Tuvalu, Tuvalu History


Woman on Funafuti, Harry Clifford Fassett (1900)

from Wikipedia by Harold Clifford Fassett Public domain

The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesians, so that the origins of the people of Tuvalu can be traced to the spread of humans out of Southeast Asia, from Taiwan, via Melanesia and across the Pacific islands of Polynesia.
Various names were given to individual islands by the captains and chartmakers on visiting European ships. In 1819 the island of Funafuti, was named Ellice's Island; the name Ellice was applied to all nine islands, after the work of English hydrographer Alexander George Findlay. The Ellice Islands came under Great Britain's sphere of influence in the late 19th century as the result of a treaty between Great Britain and Germany relating to the demarcation of the spheres of influence in the Pacific Ocean. Each of the Ellice Islands was declared a British Protectorate by Captain Gibson of, between 9 and 16 October 1892. The Ellice Islands were administered as British protectorate by a Resident Commissioner from 1892 to 1916 as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), and then as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony from 1916 to 1976. The United States claimed Funafuti, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae and Niulakita under the Guano Islands Act of 1856. This claim was renounced under the 1983 treaty of friendship between Tuvalu and the United States.
In 1974, the Ellice Islanders voted for separate British dependency status as Tuvalu, separating from the Gilbert Islands which became Kiribati upon independence. Tuvalu became fully independent within the Commonwealth on 1 October 1978. On 5 September 2000, Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations.
The Tuvalu National Library and Archives holds "vital documentation on the cultural, social and political heritage of Tuvalu", including surviving records from the colonial administration, as well as Tuvalu government archives.

Early history

Polynesia is the largest of three major cultural areas in the Pacific Ocean. Polynesia is generally defined as the islands within the Polynesian triangle.

from Wikipedia by User:Kahuroa Public domain

Tuvaluans are a Polynesian people with the origins of the people of Tuvalu addressed in the theories regarding migration into the Pacific that began about 3000 years ago. There is evidence for a dual genetic origin of Pacific Islanders in Asia and Melanesia, which results from an analysis of Y chromosome (NRY) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers; there is also evidence that Fiji playing a pivotal role in west-to-east expansion within Polynesia.
During pre-European-contact times there was frequent canoe voyaging between the islands as Polynesian navigation skills are recognised to have allowed deliberate journeys on double-hull sailing canoes or outrigger canoes. Eight of the nine islands of Tuvalu were inhabited; thus the name, Tuvalu, means "eight standing together" in Tuvaluan (compare to *walo meaning "eight" in Proto-Austronesian). Possible evidence of fire in the Caves of Nanumanga may indicate human occupation thousands of years before that. The pattern of settlement that is believed to have occurred is that the Polynesians spread out from the Samoan Islands into the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.
An important creation myth of the islands of Tuvalu is the story of the te Pusi mo te Ali (the Eel and the Flounder) who created the islands of Tuvalu; te Ali (the Flounder) is believed to be the origin of the flat atolls of Tuvalu and the te Pusi (the Eel) is the model for the coconut palms that are important in the lives of Tuvaluans. The stories as to the ancestors of the Tuvaluans vary from island to island. On Niutao the understanding is that their ancestors came from Samoa in the 12th or 13th century. On Funafuti and Vaitupu the founding ancestor is described as being from Samoa; whereas on Nanumea the founding ancestor is described as being from Tonga.
These stories can be linked to what is known about the Samoa-based Tu'i Manu'a Confederacy, ruled by the holders of the Tu'i Manú'a title, which confederacy likely included much of Western Polynesia and some outliers at the height of its power in the 10th and 11th centuries. Tuvalu is thought to have been visited by Tongans in the mid-13th century and was within Tonga's sphere of influence. The extent of influence of the Tuʻi Tonga line of Tongan kings and the existence of the Tuʻi Tonga Empire which originated in the 10th century is spoken of by the world-famous Captain James Cook during his visits to the Friendly Isles of Tonga. By observing such Pacific nations as Tuvalu and Uvea, the influence of the Tu'i Tonga is quite strong and has had more of an impact in Polynesia and also parts of Micronesia than the Tu'i Manu'a.
The oral history of Niutao recalls that in the 15th century Tongan warriors were defeated in a battle on the reef of Niutao. Tongan warriors also invaded Niutao later in the 15th century and again were repelled. A third and fourth invasion of Tongan occurred in the late 16th century, again with the Tongans being defeated.
Tuvalu is on the western boundary of the Polynesian Triangle so that the northern islands of Tuvalu, particularly Nui, have links to Micronesians from Kiribati. The oral history of Niutao also recalls that during the 17th century warriors invaded from the islands of Kiribati on two occasions and were defeated in battles fought on the reef.

Voyages by Europeans in the Pacific

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

from Wikipedia by Alfred Thomas Agate Public domain

Tuvalu was first sighted by Europeans on 16 January 1568 during the voyage of Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira from Spain who sailed past the island of Nui, and charted it as Isla de Jesús (Spanish for "Island of Jesus") because the previous day was the feast of the Holy Name. Mendaña made contact with the islanders but was unable to land. During Mendaña's second voyage across the Pacific he passed Niulakita on 29 August 1595, which he named La Solitaria.
Captain John Byron passed through the islands of Tuvalu in 1764 during his circumnavigation of the globe as captain of the . Byron charted the atolls as Lagoon Islands.
Keith S. Chambers and Doug Munro (1980) identified Niutao as the island that Francisco Mourelle de la Rúa sailed past on 5 May 1781, thus solving what Europeans had called The Mystery of Gran Cocal. Mourelle's map and journal named the island El Gran Cocal ('The Great Coconut Plantation'); however, the latitude and longitude was uncertain. Longitude could only be reckoned crudely as accurate chronometers were not available until the late 18th century. Laumua Kofe (1983) accepts Chambers and Munro's conclusions, with Kofe describing Mourelle's ship La Princesa, as waiting beyond the reef, with Nuitaoans coming out in canoes, bringing some coconuts with them. La Princesa was short of supplies but Mourelle was forced to sail on — naming Niutao, El Gran Cocal ('The Great Coconut Plantation').
The next European to visit was Arent Schuyler de Peyster, of New York, captain of the armed brigantine or privateer Rebecca, sailing under British colours, which passed through the southern Tuvaluan waters in May 1819 while on a voyage from Valparaíso to India; de Peyster sighted Funafuti, which he named Ellice's Island after an English politician, Edward Ellice, the Member of Parliament for Coventry and the owner of the Rebecca's cargo. The next morning, De Peyster sighted another group of about seventeen low islands forty-three miles northwest of Funafuti (Nukufetau), naming this group "De Peyster's Islands." It is the first name, however, that was eventually used for the whole island group.
In 1820 the Russian explorer Mikhail Lazarev visited Nukufetau as commander of the Mirny. Louis Isidore Duperrey, captain of La Coquille, sailed past Nanumanga in May 1824 during a circumnavigation of the earth (1822–1825). A Dutch expedition (the frigate Maria Reigersberg) found Nui on the morning of 14 June 1825 and named the main island (Fenua Tapu) as Nederlandsch Eiland.
Whalers began roving the Pacific, although visiting Tuvalu only infrequently because of the difficulties of landing on the atolls. Captain George Barrett of the Nantucket whaler Independence II has been identified as the first whaler to hunt the waters around Tuvalu. In November 1821 he bartered coconuts from the people of Nukulaelae and also visited Niulakita. A shore camp was established on Sakalua islet of Nukufetau, where coal was used to melt down the whale blubber.
For less than a year between 1862–63, Peruvian ships engaged in the so-called "blackbirding" trade, combed the smaller islands of Polynesia from Easter Island in the eastern Pacific to Tuvalu and the southern atolls of the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), seeking recruits to fill the extreme labour shortage in Peru, including workers to mine the guano deposits on the Chincha Islands. While some islanders were voluntary recruits the "blackbirders" were notorious for enticing islanders on to ships with tricks, such as pretending to be Christian missionaries, as well as kidnapping islanders at gun point. The Rev. A. W. Murray, the earliest European missionary in Tuvalu, reported that in 1863 about 180 people were taken from Funafuti and about 200 were taken from Nukulaelae, as there were fewer than 100 of the 300 recorded in 1861 as living on Nukulaelae.

Christian missionaries

Christianity came to Tuvalu in 1861 when Elekana, a Christian deacon from Manihiki in the Cook Islands became caught in a storm and drifted for 8 weeks before landing at Nukulaelae. Once there, Elekana began proselytizing Christianity. He was trained at Malua Theological College, a London Missionary Society school in Samoa, before beginning his work in establishing the Church of Tuvalu.
In 1865 the Rev. A. W. Murray of the London Missionary Society – a Protestant congregationalist missionary society – arrived as the first European missionary where he too proselytized among the inhabitants of Tuvalu. By 1878 Protestantism was well established with preachers on each island. In the later 19th century the ministers of what became the Church of Tuvalu were predominantly Samoans, who influenced the development of the Tuvaluan language and the music of Tuvalu.

Trading firms & traders

Martin Kleis (1850–1908) with Kotalo Kleis and their son Hans Martin Kleis.

from Wikipedia by Neville Chatfield Public domain

John (also known as Jack) O'Brien was the first European to settle in Tuvalu, he became a trader on Funafuti in the 1850s. He married Salai, the daughter of the paramount chief of Funafuti. The Sydney firms of Robert Towns and Company, J. C. Malcolm and Company, and Macdonald, Smith and Company, pioneered the coconut-oil trade in Tuvalu. The German firm of J.C. Godeffroy und Sohn of Hamburg established operations in Apia, Samoa. In 1865 a trading captain acting on behalf of J.C. Godeffroy und Sohn obtained a 25-year lease to the eastern islet of Niuoko of Nukulaelae atoll.
For many years the islanders and the Germans argued over the lease, including its terms and the importation of labourers, however the Germans remained until the lease expired in 1890. By the 1870s J. C. Godeffroy und Sohn began to dominate the Tuvalu copra trade, which company was in 1879 taken over by Handels-und Plantagen-Gesellschaft der Südsee-Inseln zu Hamburg (DHPG). Competition came from Ruge, Hedemann & Co, established in 1875, which was succeeded by H. M. Ruge and Company, and from Henderson and Macfarlane of Auckland, New Zealand.
These trading companies engaged palagi traders who lived on the islands, some islands would have competing traders with dryer islands only have a single trader. Louis Becke, who later found success as a writer, was a trader on Nanumanga, working with the Liverpool firm of John S. de Wolf and Co., from April 1880 until the trading-station was destroyed later that year in a cyclone. He then became a trader on Nukufetau. George Westbrook and Alfred Restieaux operated trade stores on Funafuti, which were destroyed in a cyclone that struck in 1883.
H. M. Ruge and Company, a German trading firm that operated from Apia, Samoa, caused controversy when it threatened to seize the entire island of Vaitupu unless a debt of $13,000 was repaid. The debt was the result of the failed operations of the Vaitupu Company, which had been established by Thomas William Williams, with part of the debt relating to the attempts to operate the trading schooner Vaitupulemele. The Vaitupuans continue to celebrate Te Aso Fiafia (Happy Day) on 25 November of each year. Te Aso Fiafia commemorates 25 November 1887 which was the date on which the final instalment of the debt of $13,000 was repaid.
From the late 1880s changes occurred with steamships replacing sailing vessels. Over time the number of competing trading companies diminished, beginning with Ruge's bankruptcy in 1888 followed by the withdrawal of the DHPG from trading in Tuvalu in 1889/90. In 1892 Captain Davis of, reported on trading activities and traders on each of the islands visited. Captain Davis identified the following traders in the Ellice Group: Edmund Duffy (Nanumea); Jack Buckland (Niutao); Harry Nitz (Vaitupu); John (also known as Jack) O'Brien (Funafuti); Alfred Restieaux and Emile Fenisot (Nukufetau); and Martin Kleis (Nui). This was the time at which the greatest number of palagi traders lived on the atolls. In 1892 the traders either acted as agent for Henderson and Macfarlane, or traded on their own account.
From around 1900 Henderson and Macfarlane dominated the copra trade, operating their vessel SS Archer in the South Pacific with a trading route to Fiji and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. New competition came from Burns Philp, operating from what is now Kiribati, with competition from Levers Pacific Plantations from 1903 and from Captain E. F. H. Allen of the Samoa Shipping and Trading Company from 1911. Structural changes also occurred in the operation of the trading companies, which moved from a practice of having traders resident on each island to trade with the islanders to a business operation where the supercargo (the cargo manager of a trading ship) would deal directly with the islanders when a ship would visit an island; by 1909 there were no resident palagi traders representing the trading firms. Tuvaluans became responsible for operating trading stores on each island.
The last of the traders were Martin Kleis on Nui, Fred Whibley on Niutao and Alfred Restieaux on Nukufetau; who remained in the islands until their deaths.

Scientific expeditions & travellers

A portrait of a woman on Funafuti in 1894 by Count Rudolf Festetics de Tolna

from Wikipedia by Unknown Public domain

The United States Exploring Expedition under Charles Wilkes visited Funafuti, Nukufetau and Vaitupu in 1841. During the visit of the expedition to Tuvalu Alfred Thomas Agate, engraver and illustrator, recorded the dress and tattoo patterns of men of Nukufetau.
In 1885 or 1886, the New Zealand photographer Thomas Andrew visited Funafuti and Nui.
In 1890 Robert Louis Stevenson, his wife Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson, and her son Lloyd Osbourne sailed on the Janet Nicoll,Janet Nicoll is the correct spelling of the trading steamer owned by Henderson and Macfarlane of Auckland, New Zealand, which operated between Sydney, Auckland and into the central Pacific. Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson miss-names the ship as the Janet Nicol in her account of the 1890 voyage a trading steamer owned by Henderson and Macfarlane of Auckland, New Zealand, which operated between Sydney, Auckland and into the central Pacific. The Janet Nicoll visited three of the Ellice Islands; while Fanny records that they made landfall at Funafuti, Niutao and Nanumea; however Jane Resture suggests that it was more likely they landed at Nukufetau rather than Funafuti. An account of the voyage was written by Fanny Vandegrift Stevenson and published under the title The Cruise of the Janet Nichol,The Cruise of the Janet Nichol among the South Sea Islands A Diary by Mrs Robert Louis Stevenson (first published 1914), republished 2004, editor, Roslyn Jolly (U. of Washington Press/U. of New South Wales Press) together with photographs taken by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne.
In 1894 Count Rudolf Festetics de Tolna, his wife Eila (née Haggin) and her daughter Blanche Haggin visited Funafuti aboard the yacht Le Tolna.Festetics De Tolna, Comte Rodolphe, Chez les cannibales: huit ans de croisière dans l'océan Pacifique à bord du, Paris : Plon-Nourrit, 1903 Le Tolna spent several days at Funafuti with the Count photographing men and women on Funafuti.
The boreholes on Funafuti at the site now called Darwin's Drill, are the result of drilling conducted by the Royal Society of London for the purpose of investigating the formation of coral reefs and the question as to whether traces of shallow water organisms could be found at depth in the coral of Pacific atolls. This investigation followed the work on the structure and distribution of coral reefs conducted by Charles Darwin in the Pacific. Drilling occurred in 1896, 1897 and 1911. In 1896 Professor Edgeworth David of the University of Sydney went to the Pacific atoll of Funafuti as part of the Funafuti Coral Reef Boring Expedition of the Royal Society, under Professor William Sollas.David, Mrs Edgeworth, Funafuti or Three Months on a Coral Atoll: an unscientific account of a scientific expedition, London: John Murray, 1899 There were defects in the boring machinery and the bore penetrated only slightly more than 100 feet (approx. 31 m).
Prof. Sollas published The Legendary History of Funafuti. Charles Hedley, a naturalist, at the Australian Museum, accompanied the 1996 expedition and during his stay on Funafuti collected Invertebrate and Ethnological objects. The descriptions of these were published in Memoir III of the Australian Museum Sydney between 1896 and 1900. Hedley also write the General Account of the Atoll of Funafuti, The Ethnology of Funafuti and The Mollusca of Funafuti.Denis Fairfax, 'Hedley, Charles (1862 - 1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, Melbourne University Press, 1983, pp 252-253. Retrieved 5 May 2013 Edgar Waite also was part of the 1896 expedition and published an account of The mammals, reptiles, and fishes of Funafuti. William Rainbow described the spiders and insects collected at Funafuti in The insect fauna of Funafuti.
In 1897 Edgeworth David led a second expedition (that included George Sweet as second-in-command, and Walter George Woolnough) which succeeded in reaching a depth of 557ft. David then organised a third expedition in 1898 which, under the leadership of Dr. Alfred Edmund Finckh, was successful in carrying the bore to 1,114ft. The results provided support for Charles Darwin's theory of subsidence. Cara Edgeworth accompanied her husband on the second expedition and published a well-received account called Funafuti, or Three Months on a Coral Island.David, Mrs Edgeworth, Funafuti or Three Months On A Coral Atoll: an unscientific account of a scientific expedition, London: John Murray, 1899 Photographers on the expeditions recorded people, communities and scenes at Funafuti.
Harry Clifford Fassett, captain's clerk and photographer, recorded people, communities and scenes at Funafuti in 1900 during a visit of USFC Albatross when the United States Fish Commission were investigating the formation of coral reefs on Pacific atolls.

Colonial administration

Tamala of Nukufetau atoll, Ellice Islands (circa 1900–1910)

from Wikipedia by Neville Chatfield Public domain

In 1876 Britain and Germany agreed to divide up the western and central Pacific, with each claiming a ‘sphere of influence’. In the previous decade German traders had become active in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Marshall Islands and the Caroline Islands. In 1877 the Governor of Fiji was given the additional title of High Commissioner for the Western Pacific. However, the claim of a ‘sphere of influence’ that included the Ellice Islands and the Gilbert Islands did not result in the immediate move to govern those islands.
Ships of the Royal Navy known to have visited the islands in the 19th century are:

  • , under Captain J. Moresby, visited the islands in July 1872.

  • , under Captain Maxwell, visited the islands in 1881.

  • visited many of the islands in 1886.

  • , under Captain Davis, visited each of the Ellice Islands in 1892 and reported on trading activities and traders on each of the islands visited. Captain Davis reported that the islanders wanted him to hoist the British flag on the islands, however Captain Davis did not have any orders regarding such a formal act.

  • , under Captain Gibson, was sent to the Ellice Islands and between 9 and 16 October 1892. Captain Gibson visited each of the islands to make a formal declaration that the islands were to be a British protectorate.

  • , under Captain Arthur Mostyn Field, delivered the Funafuti Coral Reef Boring Expedition of the Royal Society to Funafuti, arriving on 21 May 1896 and returned to Sydney on 22 August 1896. The Penguin made further voyages to Funafuti to deliver the expeditions of the Royal Society in 1897 and 1898. The surveys carried out by the Penguin resulted in the Admiralty Nautical Chart 2983 for the islands.
    From 1892 to 1916 the Ellice Islands were administered as a British protectorate, as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT), by a Resident Commissioner based in the Gilbert Islands. The first Resident Commissioner was C. R. Swayne, who collected the ordinances of each island of Tuvalu that had been established by the Samoan pastors of the London Missionary Society. These ordinances were the basis of the Native Laws of the Ellice Islands that were issued by C. R. Swayne in 1894. The Native Laws established and administrative structure for each island and well as prescribing criminal laws. The Native Laws also made it compulsory for children to attend school. On each island the High Chief (Tupu) was responsible for maintaining order; with a magistrate and policemen also responsible for maintaining order and enforcing the law. The High Chief was assisted by the councillors (Falekaupule). The Falekaupule on each of the Islands of Tuvalu is the traditional assembly of elders or te sina o fenua (literally: "grey-hairs of the land" in the Tuvaluan language). The Kaupule on each island is the executive arm of the Falekaupule. The second Resident Commissioner was William Telfer Campbell (1896–1908), who established land registers that would assist in resolving disputes over title to land. Campbell's successor was Arthur Mahaffy. In 1909 G. B. W. Smith-Rewse was appointed as the District Officer to administer the Ellice Islands from Funafuti and remained in that position until 1915.

In 1916 the administration of the BWTP ended and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was established, which existed from 1916 to 1974. In 1917 revised laws were issue, which abolished the office of High Chief and limited the number of members of the kaupule on each island. Under the 1917 laws the kaupule of each island could issue local regulations. Under the revised rules the magistrate was most important official and the chief kaupule was the deputy magistrate. The Colony continued to be administered by the Resident Commissioner, based in the Gilbert Islands, with a District Officer based on Funafuti.
In 1930 the Resident Commissioner, Arthur Grimble, issued revised laws, Regulations for the good Order and Cleanliness of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The Regulations removed the ability of the kaupule to issue local regulations, and proscribed stringent rules of public and private behaviour. The attempts of the islanders to have the Regulations changed were ignored until H. E. Maude, a government officer, sent a copy to a member of the English Parliament.
Donald Gilbert Kennedy arrived in 1923 and took charge of a newly established government school on Funafuti. The following year he transferred Elisefou school to Vaitupu as the food supply was better on that island. In 1932 Kennedy was appointed the District officer on Funafuti, which office he held until 1939. Colonel Fox-Strangways, was the Resident Commissioner of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1941, who was located on Funafuti.
After World War II, Kennedy encouraged Neli Lifuka in the resettlement proposal that eventually resulted in the purchase of Kioa island in Fiji.

The Pacific War and Operation Galvanic

M1918 155mm gun, manned by the 5th Defense Battalion

from Wikipedia by USMC Public domain

During the Pacific War (World War II) the Ellice Islands were used as a base to prepare for the subsequent seaborn attacks on the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) that were occupied by Japanese forces. The United States Marine Corps landed on Funafuti on 2 October 1942 and on Nanumea and Nukufetau in August 1943. The Japanese had already occupied Tarawa and other islands in what is now Kiribati, but were delayed by the losses at the Battle of the Coral Sea.
Coastwatchers were stationed on some of the islands to identify any Japanese activity, such as Neli Lifuka on Vaitupu. The islanders assisted the American forces to build airfields on Funafuti, Nanumea and Nukufetau and to unload supplies from ships. On Funafuti the islanders were shifted to the smaller islets so as to allow the American forces to build the airfield, a 76-bed hospital and the naval bases and port facilities on Fongafale islet.
The construction of the airfields resulted in the loss of coconut trees and gardens, however, the islanders benefited from the food and luxury goods supplied by the American forces. The estimates of the loss of food producing trees was that 55,672 coconuts trees, 1,633 breadfruit trees and 797 pandanus trees were destroyed on those three islands. Building the runway at Funafuti involved the loss of land used for growing pulaka and taro with extensive excavation of coral from 10 borrow pits. In 2015 the New Zealand Government funded a project to fill the borrow pits, with 365,000 sqm of sand dredged from the lagoon. This project increase the usable land space on Fongafale by eight per cent.
A detachment of the 2nd Naval Construction Battalion (Seabees) built a sea plane ramp on the lagoon side of Fongafale islet for seaplane operations by both short and long range seaplanes and a compacted coral runway was constructed on Fongafale, which was 5,000 feet long and 250 feet wide and was then extended to 6,600 feet long and 600 feet wide. On 15 December 1942 four VOS float planes (Vought OS2U Kingfisher) from VS-1-D14 arrived at Funafuti to carry out anti-submarine patrols. PBY Catalina flying boats of US Navy Patrol Squadrons were stationed at Funafuti for short periods of time, including VP-34, which arrived at Funafuti on 18 August 1943 and VP-33, which arrived on 26 September 1943.
In April 1943, a detachment of the 3rd Battalion constructed an aviation-gasoline tank farm on Fongafale. The 16th Battalion arrived in August 1943 to build Nanumea Airfield and Nukufetau Airfield. The atolls were described as providing "unsinkable aircraft carriers" during the preparation for the Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Makin that commenced on 20 November 1943, which was the implementation of "Operation Galvanic".
USS LST-203 was grounded on the reef at Nanumea on 2 October 1943 in order to land equipment. The rusting hull of the ship remains on the reef. The Seabees also blasted an opening in the reef at Nanumea, which became known as the 'American Passage'.
The 5th and 7th Defense Battalions were stationed in the Ellice Islands to provide the defense of various naval bases. The 51st Defense Battalion relieved the 7th in February 1944 on Funafuti and Nanumea until they were transferred to Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands in July 1944.
The first offensive operation was launched from the airfield at Funafuti on 20 April 1943 when twenty-two B-24 Liberator bombers from 371 and 372 Bombardment Squadrons struck Nauru. The next day the Japanese made a predawn raid on the strip at Funafuti which destroyed one B-24 and caused damage to five other planes. On 22 April 12 B-24 aircraft struck Tarawa. The airfield at Funafuti became the headquarters of the United States Army Air Forces VII Bomber Command in November 1943, directing operations against Japanese forces on Tarawa and other bases in the Gilbert Islands. USAAF B-24 Liberator bombers of the 11th Wing, 30th Bombardment Group, 27th Bombardment Squadron and 28th Bombardment Squadron operated from Funafuti Airfield, Nanumea Airfield and Nukufetau Airfield. The 45th Fighter Squadron operated P-40Ns from Nanumea and Marine Attack Squadron 331 (VMA-331) operated Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers from Nanumea and Nukufetau.
Funafuti suffered air attacks during 1943. Casualties were limited, although tragedy was averted on 23 April 1943, when 680 people took refuge in the concrete walled, pandanus-thatched church. Corporal B. F. Ladd, an American soldier, persuaded them to get into dugouts, then a bomb struck the building shortly after.Melei Telavi, Tuvalu A History (1983) Ch. 18 War, U.S.P/Tuvalu, p. 140 Japanese airplanes continued to raided Funafuti, attacking on 12 & 13 November 1943 and again on 17 November 1943.
USN Patrol Torpedo Boats (PTs) were based at Funafuti from 2 November 1942 to 11 May 1944. Squadron 1B arrived on 2 November 1942 with as the support ship, which remained until 25 November 1942. On 22 December 1942 Squadron 3 Division 2 (including PTs 21, 22, 25 & 26) arrived with the combined squadron commanded by Lt. Jonathan Rice. In July 1943 Squadron 11-2 (including PTs 177, 182, 185, and 186) under the command of Lt. John H. Stillman relieved Squadron 3-2. The PT Boats operated from Funafuti against Japanese shipping in the Gilbert Islands; although they were primarily involved in patrol and rescue duty. A Kingfisher float plane rescued Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and aircrew from life-rafts near Nukufetau, with PT 26 from Funafuti completing the rescue. Motor Torpedo Boat operations ceased at Funafuti in May 1944 and Squadron 11-2 was transferred to Emirau Island, New Guinea.
The reached Funafuti on 21 January 1944. The Alabama left the Ellice Islands on 25 January to participate in "Operation Flintlock" in the Marshall Islands. By the middle of 1944, as the fighting moved further north towards Japan, the Americans forces were redeployed. By the time the war ended in 1945 nearly all of them had departed, together with their equipment. After the war the military airfield on Funafuti was developed into Funafuti International Airport.

Transition to self-government

The formation of the United Nations Organisation after World War II resulted in the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization committing to a process of decolonization; as a consequence the British colonies in the Pacific started on a path to self-determination. The initial focus was on the development of the administration of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. In 1947 Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, was made the administrative capital. This development included establishing The King George V Secondary School for boys and the Elaine Bernacchi Secondary School for girls.
A Colony Conference was organised at Marakei in 1956, which was attended by officials and representatives from each island in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony, conferences were held every 2 years until 1962. The development of administration continued with the creation in 1963 of an Advisory Council of 5 officials and 12 representatives who were appointed by the Resident Commissioner. In 1964 an Executive Council was established with 8 officials and 8 representatives. The Resident Commissioner was now required to consult the Executive Council regarding the creation of laws to making decisions that affected the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
The system of local government on each island established in the colonial era continued until 1965 when Island Councils were established with the islanders electing the councillors who then choose the President of the Council. The Executive Officer of each Local Council was appointed by the central government.
A constitution was introduced in 1967, which created a House of Representatives for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony that comprised 7 appointed officials and 23 members elected by the islanders. Tuvalu elected 4 members of the House of Representatives. The 1967 constitution also established the Governing Council. The House of Representatives only had the authority to recommend laws; the Governing Council had the authority to enact laws following a recommendation from the House of Representatives.
A select committee of the House of Representatives was established to consider whether the constitution should be changes to give legislative power to the House of Representatives. It became apparent that the Tuvaluans were concerned about their minority status in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony and the Tuvaluans wanted equal representation to that of the I-Kiribati. A new constitution was introduced in 1971, which provided that each of the islands of Tuvalu (except Niulakita) elected one representative. However, that did not end the Tuvaluan movement for independence.
In 1974 ministerial government was introduced to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony through a change to the Constitution. In that year a general election was held; and a referendum was held in December 1974 to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration. As a consequence of the referendum, separation occurred in two stages. The Tuvaluan Order 1975, which took effect on 1 October 1975, recognised Tuvalu as a separate British dependency with its own government. The second stage occurred on 1 January 1976 when separate administrations were created out of the civil service of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
Elections to the House of Assembly of the British Colony of Tuvalu were held on 27 August 1977; with Toaripi Lauti being appointed Chief Minister in the House of Assembly of the Colony of Tuvalu on 1 October 1977. The House of Assembly was dissolved in July 1978 with the government of Toaripi Lauti continuing as a caretaker government until the 1981 elections were held.

Toaripi Lauti became the first Prime Minister of the Parliament of Tuvalu or Palamene o Tuvalu on 1 October 1978 when Tuvalu became an independent nation.

Broadcasting and news media

Following independence the only newspaper publisher and public broadcasting organisation in Tuvalu was the Broadcasting and Information Office (BIO) of Tuvalu. The Tuvalu Media Corporation (TMC) was a government-owned corporation established in 1999 to take over the radio and print based publications of the BIO. However, in 2008 operating as a corporation was determined not to be commercial viable and the Tuvalu Media Corporation then became the Tuvalu Media Department (TMD) under the Office of the Prime Minister.

Health services

A hospital was established at Funafuti in 1913 at the direction of G.B.W. Smith-Rewse, during his tenure as the District Officer at Funafuti from 1909 to 1915. At this time Tuvalu was known as the Ellice Islands and was administered as a British protectorate as part of the British Western Pacific Territories. In 1916 the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was established. From 1916 to 1919 the hospital was under the supervision of Dr J. G. McNaughton, when he resigned the position remained vacant until 1930, when Dr D. C. Macpherson was appointed the medical doctor at the hospital. He remain in the position until 1933, when he was appointed to a position in Suva, Fiji.
During the time of the colonial administration, Tuvaluans provided medical services at the hospital after receiving training to become doctors or nurses (the male nurses were known as ‘Dressers’) at the Suva Medical School, which changed its name to Central Medical School in 1928 and which later became the Fiji School of Medicine. Training was provided to Tuvaluans who graduated with the title Native Medical Practitioners. The medical staff on each island were assisted by women's committees which, from about 1930, played an important role in health, hygiene and sanitation.
During World War II the hospital on Fongafale atoll was dismantled as the American forces built an airfield on this atoll. The hospital was shifted to Funafala atoll under the responsibility of Dr Ka, while Dr Simeona Peni provided medical services to the American forces at the 76-bed hospital on Fongafale that was built by the Americans at Vailele. After the war the hospital returned to Fongafale and used the American hospital until 1947 when a new hospital was built. However, the hospital built in 1947 was incomplete because of problems in the supply of building materials. Cyclone Bebe struck Funafuti in late October 1972 and caused extensive damage to the hospital.
In 1974 Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony was dissolved and the Colony of Tuvalu was established. Tuvalu regained independence on 1 October 1978. A new 38-bed central hospital was built at Fakaifou on Fongafale atoll, with New Zealand aid grant. It was completed in 1975 and officially opened on 29 September 1978 by Princess Margaret after whom the hospital was named. The building now occupied by the Princess Margaret Hospital was completed in 2003 with the building financed by the Japanese government. The Department of Health also employ nine or ten nurses on the outer islands to provide general nursing and midwifery services.
Non-government organizations provide health services, such as the Tuvalu Red Cross Society; Fusi Alofa Association Tuvalu (which is an association for persons with disabilities); the Tuvalu Family Health Association (which provides training and support on sexual and reproductive health); and the Tuvalu Diabetics Association (which provides training and support on diabetes).
Tuvaluans have consulted, and continue to consult, a herbal medicine practitioner ("Tufuga"). Tuvaluans would see a "Tufuga" both as a substitute for treatment from a trained doctor of medicine and as an additional source of medical assistance while also accessing orthodox medical treatment. On the island of Nanumea in 1951, Malele Tauila, was a well-known "Tufuga". An example of a herbal medicine derived from local flora, is a treatment for ear ache made out of a pandanus (pandanus tectorius) tree's root. "Tufuga" also provide a form of massage.

Traditional uses of material from the native broadleaf forest

Charles Hedley (1896) identified the uses of plants and trees from the native broadleaf forest as including:

  • Food plants: Coconut; and Ferra, native fig (Ficus aspem).

  • Fibre: Coconut; Ferra; Fala, Screw Pine, Pandanus; Fau or Fo fafini, or woman's fibre tree (Hibiscus tiliaceus).

  • Timber: Fau or Fo fafini; Pouka, (Hernandia peltata); Ngia or Ingia, (Pemphis acidula); Miro, (Thespesia populnea); and Tonga (Tongo), (Rhizophora mucronata).

  • Dye: Valla valla, (Premna taitensis); Tonga (Tongo), (Rhizophora mucronata); and Nonou (Nonu), (Morinda citrifolia).

  • Scent: Fetau, (Calophyllum inophyllum); Jiali, (Gardenia taitensis); and Boua (Guettarda speciosa); Valla valla, (Premna taitensis); and Crinum.

  • Medicinal: Tulla tulla, (Triumfetta procumbens); Nonou (Nonu), (Morinda citrifolia); Tausoun, (Heliotropium foertherianum); Valla valla, (Premna taitensis); Talla talla gemoa, (Psilotum triquetrum); Lou, (Cardamine sarmentosa); and Lakoumonong, (Wedelia strigulosa).

These plants and trees are still used in the Art of Tuvalu to make traditional artwork and handicraft. Tuvaluan women continue to make Te titi tao, which is a traditional skirt made of dried pandanus leaves that are dyed using Tongo (Rhizophora mucronata) and Nonu (Morinda citrifolia). The art of making a titi tao is passed down from Fafinematua (elder woman) to the Tamaliki Fafine (young girls) who are preparing for their first Fatele.

Tsunami & Cyclones

The low level of islands makes them very sensitive to sea-level rise. Nui was struck by a giant wave on 16 February 1882; earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occurring in the basin of the Pacific Ocean – the Pacific Ring of Fire – are possible causes of a tsunami. Tuvalu experienced an average of three tropical cyclones per decade between the 1940s and 1970s, however eight occurred in the 1980s. The impact of individual cyclones is subject to variables including the force of the winds and also whether a cyclone coincides with high tides.
George Westbrook recorded a cyclone that struck Funafuti in 1883. Captain Davis of HMS Royalist, who visited the Ellice Group in 1892, recorded in the ship's diary that in February 1891 the Ellice Group was devastated by a severe cyclone. A cyclone caused severe damage to the islands in 1894. In 1972 Cyclone Bebe caused severe damage to Funafuti. in 1997, three cyclones passed through the islands of Tuvalu.

Cyclone of 1883

George Westbrook, a trader on Funafuti, recorded a cyclone that struck in 1883. At the time the cyclone struck he was the sole inhabitant of Funafuti as Tema, the Samoan missionary had taken everyone else to Funafala to work on erecting a church. The buildings on Funafuti were destroyed, including the church and the trade stores of George Westbrook and Alfred Restieaux. Little damage had occurred at Funafala and the people returned to rebuild at Funafuti.

Cyclone Bebe 1972

Ocean side of Funafuti atoll showing the storm dunes, the highest point on the atoll.

from Wikipedia by Davidarfonjones CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1972 Funafuti was in the path of Cyclone Bebe during the 1972–73 South Pacific cyclone season. Cyclone Bebe was a pre-season tropical cyclone that impacted the Gilbert, Ellice Islands, and Fiji island groups. First spotted on 20 October, the system intensified and grew in size through 22 October. At about 4 p.m. on Saturday 21 October sea water was bubbling through the coral on the airfield with the water reaching a height of about 4–5 feet high. Cyclone Bebe continued through Sunday 22 October. The Ellice Islands Colony's ship Moanaraoi was in the lagoon and survived, however 3 tuna boats were wrecked. Waves broke over the atoll. Five people died, two adults and a 3 month old child were swept away by waves, and two sailors from the tuna boats were drowned. Cyclone Bebe knocked down 90% of the houses and trees. The storm surge created a wall of coral rubble along the ocean side of Funafuti and Funafala that was about 10mi long, and about 10 to 20ft thick at the bottom. The cyclone submerged Funafuti and sources of drinking water were contaminated as a result of the system's storm surge and fresh water flooding.

Cyclone Pam 2015

Prior to the formation of Cyclone Pam, flooding from king tides, which peaked at 3.4m on 19 February 2015, caused considerable road damage across the multi-island nation of Tuvalu. Between 10 and 11 March, tidal surges estimated to be 3 – 5m associated with the cyclone swept across the low-lying islands of Tuvalu. The atolls of Nanumea, Nanumanga, Niutao, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelae, and Vaitupu were affected. Significant damage to agriculture and infrastructure occurred. The outermost islands were hardest hit, with one flooded in its entirety. A state of emergency was subsequently declared on 13 March. Water supplies on Nui were contaminated by seawater and rendered undrinkable. An estimated 45 percent of the nation's nearly 10,000 people were displaced, according to Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga.
New Zealand started providing aid to Tuvalu on 14 March. Owing to the severity of damage in the nation, the local chapter of the Red Cross enacted an emergency operation plan on 16 March which would focus on the needs of 3,000 people. The focus on the 81,873 CHF operation was to provide essential non-food items and shelter. Flights carrying these supplies from Fiji began on 17 March. Prime Minister Sopoaga stated that Tuvalu appeared capable of handling the disaster on its own and urged that international relief be focused on Vanuatu. Tuvalu's Disaster Coordinator, Suneo Silu, said the priority island is Nui as sources of fresh water were contaminated. On 17 March, the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a donation of US$61,000 in aid to Tuvalu. UNICEF and Australia delivered aid to Tuvalu.
As of 22 March, 71 families (40 percent of the population) of Nui remain displaced and were living in 3 evacuation centres or with other families and on Nukufetau, 76 people (13 percent of the population) remain displaced and were living in 2 evacuation centres. The Situation Report published on 30 March reported that on Nukufetau all the displaced people have returned to their homes. Nui suffered the most damage of the three central islands (Nui, Nukufetau and Vaitupu); with both Nui and Nukufetau suffering the loss of 90% of the crops. Of the three northern islands (Nanumanga, Niutao, Nanumea), Nanumanga suffered the most damage, with 60-100 houses flooded and damage to the health facility.

Tuvalu and climate change

Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations in September 2000. At present, the country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations is Ambassador Afelee F. Pita.
Tuvalu, one of the world's smallest countries, has indicated that its priority within the United Nations is to emphasise "climate change and the unique vulnerabilities of Tuvalu to its adverse impacts". Other priorities are obtaining "additional development assistance from potential donor countries", widening the scope of Tuvalu's bilateral diplomatic relations, and, more generally, expressing "Tuvalu's interests and concerns". The issue of climate change in Tuvalu has featured prominently in Tuvalu's interventions at the UN and at other international fora.
In 2002, Governor-General Tomasi Puapua concluded his address to the United Nations General Assembly by saying:
Finally, Mr. President, efforts to ensure sustainable development, peace, security and longterm livelihood for the world will have no meaning to us in Tuvalu in the absence of serious actions to address the adverse and devastating effects of global warming. At no more than three meters above sea level, Tuvalu is particularly exposed to these effects. Indeed our people are already migrating to escape, and are already suffering from the consequences of what world authorities on climate change have consistently been warning us. Only two weeks ago, a period when the weather was normal and calm and at low tide, unusually big waves suddenly crashed ashore and flooded most part of the capital island. In the event that the situation is not reversed, where does the international community think the Tuvalu people are to hide from the onslaught of sea level rise? Taking us as environmental refugees, is not what Tuvalu is after in the long run. We want the islands of Tuvalu and our nation to remain permanently and not be submerged as a result of greed and uncontrolled consumption of industrialized countries. We want our children to grow up the way my wife and I did in our own islands and in our own culture. We once again appeal to the industrialized countries, particularly those who have not done so, to urgently ratify and fully implement the Kyoto Protocol, and to provide concrete support in all our adaptation efforts to cope with the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Tuvalu, having little or nothing to do with the causes, cannot be left on its own to pay the price. We must work together. May God Bless you all. May God Bless the United Nations.
Addressing the Special Session of the Security Council on Energy, Climate and Security in April 2007, Ambassador Pita stated:
We face many threats associated with climate change. Ocean warming is changing the very nature of our island nation. Slowly our coral reefs are dying through coral bleaching, we are witnessing changes to fish stocks, and we face the increasing threat of more severe cyclones. With the highest point of four metres above sea level, the threat of severe cyclones is extremely disturbing, and severe water shortages will further threaten the livelihoods of people in many islands. Madam President, our livelihood is already threatened by sea level rise, and the implications for our long term security are very disturbing. Many have spoken about the possibility of migrating from our homeland. If this becomes a reality, then we are faced with an unprecedented threat to our nationhood. This would be an infringement on our fundamental rights to nationality and statehood as constituted under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2008, Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia stated:
Climate change is, without doubt, the most serious threat to the global security and survival of mankind. It is an issue of enormous concern to a highly vulnerable small island State like Tuvalu. Here in this Great House, we now know both the science and economics of climate change. We also know the cause of climate change, and that human actions by ALL countries are urgently needed to address it. The central message of both the IPCC reports and the Sir Nicholas Stern reports to us, world leaders, is crystal clear: unless urgent actions are done to curb greenhoses gasses emissions by shifting to a new global energy mix based on renewable energy sources, and unless timely adaptation is done, the adverse impact of climate change on all communities, will be catastrophic. (italics in original submission)
In November 2011, Tuvalu was one of the eight founding members of Polynesian Leaders Group, a regional grouping intended to cooperate on a variety of issues including culture and language, education, responses to climate change, and trade and investment. Tuvalu participates in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which is a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries that have concerns about their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change. The Sopoaga Ministry led by Enele Sopoaga made a commitment under the Majuro Declaration, which was signed on 5 September 2013, to implement power generation of 100% renewable energy (between 2013 and 2020). This commitment is proposed to be implemented using Solar PV (95% of demand) and biodiesel (5% of demand). The feasibility of wind power generation will be considered.
In September 2013 Enele Sopoaga said that relocating Tuvaluans to avoid the impact of sea level rise "should never be an option because it is self defeating in itself. For Tuvalu I think we really need to mobilise public opinion in the Pacific as well as in the [rest of] world to really talk to their lawmakers to please have some sort of moral obligation and things like that to do the right thing."
Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak presented the Majuro Declaration to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during General Assembly Leaders’ week from 23 September 2013. The Majuro Declaration is offered as a "Pacific gift" to the UN Secretary-General in order to catalyze more ambitious climate action by world leaders beyond that achieved at the December 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15). On 29 September 2013 the Deputy Prime Minister Vete Sakaio concluded his speech to the General Debate of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly with an appeal to the world, "please save Tuvalu against climate change. Save Tuvalu in order to save yourself, the world".
Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) that the goal for COP21 should a global temperature goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels, which is the position of the Alliance of Small Island States.
Prime Minister Sopoaga said in his speech to the meeting of heads of state and government:
Tuvalu's future at current warming, is already bleak, any further temperature increase will spell the total demise of Tuvalu…. For Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and many others, setting a global temperature goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels is critical. I call on the people of Europe to think carefully about their obsession with 2 degrees. Surely, we must aim for the best future we can deliver and not a weak compromise.
His speech concluded with the plea:
Let's do it for Tuvalu. For if we save Tuvalu we save the world.
Enele Sopoaga described the important outcomes of COP21 as including the stand-alone provision for assistance to small island states and some of the least developed countries for loss and damage resulting from climate change and the ambition of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century.


Documentary films about Tuvalu:

  • Tu Toko Tasi (Stand by Yourself) (2000) Conrad Mill, a Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) production.

  • Paradise Domain – Tuvalu (Director: Joost De Haas, Bullfrog Films/TVE 2001) 25:52 minutes – YouTube video.

  • Tuvalu island tales (A Tale of two Islands) (Director: Michel Lippitsch) 34 minutes – YouTube video

  • The Disappearing of Tuvalu: Trouble in Paradise (2004) by Christopher Horner and Gilliane Le Gallic.

  • Paradise Drowned: Tuvalu, the Disappearing Nation (2004) Written and produced by Wayne Tourell. Directed by Mike O'Connor, Savana Jones-Middleton and Wayne Tourell.

  • Going Under (2004) by Franny Armstrong, Spanner Films.

  • Before the Flood: Tuvalu (2005) by Paul Lindsay (Storyville/BBC Four).

  • Time and Tide (2005) by Julie Bayer and Josh Salzman, Wavecrest Films.

  • Tuvalu: That Sinking Feeling (2005) by Elizabeth Pollock from PBS Rough Cut

  • Atlantis Approaching (2006) by Elizabeth Pollock, Blue Marble Productions.

  • King Tide The Sinking of Tuvalu (2007) by Juriaan Booij.

  • Tuvalu (Director: Aaron Smith, ‘Hungry Beast’ program, ABC June 2011) 6:40 minutes – YouTube video

  • Tuvalu: Renewable Energy in the Pacific Islands Series (2012) a production of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and SPREP 10 minutes – YouTube video.

  • Mission Tuvalu (Missie Tuvalu) (2013) feature documentary directed by Jeroen van den Kroonenberg.

  • ThuleTuvalu (2014) by Matthias von Gunten, HesseGreutert Film/OdysseyFilm.