Tuvalu Geography and Population

ETYMOLOGY: The name Tuvalu comes from Polynesian tu ‘stand, exist’ and valu ‘eight’, egl. ‘unit of eight islands’.



POPULATION: 10,800 (2012)

AREA: 25 km²

OFFICIAL LANGUAGE (S): Tuvalu, English, kiribati

RELIGION: Protestants 85%, Adventists 4%, Catholics 1%, Jehovah’s Witnesses 1%, Baha’is 1%, others 8%

COIN: Australian dollar




POPULATION COMPOSITION: Tuvaluan (Polynesian) 96%, other 4%

GDP PER residents: 2141 $ (2007)

LIFE EXPECTANCY: men 66 years, women 71 years (2005)




Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation, one of the smallest countries in the world. Tuvalu consists of a 400 km long archipelago with nine small, low-lying coral reefs; half of the population lives on the very densely populated main island of Funafuti. With a maximum elevation of 5 masl, the land is often mentioned in connection with the discussion about the greenhouse effect and water level rises in the world’s oceans. The residents are Christians and many denominations are represented.

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The local economy is characterized by coastal fishing and a little agriculture for self-sufficiency. The food supply consists for the most part of imported preserves, and as in other of the region’s small countries, new and unhealthy eating habits have meant that diabetes is widespread. The foreign economy is dominated by aid funds from Japan and Australia in particular, in addition to transfers from Tuvaluans abroad. An estimated 20% of the male population works on other Pacific islands and as seafarers in the merchant navies of the world; the tuvaluan are known for excellent seamanship. In addition, income from license agreements with Taiwanese fishermen in the country’s 1.2 million. km2 large sea right zone. A very special niche constitutes a lucrative sale of Internet addresses with Tuvalus domain name television; the company is run by a US company.

It is difficult to spot opportunities for real economic development in the micronation. The individual islands are too small, and the distance between them too large, for it to be worthwhile to maintain connection with cargo and passenger ships, and the economic base is too small to support the functions normally belonging to an independent state; the total GDP is thus less than the turnover in a small Danish company. Nor does tourism, which is otherwise a growth industry in most Pacific countries, appear to have significant potential.

National flag

The flag was adopted after a competition and was officially hoisted for the first time in 1978. Union Jack in the corner is to show affiliation with the Commonwealth. The state’s nine islands in the Pacific Ocean are symbolized by the stars and the blue field. The location of the stars corresponds to that of the islands in the sea. The country adopted a new flag in 1995, but in 1997 went back to the original.


The majority of the population speaks the West Polynesian language Tuvaluan, which together with English is the official language, while approximately 5% speak the Micronesian language Kiribati. The vocabulary is strongly influenced by Samoan, which until 1945 was the language of instruction on the islands. See also Polynesian languages.


Tuvalu was probably taken possession of in the 1300’s. of immigrants from Samoa and later of smaller groups from Tonga, the northern Cook Islands, Fiji and the Gilbert Islands. Life on the small atolls was carefully adapted to the territorial and ecological constraints. Spanish ships took over the islands as early as the 16th century, but contact with Europeans only became important from the 1820’s, when whalers and traders began to arrive. The population was decimated by foreign diseases, and in 1863 laborers abducted from Peru approximately 400 people, more than 10% of the total population. To find protection from such atrocities, people joined the British missionaries. Under the name Ellice Islands Tuvalu became a British protectorate in 1892 and from 1916 part of the colony of Gilbert and Ellice Islands. After disputes between the peoples of the two archipelagos, the colony split in two in 1976, and in 1978 Tuvalu became independent. In 2000, the country became the 189th member of the United Nations and at the same time an executed member of the Commonwealth.