History of Tuvalu

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Tuvalu has been inhabited for about 3,000 years. The Caves of Nanumanga suggest traces of human habitation some thousands of years old.


Early history

Tuvalu is thought to have been visited by Tongans in the mid-13th century, although it is uncertain whether they settled permanently. It was, however, within Tonga's sphere of influence, and there were regular contacts between the two island groups.[1]

The Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña y Neyra spotted the small island of Nui in what is now Tuvalu in 1568 while on an expedition to find the mythical land of Terra Australis. In 1819, Captain Arent de Peyster (or Peyter), while on a voyage from Valparaíso to India, discovered the atoll of Funafuti, where the capital is now located, a cluster of about fourteen low islands and sand keys.[2] He named the cluster "Ellice's Group," after Edward Ellice, a British Member of Parliament who provided De Peyster with his ship "Rebecca." The next morning, De Peyster discovered another group of about seventeen low islands forty-three miles northwest of Funafuti, naming this group "De Peyster's Islands." It is the first name, however, that was eventually used for the whole island group.

In 1841, the U.S. Exploring Expedition commanded by Charles Wilkes visited three of Tuvalu's islands and welcomed visitors to his ships.[2] Other early interactions with the outside world were far less benign—in 1863, hundreds of people from the southern islands were kidnapped when they were lured aboard slave ships with promises that they would be taught about Christianity.[2] Those islanders were forced to work under horrific conditions in the guano mines of Peru.[2] see Blackbirding.

United Kingdom protectorate

Eventually, the islands came under the United Kingdom's sphere of influence as the Pacific was divided up in the late 19th century.[2] The Ellice Islands were administered by the United Kingdom as part of a protectorate (1892–1916) and as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony (1916–1974).[2]

During World War II, several thousand U.S. troops were in the islands.[2] Beginning in October 1942, U.S. forces built airbases on the islands of Funafuti, Nanumea, and Nukufetau.[2] Friendly cooperation was the hallmark of relations between the local people and the troops, mainly U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy SeaBees.[2] The airstrip in the capital of Funafuti, originally built by the U.S. during the war, is still in use, as is the "American Passage" that was blasted through Nanumea's reef by SeaBees assisted by local divers.[2]

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