A Brief History of Tuvalu   ...page 2


Formerly called the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu came under British jurisdiction in 1877 and was made part of the British Protectorate of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1892.

In 1890 the British High Commissioner for the Western Pacific based in Fiji recommended the acquisition of the Gilberts by Britain, not only to forestall possible action by Germany, which in 1891 itself urged Britain to declare a Protectorate to forestall the USA, but also to control the recruitment of labour, the sale of guns and liquor and to end the growing turbulence within the group. In 1892 the British Government, realizing by now that failure to declare a Protectorate would probably lead to acquisition by Germany, despite an 1886 agreement with that country, or by America which was not a party to the agreement, ordered the Commander-in-Chief, H.M.Ships, Australia, to send a warship to the Gilberts to declare a Protectorate. Captain Davis, R.N. of H.M.S. Royalist was sent to carry out this task.

Captain Davis had been ordered to visit the Ellice Islands but not to declare a Protectorate there. He reported that the 'Kings' of each island had asked for a Protectorate to be declared and Captain Gibson R.N. of H.M.S. Curacao was thereupon ordered to the Ellice Islands in 1892, and on each  he declared a Protectorate between the 9th and the 16th October. On 10 November 1915, the group became the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony.

H.M.S. Royalist

The Davis Diaries (Extract of Proclamation of a Protectorate over the Gilbert & Ellice Islands)

By Jane Resture


World War II

Japanese expansion in the Pacific during World War II reached the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) with the invasion of Tarawa in December, 1941. Other Gilbert Islands were subsequently occupied. The Japanese intended on pushing further south into the Ellice (Tuvalu) islands, but heavy losses in the Battle of Midway slowed them down. This allowed the Americans to arrive first, landing on Funafuti in October 1942. They built a large airfield and installed anti-aircraft gun bunkers.

The British Colonial Aministration of the islands is transferred to Funafuti from Tarawa, but is later moved again to Suva, in Fiji.

 Subsequently, the Americans move up the chain, building airfields on Nukufetau and Nanumea. All three islands occupied by the Americans were bombed by the Japanese, generally with minimal damage. The Tuvalu Islands provided important advance posts that allowed the Americans to push north, which eventually led to the Battle of Tarawa, in November 1943.

Link: World War II in Tuvalu

Towards Independence

After World War II many Tuvaluans migrated to Tarawa, the reinstated capital of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony. There were better opportunities for employment, mainly due to rebuilding after the terribly war. They found employment opportunities exceeded their numbers, one reason being that their education system continued during the war, while that of the Gilbertese did not, due to the Japanese occupation. This lead to rivalries within the civil service and an assertion of Gilbertese rights.

Britain prepared the colony for independence by granting self-government in 1974. However, the Ellice Islanders were not pleased at the thought of having their ruling masters changing from the British to the I-Kiribati, and and began seeking ways for secession.

The British conducted a formal inquiry into Tuvaluan attitudes towards secession, and announced that a referendum was to be held, in which Tuvaluans could choose to remain with the Gilberts or secede from them. They are told beforehand that if they separate they would not receive any more royalties from the Ocean Island phosphate or other assets of the colony. Despite this, 3799 Islanders (92%) voted to secede, while 293 vote against secession.

On October 1,1975, legal separation from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), took place. On January 1, 1976, full administration of the new colony was transferred to Funafuti from Tarawa. Tuvalu became an Independent Constitutional monarchy and the 38th (special) member of the Commonwealth on the October 1,1978. In 2000, Tuvalu became a full member of the Commonwealth and the 189th member of the United Nations.

Tuvalu flag at the United Nations in New York


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