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Tuvalu (formerly Ellice Islands), independent Commonwealth nation composed of nine small atolls spread over more than 500,000 sq mi (1,295,000 sq km) in the West Pacific. The capital is Fongafale on Funafuti.

Land and climate

The largest island, Vaitupu, covers only 2 sq mi (5.2 sq km). No spot on these coral atolls rises more than 16 ft (4.9 m) above sea level. The soil is poor and there are no rivers and little vegetation besides coconut palms. The average annual temperature is 86°F (30°C); most of the rainfall occurs between Nov. and Feb.

People and economy

The inhabitants are Polynesian, with almost 30% living on the island of Funafuti. Copra is the only export, although the sale of postage stamps abroad also produces income.


The islands were largely ignored by Europeans until the 19th century, when whaling began in the area. The population was reduced from 22,000 to 3,000 between 1850 and 1875 because of disease and forcible recruitment for labor abroad. A British protectorate over both the Ellice and Gilbert (now Kiribati) islands was established in 1892. In 1974 Ellice Islanders voted for separate status, achieving independence in 1978.


Additional topics

21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Transcendentalism to United Church of Christ