Nine atolls. Ten square miles of usually dry land. Twelve thousand people. That’s about all there is to Tuvalu. One of the smallest independent countries in the world in both land area and population, it’s hard to understand why or how such a place could become independent. There is hardly any development...which is not necessarily bad, as much of its population lives a traditional, subsistence lifestyle. Surviving from stamp sales, remittances from Tuvaluans working as merchant sailors, fishing license deals, and proceeds from a trust fund, Tuvalu clings to its independence. Its current biggest fear? Losing land area to rising sea levels due to global warming. There is just nowhere for them to go.
Location: Tuvalu is located in the central Pacific, south of the Gilbert Islands, east of the Solomon Islands, and north of Fiji. The group consists of nine flat atolls comprising a total of 26 square kilometers of dry land. The name Tuvalu means “eight standing together,” so named because of the eight traditionally inhabited atolls.
The islands were settled as long as 2,000 years ago by Polynesians who probably arrived from Samoa. The Tuvaluan language is close to Samoan. Subsequent migrations or raids from Tonga and Kiribati added to the population mix, although it remained predominantly Polynesian. In the 1800s the group was given the name “Ellice” islands by a ship captain honoring a financial benefactor of the voyage. Eventually many European and American beachcombers, often deserters from whalers, settled in, marrying local women and adding new genes to the pool. Many became traders. In the 1860s Peruvian blackbirders carried off 400 Tuvaluans to work digging guano on Peruvian coastal islands. None ever returned. Also in the 1860s, missionaries arrived and the islanders began to convert to Christianity. In the 1890s the British made a protectorate of Tuvalu, joining it with the Gilbert Islands to the north. In 1916 it became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.
Tuvalu has a government published newspaper called Tuvalu Echoes, published in both English and Tuvaluan. It has no web site.
During World War II there were no battles in Tuvalu, but Americans built bases on three of the atolls. In 1979 the United States and Tuvalu signed a treaty of friendship, in which the United States dropped its claims to four of the group’s islands.
There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in Tuvalu, and the U.S. Ambassador to Fiji serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Tuvalu. He visits Tuvalu occasionally.
In 2008 the United States imported a total of $88,000 worth of goods from Tuvalu. Also in 2008, the United States exported a total of $130,000 worth of goods to Tuvalu, most of that in generators and accessories, electric apparatus, and apparel and other textile goods. There are no U.S. aid programs currently in Tuvalu.
The main controversy with the United States deals with the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. In 2002 the Tuvaluan prime minister threatened to sue the United States in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, but he lost the next election and no suit was filed.
U.S. ambassadors to Fiji have been accredited to Tuvalu since 1997.
Tuvalu has no ambassador to the United States and has no embassy in the United States. It does have a permanent mission to the United Nations. The current representative is Afelee F. Pita, who was appointed in December 2006. Born in 1958, Pita received a Bachelor of Arts in administration and accounting from the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, and a Master of Arts in public administration from the University of Canberra in Australia. From 1987 to 1988 he was Assistant Secretary, then Secretary, for the Ministry of Commerce and Natural Resources. From 1989 to 1992 he was Assistant Secretary for Commerce. In 1993 Pita served as Acting Secretary for the Ministry of Trade, Commerce, and Public Corporations. In 1994 he was appointed Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health, Sports, and Human Resources and from 1994 to 1996 he was Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Labour and World Communications. From 1996 to 1997 Pita went on leave to study, then from 1997 to 1999 he was Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. He moved on to serve as Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning from 1999 to 2001. From 2001 to 2004 Pita worked for the Asian Development Bank in Manila, Philippines. In 2004 he was appointed Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Natural Resouces and Lands.
Career diplomat Frankie Annette Reed has been chosen to serve as ambassador to the Pacific island nations of Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru. Her Senate confirmation hearing was held on June 29, 2011, and she was confirmed on August 3.
C. Steven McGann, a longtime member of the Foreign Service whose work has spanned from Africa to South Asia, received his first ambassadorship in being selected to be the United States’ top envoy to Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, and Nauru. He assumed his position on October 8, 2008.