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Nanumea Island with an estimated population of 918 is the northernmost of Tuvalu's nine atolls. It is 475 kilometres northwest of Funafuti Island. During the Second World War, Nanumea played a pivotal role in the allied defence of the Pacific. The atoll was large enough to accommodate a bomber base while still leaving sufficient area for the local people to remain on their islands.

It was in addition, as the northernmost island of the group nearer to Japanese bases in the Gilberts (Kiribati). Tarawa, 840 kilometres from Nanumea, was a significant leap closer for the bombers than the 1,150 kilometres from Funafuti and 1,700 kilometres from Canton Island, Phoenix Group, the only other American base which was even remotely in the vicinity.

It was local identity, Frank Pasefika, who had accompanied the American survey team to Nanumea, who had already warned the people that as Nanumea was the nearest island south of the Gilberts, they should assume that it would soon be made a base.

Frank Pasefika had advised that they should immediately begin vacating their village and move to the smaller islets. Some had taken this advice.

Kaosila, 15th Oct. 1943, Lakena, Nanumea.

Nanumean ladies photographed 2nd December 1943
during World War II.

When the Americans came, the people had accepted the idea that they would be relocated elsewhere on the atoll. Unlike Funafuti, where some villages had stayed until they were bombed, the Nanumeans were all quickly resettled. An advance party of he Seventh Defense Batallion, U.S. Marines, arrived at Nanumea accompanied by Frank Pasefika (grandson of Alfred Restieaux, an English trader) from the Funafuti District Office. Frank Pasefika was to be interpreter and to expedite the relocation of the Nanumea people to the northern islet of Lakena.

Nanumean group photographed
26th October 1943 during World War II.

Nanumea was the subject of Japanese bombing raid but the people themselves were unharmed as Lakena was not bombed at any time during the hostility. A 2,000 metre bomber strip was constructed on Nanumea and was taking light aircraft and fighter planes in only eight days.

The village of Lakena, Nanumea, photographed
29th November 1943, World War II.

More World War II Nanumea Pictures ...

Following the war, the people of Nanumea were relocated back to their home. The airstrip is no longer in use and Nanumea is now reached by private yachts or cargo/passenger boat M.V. Nivaga II from the capital, Funafuti Island. Visitors to Nanumea can witness south-sea island life in its most unspoiled form. There are also war relics, many of which had been put to good use as storage sheds, etc. by the local people.

(For further information about Nanumea, please click on Myths and Legends and Tuvaluan Genealogy on the Menu to the left). 


Click on the map above for a detailed map.

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By Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 25th August 2002)