Tuvalu is a tiny, nine island, remote Pacific country located about 1,200 kilometres north of Fiji, and roughly half way between Australia and Hawaii. Its now 11,500 mostly Polynesian population have lived on their low-lying atolls and islands for over 2,000 years. Late in the 18th century, the islands became part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. Christianity was introduced to the people by missionaries from the London Missionary Society. Tuvalu’s language has many similarities to Samoan, but also contains many i-Kiribati words, and most Tuvaluans are also very literate in English.
The low-lying islands have few resources aside from fish in the vast seas, which surround them, and the people. Tuvalu has no hills or mountains, and no flowing fresh water streams.
The outside world seriously impacted on the islands in 1942 when Allied forces occupied the Ellice Islands and used three of them, including the capital atoll of Funafuti, as forward bases for attacks on the Japanese occupied central Gilbert Islands, and Nauru.
When the Allies moved on, the islands reverted to their quiet and remote status, though steadily greater knowledge and experience of the outside world changed the people forever.
In 1978, the Gilbert and Ellice colony was split into the Micronesian country of Kiribati, north of the Equator, spanning 3,000 kilometres from west to east across several island groups, and requiring an eastern kink in the International Dateline so the country was all in the same time zone, and the Ellice Islands became Tuvalu. The name means ‘Eight Standing Together’ because the smallest and most southerly island was uninhabited at independence.
The national affirmation – Tuvalu mo Te Atua (Tuvalu for or under God) – reflects the country’s strong Christian commitment.
If Tuvalu is known globally for anything today, it is as the site of .TV, its ‘Internet Country Code’, which is leased to a US-based online security company and brings the country much needed overseas income – about $US 2 million a year for its $US 14 million annual budget. There is only one Web Site on the Internet actually hosted on the capital atoll of Funafuti.
Tuvalu is also one of the countries on the very front lines of global warming. If scientific projections on sea level rise and other adverse climatic and environmental impacts caused by global warming are accurate, and these are steadily improving, Tuvalu’s low lying islands could become uninhabitable within a generation or less.
Successive Tuvaluan governments have described global warming as ‘creeping terrorism’ being done to them by the polluting, developed world.
Tatou ne Tuvalu Katoa (We are all Tuvaluans) is a statement often made in Tuvalu to encourage locals to work together to improve their beloved country and the lives of its people.
With the grave threats, and challenges, global warming poses to us all, in an important and closely related respect, all global citizens are also Tuvaluans.
(Pronunciation note: Tuvalu is pronounced Too-VAH-loo, and never in ways which rhyme with too-da-loo. The locals call themselves Too-VAH-loo-ans.)
More information on Tuvalu is available on www.tuvaluislands.com.