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Previously known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. Tuvalu is southeast of Nauru, east of the Solomon Islands, northeast of Vanuatu, north of the Fiji Islands, and northwest of Samoa. Consisting of three reef islands and six atolls, as well as several islets, Tuvalu has a total land area of about ten square miles.

Since an atoll is generally made up of several islets, Tuvalu has a total of about one hundred and twenty-five islands and islets. By population, its main islands and atolls are Funafuti, Vaitupu, Niutao, Nanumea, Nui, Nukufetau, Nanumanga, Nukulaelae, and Niulakita. At least eleven of its islands are inhabited, including the largest of the nine atolls and two islands in Funafuti.

Home to the nation's capital, Funafuti is an atoll, and the most populated land area in Tuvalu, housing nearly 60% of the country's population. It is southeast of Nukufetau and northwest of Nukulaelae. It is a narrow piece of land, ranging from 66 to 1,312 feet in width. In the center is a 106.2 square-mile lagoon, the largest in Tuvalu. Its thirty-three islets, three of which are inhabited, together account for less than one percent of the total area of the atoll.

Situated north of Nukufetau, Vaitupu is the second most populated land area in the country. During the 1940s, the island became so overpopulated that several of its families occupied Kioa Island in Kiwi, which was purchased by the magistrate on Vaitupu. The island of Vaitupu includes several swamps, mangroves, and a large lagoon. The island is fringed by a coral reef. Its islets include Vaitupu proper, Luasamotu, Mosana, Motutanifa, Temotu, Te Motu Olepa, Tofia, and at least one other.

Niutao is in the northern part of the island group, southeast of Nanumea and northeast of Nanumanga. Niutao is a reef island with a closed lagoon. Robert Louis Stevenson,s wife, Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson, writes of her stop on the island in her book, "The Cruise of Janet Nichol."

Nanumea is in the northwestern corner of the country, south of the Gilbert Islands. Nanumea consists of a series of low islets on a coral reef surrounding a lagoon. The two largest islets, Nanumea and Lakena, comprise 90% of the land area of the island. The people of Nanumea grow pulaka, a swamp crop grown in large pits of composted soil, on Lakena.

Southeast of Nanumango, Nui consists of twenty-one islets and twelve other islands, the largest of which is Fenua Tapu. Nuians are part of three family circles, Tekaubaonga, Tekaunimala, and Tekaunibiti, whose ancestors came from the Gilbert Islands and Samoa.

Nukufetau is south-southwest of Vaitupu and northwest of Funafuti. Claimed by the United States under the Guano Islands Act, the island was ceded to Tuvalu in 1979. The island includes thirty-three islets, but its population resides on the Savave islet, although its largest islet is Motulalo, where the US had an airfield in World War II.

The reef island of Nanumanga is southeast of Nanumea and northwest of Nui. There are three lagoons on Nanumanga, the largest with four islands. The island has mangrove trees, coconut palms, and a broadleaf forest.

Nukulaelae is an atoll southeast of Funafuti and north-northeast of Niulakita Island. Shaped like an oval, it consists of fifteen islets, the inhabited one being Fangaua. Christianity came to Tuvalu when a Congregational Church deacon became lost in a storm, then landed on Nukulaelae in 1861.

Niulakita is Tuvalu's southernmost island, and the name of the only village on the island, which has a total land area of 0.15 square mile. It is a reef island with four ponds, and a reef system surrounding the island that makes access difficult. In 1944, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony administration gave people from Vaitupu permission to settle Niulakita. However, in 1949, a later administration rescinded this, opting to have the island settled by people from Niutao, which was a controversial decision.

The first people on Tuvalu were Polynesians, who probably came to the islands by way of Samoa and Tonga, spreading out from there. Eight of the nine islands were inhabited for thousands of years.

Álvaro de Mendaña, a Spanish explorer, was the first European to discover the islands. He sailed past the island of Nui in 1568, but did not land on any of the islands. In 1819, the island of Funafuti was named Ellice's Island, and the name Ellice was later applied to the island group. The Ellice Islands became a British protectorate in 1892, and part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony from 1916 to 1976, when the separate British colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu were created. In 1978, Tuvalu became fully independent.

The national languages of Tuvalu are English and Tuvaluan, although Gilbertese is the common language of Nui.

 

 

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