the colony caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (to become Kiribati). The following year the Ellice Islands became the separate British colony of Tuvalu. Independence was granted in 1978.
Tuvalu Independence Day is celebrated on 1 October. In 1979 Tuvalu signed a treaty of friendship with the United States that recognised Tuvalu's rightful possession of four small islands formerly claimed by the United States.
As low-lying islands, lacking a surrounding shallow shelf, the island communities of Tuvalu are especially susceptible to changes in sea level and storm patterns that hit the island undissipated. It is estimated that a sea level rise of 20–40 centimetres (8–16 inches) in the next 100 years could make Tuvalu uninhabitable. The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) suggests that while Tuvalu is vulnerable to climate change there are additional environmental problems such as population growth and poor coastal management that are affecting sustainable development on the island. SOPAC ranks the country as extremely vulnerable using the Environmental Vulnerability Index. While some commentators have called for the relocation of the population of Tuvalu to Australia, New Zealand, or Kioa (Fiji), the former Prime Minister Maatia Toafa said his government did not regard rising sea levels as such a threat that the entire population would need to be evacuated. In spite of persistent Internet rumours that New Zealand has agreed to accept an annual quota of 75 evacuees, the annual residence quota of 75 Tuvaluans under the Pacific Access Category (and 50 places for people from Kiribati) replaced the previous Work Schemes from the two countries and are not related to environmental concerns.
Tuvalu -- Economy --
Tuvalu has almost no natural resources, and its main form of income consists of foreign aid. Virtually the only jobs in the islands that pay a steady wage or salary are with the government. Subsistence farming and fishing remain the primary economic activities, particularly off the capital island of Funafuti. Government revenues largely come from the sale of stamps and coins, fishing licences and worker remittances.
About 800 Tuvaluans previously worked in Nauru in the phosphate mining industry or aboard foreign ships as sailors. When phosphate mining ceased in Nauru, 378 Tuvaluans were stranded in the country until they were repatriated in 2006 by a joint program in which Australia, New Zealand, and the EU paid most of the cost of their return passage, and Taiwan paid the back wages they were owed. Substantial income is received annually from the Tuvalu Trust Fund, which was established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom and supported also by Japan and South Korea. This fund grew from an initial $17 million to over $35 million in 1999. The US government is also a major revenue source for Tuvalu, with 1999 payments from a 1988 treaty on fisheries at about $9 million, a total which is expected to rise annually.
In 1998, Tuvalu began deriving revenue from use of its area code for "900" lines and from the sale of its ".tv" Internet domain name. In 2000, Tuvalu negotiated a contract leasing its Internet domain name ".tv" for $50 million in royalties.
Because of the country's remoteness, tourism does not provide much income; a hundred tourists are estimated to visit Tuvalu annually. Almost all visitors are government officials, aid workers, non-governmental organization officials or consultants.
Tuvalu -- Culture --
The traditional community system still survives to a large extent on Tuvalu. Each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community, such as fishing, house building or defence. The skills of a family are passed on from father to son. Most islands have their own fusi, or government owned shops. Similar to a convenience store, you can buy canned foods and bags of rice, but goods are cheaper and fusis give better prices for their own goods because of government subsidy. Another important building is the falekaupule or village hall, where important matters are discussed and which is used with certain events.
The traditional foods eaten in Tuvalu are pulaka, seafood (crab, turtle, some fish), bananas and breadfruit, coconut, and pork. Pulaka is the main source for carbohydrates. It is grown in large pits below the watertable in composted soil. Seafood is the main source of protein. Bananas and breadfruit are supplemental crops. Finally, coconut is used for its juice, making beverages and to make food tastier. Pork is eaten most with fateles (or parties with dance to celebrate certain events).
Tuvaluan is a Polynesian language of the Ellicean group spoken in Tuvalu. It is more or less distantly related to all other Polynesian languages, such as Hawaiian, Maori, Tahitian, Samoan, and Tongan, and most closely related to the languages spoken on the Polynesian Outliers in Micronesia and Northern and Central Melanesia. Tuvaluan has borrowed considerably from Samoan, the language of Christian missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are about 13,000 Tuvaluan speakers worldwide.
Education in Tuvalu is free of charge and compulsory between the ages of 6 and 15 years. In 1998, the gross and net primary school enrollment rates were 100 percent. Primary school attendance rates were unavailable for Tuvalu as of 2001. While enrollment rates indicate a level of commitment to education, they do not always reflect children’s participation in school.
Tuvalu -- Political system, law and government --
Tuvalu is a constitutional monarchy and Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II serving as the country's head of state, bearing the title Queen of Tuvalu. The Queen does not reside in the islands and is represented in Tuvalu by a Governor General, who is appointed by the Queen upon the advice of the country's elected Prime Minister. The local unicameral parliament, or Fale I Fono, has 15 members and is elected every four years. Its members select a Prime Minister who is the head of government. The Cabinet is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Each island also has its own high-chief or ulu-aliki, and several sub-chiefs (alikis) and elders. The elders form together an island council of elders or te sina o fenua (literally:"grey-hairs"). In the past, another caste, namely the one of the priests (tofuga) was also amongst the decision-makers. The sina o fenua, aliki and ulu-aliki exercise informal authority on a local level. Ulu-aliki are always chosen based on ancestry, and their powers are now shared with the pule o kaupule (elected village presidents; one on each atoll). There are no formal political parties and election campaigns are largely on the basis of personal/family ties and reputation.
The highest court in Tuvalu is the High Court; there are eight Island Courts with limited jurisdiction. Rulings from the High Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal of Tuvalu. From the Court of Appeal there is a right of appeal to Her Majesty in Council, i.e., the Privy Council in London.
Tuvalu has no regular military forces, and spends no money on the military. Its police force includes a Maritime Surveillance Unit for search and rescue missions and surveillance operations. The police have a Pacific-class patrol boat (Te Mataili) provided by Australia under the Pacific Patrol Boat Program for use in maritime surveillance and fishery patrol.