Captain Arent De Peyster "discovered" Funafuti in 1819 and named it Ellice, for Edward Ellice, the British member of parliament who owned the cargo that his ship, the Rebecca, was carrying. In 1841, Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition, applied the name to the entire Tuvalu group. Almost half the population of Tuvalu lives on 12-km-long Fongafale Islet on the east side of boomerang-shaped Funafuti Atoll, where the population density is over 1,600 per square km.
The government offices are at Vaiaku, 50 meters west of the airstrip, the Funafuti Fusi cooperative supermarket is a kilometer northeast, and the deepwater wharf is a little more than a kilometer beyond that. A Japanese fishing boat wrecked during Hurricane Bebe in 1972 is in the lagoon just north of the wharf. Most of the homes on Funafuti are prefabs put up after this same storm, which also left a beach of coral boulders along the island's east side.
The area between Vaiaku and the wharf has developed into a busy little township with a new hospital built by Japan in 2003. In 2004, the Taiwanese built a three-story Government Offices just behind the airport terminal.
Heavy motorcycle traffic circulates along the one main street, and the litter is piling up along the roads and lagoon as imported cans and bottles dampen the South Seas dream. It's a crowded, dirty little place where women and children are often seen smoking. Author James A. Michener, who visited Funafuti during WW II, called it "a truly dismal island" and timeless Tuvalu has only gotten worse since then.
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