Tuvalu is a land of strong families, deep faith and distinctive Polynesian culture. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii in the South Pacific, Tuvalu is one of the smallest and most remote countries on earth. The State of Tuvalu is made up of nine coral atolls.
Tuvalu’s size and location create both a blessing and a dilemma – its smallness breeds both a close-knit community but also overcrowding, which leads to mass emigration. Faced with limited natural resources, Tuvalu’s economy is precarious. The islands’ low elevation levels have caused some experts to advise evacuation of the atolls for fear of rising sea levels. Other scientists dispute the necessity for migration. Whatever the future of the islands, its people are determined that their culture will survive and thrive for generations to come.
Tuvalu (first known to Europeans as the Ellice Islands) first came under British jurisdiction in the late 1800s. In 1974, ethnic differences within the British colonies of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands caused the Polynesians of the Ellice Islands to vote for separation from the Micronesians of the Gilbert Islands (now the nation of Kiribati). The following year, the Ellice Islands became Tuvalu, a separate British colony. Independence was granted in 1978.
The ancestors of the Tuvaluan people are believed to have arrived on the islands about 2,000 years ago. Under the leadership of chiefs, known as aliki, traditional Tuvaluan society continued for hundreds of years before it underwent significant changes with the arrival of European traders in the 1820s. Samoan and British missionaries arrived in the 1860s and the Tuvaluans embraced Christianity. Today 97% of Tuvalu’s people are members of the Tuvalu Congregationalist Church.
The vast majority of the people of Tuvalu speak Tuvaluan, although a minority speaks Kiribati.* The Tuvaluan Bible was published in 1987.
*See Kiribati country profile for an update on the Kiribati Bible.