© Lonely Planet Publications
In a stunning approach from the air, the islets of tiny Tuvalu appear like a mirage in the vastness of the Pacific. Barely higher than the surrounding ocean, and capped with a fringe of coconut palms, it’s easy to understand why rising sea level due to global warming is a major concern here.
Time moves at its own pace on the five atolls and four islands of this sun-stunned nation.
The weight of heat requires immediate retreat to the shade; it’s impossible to move or even to think fast. Change down a gear, and enjoy the lack of hustle and bustle.
Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, the huge changes in Tuvalu over recent years are
nowhere more evident than on Fongafale, the capital of Funafuti Atoll. Cars are overtaking bicycles and feet as the preferred form of transport, and an increasing population density and move away from subsistence traditions are bringing other challenges. Meanwhile, you can join the locals by taking a nap in the afternoon before a sunset float in the lagoon. If time is really no object, venture to the outer islands, where life is even more laid-back.
CLIMATE & WHEN TO GO
Tuvalu has a tropical maritime climate: the temperature rarely ranges outside 28°C to 31°C. Rainfall is high, up to 3500mm in the south (including Funafuti), and is usually brief and heavy; the wettest season is No- vember to February. From May to October winds are light and from the southeast (the trade winds), changing to west-northwest during the November to April ‘cyclone sea- son’. While Tuvalu is considered just outside the tropical cyclone belt, severe cyclones do occur occasionally.
In the Beginning
Tuvalu (too-vah-loo) means ‘Cluster of Eight’. The ninth island, Niulakita, has been inhabited only in recent times. A proposal to rename the country Tuiva, ‘Cluster of Nine’, met a cool reception. Polynesians settled Tuvalu around 2000
Snorkel and bird-watch in the gorgeous
Funafuti Conservation Area ( p742 ),
with its uninhabited islets, seabird colonies and dolphins
Relax on remote Funafala islet ( p743 ) and get a taste of outer island lifestyle
Float the sunset away in Funafuti lagoon ( p741 ), surrounded by a classic coral atoll with a stunning aerial view
Sway and stamp along to fatele ( p737 ), Tuvalu’s unique and very exciting music and dance performances
years ago, mostly from Samoa via Toke- lau, but also from Tonga and Uvea (Wallis Island). The northern islands, especially Nui, were also settled by Micronesians from Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands). Each hundred people or so were com- manded by an aliki, a powerful chief. Under each aliki was a descending hierarchy in which everyone had their place. Each sologa (family) had a particular speciality or com- munity responsibility – for example build- ing, fishing, dancing or healing – and it was tapu (taboo) to leak this hereditary in- formation to other families. Land was the most valuable asset and was passed down
Capital: Funafuti Atoll; administrative centre Fongafale islet
Land area: 26 sq km
Number of islands: Nine International telephone code: %688
Currency: Australian dollar (A$)
Languages: Tuvaluan, Gilbertese and English
Greeting: Talofa (Tuvaluan) Website: www.timelesstuvalu.com
TUVALU •• Climate & When to Go 733
200 km 120 miles
Nui Atoll Vaitupu Nukufetau Atoll Funafuti Atoll
Atoll Map (p739) See Funafuti
S O U T H P A C I F I C O C E A N
through the male side of the family, with communal lands set aside to support and maintain those in need.
Spanish explorers sighted the islands in 1568, but the first European contact wasn’t until 1781, when Spaniard Francisco Anto- nio Mourelle landed at Niutao. In 1819 an American explorer, De Peyster, arrived and named Funafuti ‘Ellice’s Island’, after an English friend who was a politician. In the 1820s whalers and other traders began to visit the islands, and traditional Tuvaluan society began to change with the introduction of alcohol, money and new tools and goods. The mana (power) of the aliki disappeared as people lost respect for their leaders’ often drunk and disorderly behaviour. While most palagi (pah-lung- ee; Westerners) lived peacefully with the islanders, many earned a reputation of being dishonest and possessive. This opin- ion worsened in 1863 when ‘blackbirders’ (slavers) raided the southern islands for labourers for the Peruvian guano mines.
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