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Tuvalu Travel Guide

Funafuti Airport Runway
Drying a wash on Funafuti's airport runway.

The People

All nine islands and atolls are inhabited, with one or two villages on each. The villages are often divided into two "sides" to foster competition. More than 70 percent of the people on the outer islands still live in traditional-style housing. The life of the people is hard—only coconuts and pandanus grow naturally, though bananas, papayas, and breadfruit are cultivated. A variety of taro (pulaka) has to be grown in pits excavated from coral rock. Reef fish and tuna are the main protein components in the diet. Chicken, both local and imported, is eaten quite regularly on Funafuti; pork is served on special occasions.

Tuvalu's population density (more than 400 persons per square km) is the highest in the South Pacific and one of the highest in the world. Since 1990, the number of persons per square km has doubled on Funafuti and nearly half the country's population now lives on this one atoll. Room to breathe is rapidly disappearing as additional people arrive continuously in search of government jobs. About 75 percent of the food consumed on Funafuti is now imported, and diet-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and vitamin deficiency are on the increase. The waste disposal problems are immense.

While some 10,000 people live in Tuvalu, another 2,000 Tuvaluans reside in New Zealand and 500 more are in Fiji. After the separation from the Gilbert Islands in 1975, many Tuvaluans who had previously held government jobs on Tarawa or worked at the phosphate mine on Banaba returned home. A second influx occurred in 2003 when phosphate mining came to an end on Nauru, in Micronesia, and the 750 Tuvaluans employed there were repatriated. Some were resettled on overcrowded Funafuti but more continued on to New Zealand.

Mostly Polynesian, related to the Samoans and Tongans, the Tuvaluans' ancestry is evident in their language, architecture, customs, and tuu mo aganu Tuvalu (Tuvaluan way of life). Nui Island is an exception, with some Micronesian influence. Before independence, many Tuvaluans working on Tarawa took an I-Kiribati husband or wife, and there's now a large Gilbertese community on Funafuti. The Tuvaluan language is almost identical to that spoken in neighboring Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, and on Tikopia in the Solomons.