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The Tuvalu Message Forum

1ST OCTOBER 2003 !
Tuvalu Islands Online
Send a free Tuvalu ePostcard !

Tuvalu comprises a chain, 580 kilometres long, of nine coral islands lying between 5 and 11 degrees south of the equator, just to the west of the International Date Line. Six of the islands are built around lagoons open to the ocean. These islands are: Nanumea, Nui, Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti and Nukulaelae. With the exception of Vaitupu where the sea enters the lagoon at only one point, these six are all atolls consisting of numerous pieces of land linked by a reef and arranged rather like a string of beads.

Funafuti lagoon, Tuvalu

Of the other islands, Nanumaga and Niutao have completely landlocked lagoons while Niulakita has no lagoon at all, but only a swamp at its centre. Since it has never had a permanent population Niulakita, the southern most island, was not taken into account in the naming of the Tuvalu group. Tuvalu means "eight islands standing together".

The formation of coral islands was a topic of considerable scientific argument in the 19th century. The question that particularly bothered scientists was this: since corals grow only at shallow depths in the sea (not below 80 metres), how is it that coral rock, formed from their remains, often extends for hundreds of metres beneath the sea?

In 1842 the famous scientist Charles Darwin, who visited the Pacific in 1835-6, put forward the theory that coral islands had been built on slowly subsiding volcanic rocks. As the volcanic foundation sank, it carried the dead coral down to greater depths. Meanwhile, new deposits of coral were being added to the top of the pile, near the surface, so that the upward growth of the coral kept pace with the subsidence. At some later date another volcanic movement occurred, and pushed some of the coral up to form islands. Thus it was, said Darwin that a solid mass of coral rock could be found above the surface of the sea, and extend from there, through the waters in which it had been formed down to depths at which the coral had never lived.

After many years of discussion on the structures of atolls, the Royal Society of London decided to bore down into the coral and obtain a sample of it from far beneath the surface to see if these samples would contain traces of shallow water organisms. In 1896 an expedition was sent to Tuvalu which managed to bore to a depth of 33 metres. In 1897 another party of scientists led by Professor Edgeworth David of the University of Sydney carried the boring to a depth of 200 metres while the following year a third group managed to obtain a sample from a depth of 340 metres. All the samples obtained were found to contain traces of shallow water organisms.

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Mrs. David, the wife of Professor Edgeworth David wrote a popular book describing her experiences in Funafuti.

I have included a photograph of the Captain Edgeworth David's party taken in 1897.

Mrs. David is on the right of the picture.


There are three distinct linguistic areas in Tuvalu. The first area contains the islands of Nanumea, Niutao and Nanumaga. The second is the island of Nui where the inhabitants speak a language that is fundamentally derived from I-Kiribati. The third linguistic group comprises the islands of Vaitupu, Nukufetau, Funafuti and Nukulaelae.

According to the evidence of linguists, who can work out how old a language is, and hence for how long people had been speaking it, the language of Tuvalu - and hence the settlement of the country - goes back about 2,000 years. The traditional stories and genealogies, however, mostly go back only about 300 years. It seems, therefore, that the story we have today came to us not from the earlier ancestors but from later arrivals in Tuvalu.

It is generally believed that the earlier ancestors came mostly from Samoa, possibly by way of Tokelau, while others came from Tonga and Uvea (Wallis Island). These settlers were all Polynesians with the exception of Nui where many people are descendants of Micronesians from Kiribati. Today, Tuvaluan and English are both spoken throughout the islands.
Formerly called the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu came under British jurisdiction in 1877 and was made a British Protectorate as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1892. Legally separated from the Gilberts (now Kiribati) in 1976, Tuvalu became an Independent Constitutional monarchy and the 38th member of the Commonwealth on the 1st October 1978.




I have included this section on the island traders of the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu) in recognition of the social contributions these men made to the communities that supported them. 

It was the German Company of Godeffroy and Son of Hamburg who are credited with starting the system of island traders.  As the locals proved not enthusiastic about copra-making, they devised the system of establishing agents, many of whom were American and British beachcombers, at likely points in the islands to trade European goods supplied by Godeffroy to the natives for coconuts which they dried.  This system was the basis of the life of a considerable number of traders who spread throughout the islands at this time. 

In 1892 Captain Davis of the H.M.S. Royalist identified the following traders in the Ellice Group: Duffy (Nanumea); Buckland (Niutao); Nitz (Vaitupu); John *Brine (Funafuti); Alfred Restieaux and Fenisot (Nukufetau); and Martin Kleis (Nui).

*I should mention here that the trader John Brine (Funafuti) referred to above is in fact Jack O'Brien who gave Captain Davis his surname as "Brine" and his nationality as English rather than Irish. This was recorded in the Captain Davis Diaries. 

The names of these traders are still very evident throughout the islands of Tuvalu even to this day.   


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"Tuvalu for the Almighty"
Are the words we hold most dear
For as people or as leaders
Of Tuvalu we all share
In the knowledge that God
Ever rules in heav'n above,
And that we in this land
Are united in His love.
We build on a sure foundation
When we trust in God's great law,
"Tuvalu for the Almighty"
Be our song for evermore!
Let us trust our lives henceforward
To the King to whom we pray,
With our eyes fixed firmly on Him
He is showing us the way
"May we reign with Him in glory"
Be our song for evermore,
For His almighty power
Is our strength from shore to shore
Shout aloud in jubilation
To the King whom we adore
"Tuvalu free and united"
Be our song for evermore!

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Aerial view of Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu


According to modern scholars the population of Tuvalu before 1900 was never more than 3000.  These opinions are based on early missionary reports and on careful estimates of the population-supporting capacity of Tuvalu food resources.  Although they may well be correct these views should not be accepted uncritically, for the written records come from people who were not intimately acquainted with life in Tuvalu. Moreover, there is always a danger that foreign commentators could impose a meaning of what they learned about Tuvalu which is quite different from those who live here.

Young dancers, Funafuti

There are suggestions from archaeologists that the ancient population was possibly higher than the scholars will allow.  For instance, at Niutao in the early 1930's one of the pastors organized the people to level the village malae.  In doing so, they uncovered large numbers of human skulls buried about a metre below the surface. Similarly at Nukufetau numerous human graves can be counted, especially on the islet of Fale.

Residence, Nui Island

Nui lagoon

Further evidence comes from the huge holes that were dug in the ground to grow pulaka. These pits were dug to different depths. Most were from one-third of a metre to six metres deep, but some are deep as twenty metres from the base to the highest point of the soil thrown up. If the population was not above, say, 3000 why did the people build such numerous and deep pits which far exceeded their needs? How could our forefathers, if only a few hundred in number, have dug such pits? Looking at these huge pits it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that there were many thousands of people who needed to be fed from them and who were required to build them.

Playing volleyball, airstrip, Funafuti, August 2000

Airstrip, Funafuti, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

Moreover, our traditions do not contain any accounts of vast population losses. Certainly many people were killed in wars. Others probably died as a result of droughts or hurricanes. It is of course possible that our ancestors, over centuries, thought it prudent to provide for the possible future needs of their descendants by digging more than they needed for themselves. Apart from that, if there was a massive decline in population, the reason for it is not readily apparent. In 1979 the population of Tuvalu was estimated to be 7349.      

The present population of Tuvalu is estimated to be 10,524.  


Because of its size and remoteness, Tuvalu is off the beaten track so those who come prefer to organize their own activities and entertainment.

Well worth a visit is the Women's Handicraft Centre, also the Philatelic Bureau and the National Library. You can also visit the spot where Professor Edgeworth David drilled below the surface of the island over a hundred years ago to prove Charles Darwin's theory on the formation of coral atolls.


Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau building, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo


 Beach scene, Funafuti                                                            Nukufetau lagoon

The most popular spot is the Funafuti lagoon which is about fourteen kilometres wide and some eighteen kilometres long. It is filled with a variety of wonderful multi-coloured tropical fish and is excellent for fishing, swimming and snorkelling.

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Click the above for a detailed map of Tuvalu.  

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Vaiaku Lagi Hotel and jetty, Funafuti

Entrance to Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, Funafuti, August 2000

Left: Entrance to Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. Right: Vaiaku Lagi hotel and 'maneapa'
(meeting and recreational place) overlooking the Funafuti lagoon, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo

Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, viewed from the jetty, Funafuti, 2000

The Government-owned Vaiaku Lagi Hotel facing the Funafuti lagoon is Tuvalu's only hotel which contains 16 units, sleeps 1,2,3; Room US$ 61 to 102 per unit per night; Bar, Beach, Entertainment, Restaurant, Facsimile, Air-conditioning, Ceiling Fan, Conference Room, Laundry, Telephone, Cultural Activities, Fishing, Snorkelling, Pool Table. The hotel is situated in the centre of the town about 50 metres from the airport. Other activities and excursions to islands in the lagoon can be arranged upon request.

Reception, Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, Funafuti

  Other places are the Fisherman's Lodge, The Hideaway Guest House, Su's Place Guest House and Filamona's Lodge. A comprehensive list of available accommodation follows:

Bemoski Rooms and Restaurant


+688 205-64

Coconut Lodge


+688 209-11

Drum Guesthouse


+688 209-70

Filamona Lodge


+688 209-83

Hideaway Guesthouse


+688 208-35

Island Breeze Guesthouse


+688 206-06

Island Guesthouse And Restaurant


+688 204-74

Laisinis Guesthouse


+688 201-84

Melemele Guesthouse


+688 204-93

Saumalei Holiday Flats

Rented Flats

+688 201-84

Solomai Guesthouse And Flats


+688 208-11

Su's Holiday Flat


+688 206-12

Su's Place Guest House

Guest House

+688 206-12

Vaiaku Lagi Hotel

Beach Hotel

+688 205-02



The Aliki Guesthouse


+688 206-06


A number of privately owned boats are for hire. The other islands can be reached from Funafuti using the very modern inter-island ferry, Manufolau below.  If you feel energetic, Funafuti's main island can be explored by bicycles as well as motorbikes which are available for hire at the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. Mini buses run regularly around the island and a taxi service is also available.

Tuvalu inter-island ferry, Manufolau, May 2002
Left: Taxi (one of 4) for hire. Right: Motor bikes for hire, May 2002
Photos: Bob Girdo
Tuvalu Islands and how to get there.


The Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, Su's Place and the Kai Restaurant at the Filamona Lodge all have licensed bars and dining facilities. A large variety of food is served with emphasis on fish and locally grown produce.

The people of Tuvalu are renowned Polynesian dancers and their own unique dance (fatele) can be enjoyed during festive occasions, or on request at the Vaiaku Lagi Hotel. Below are images of dancers performing during the Tuvalu Independence celebrations at Funafuti, Tuvalu.

For more Tuvalu fatele, Funafuti, Tuvalu.


There are many water sports and facilities including a multi-purpose court to play tennis, volleyball or basketball. If you enjoy collecting handcrafted souvenirs, be sure to visit the Tuvalu Women's Handicraft Centre located near the Airport and the Funafuti Women's Craft Centre.

For more information contact Tuvalu Tourism, Private Bag, Funafuti, Tuvalu.
Telephone: + 688 20184, Facsimile + 688 20829

Excellent Tuvalu handicraft are available from
Tuvalu Women's Craft Centre, Funafuti
Photos: Bob Girdo

A Tuvalu Poem


Tuvalu, my Tuvalu the land across the sea
Surrounded by the Ocean, you mean so much to me
I miss these coral atolls with gentle swaying palms
With smiling gentle people, so peaceful and so calm.

Tuvalu, my Tuvalu I always think of you
Wherever I may travel across the sea so blue
And deep inside me I know that it will be
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu you always think of me.

Your sons and daughters travel away to distant lands
They leave their homes and families so that they will understand
To study truth and knowledge in sadness and in pain, and then
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu you welcome them home again.

Tuvalu, my Tuvalu may Godís blessings be on you
To give you strength and courage to see the future through
And may our blessed people hold their heads up high
Tuvalu, my Tuvalu I will love you till I die.

                                               Jane Resture

Links Clr.gif (20498 bytes)

Tuvalu 2000: Contemporary Pictures (including Tuvalu 2002 Pictures)
Tuvalu Land Affairs
** Tuvalu Visit - A Guide For The Visitor **
Tuvalu and Global Warming


Jane's Oceania Page: Aspects Of Oceania


Solomon Islands

Jane's Oceania Home Page

You are listening to a Midi of Believe by Cher!

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(E-mail: -- Rev. 3rd October 2003)