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View the PDF document The lagoon islands : a history of Tuvalu
Author:Munro, Doug.
Institution: Macquarie University.
Award: Ph.D.
Subject: Tuvalu -- History
Date: 1982.
Call No.: pac DU 590 .M86 1982
BRN: 920056
Copyright:This thesis may be copied without the authors written permission.

Abstract: On the western margin of Triangle Polynesia j u s t south of the equator l i e s a group of nine small islands called Tuvalu (formerly the E l l i c e Islands). The archipelago trends for 366 nautical miles on an i r r e g u l a r northwest-southwest axis within the area defined by l a t i t u d es 5°39'S and 10o45'S and longitudes 176°08'E and 179052'E (see Maps 1:1, 1:3 & 9 : 1 ) . The word Tuvalu is a compound term which can be f r e e l y translated as "the cluster of eight", so named because the t i n y southernmost island of Niulakita was not considered part of the group in t r a d i t i o n a l times. The other islands, proceeding northwards are Nukulaelae, Funafuti, Nukufetau, Vaitupu, Nui, Manumanga, Niutao and Manumea. All nine islands are of coralline formation and possess the features typical of such environments - low e l e v a t i o n , poor s o i l s and a limited t e r r e s t r i a l biota. They are small even by 'low island' standards with Vaitupu at approximately 500 hectares being easily the l a r g e s t . Most are a t o l l s , that is a series of t y p i c a l l y narrow i s l e t s surrounding a lagoon. One of the group's archaic names was in fact the Lagoon Islands. But i t was a misnomer because Nanumanga, Niutao and Niulakita are table reef islands with small inland lakes, the r e l i c s of former lagoons but now connected to the sea by subterranean channels. Vaitupu falls between these two types: i t has the contiguous shape of a table reef island but has two lagoons, one of them t i n y , each with narrow openings t o the sea. Of the f i v e true a t o l l s only Funafuti and Nukufetau have passages of sufficient depth to permit the entry of European shipping (see Hap 1:2). This physical environment had - and continues to exert - a major bearing on Tuvalu culture and history. The anthropologist Ivan Brady observed in 1970 t h a t : "In the short span of l i t t l e more than one hundred years, the E l l i c e Islands have been transformed from a series of petty chiefdoms i n t o an i n c i p i e n t state while pivoting on the axioms of what were once a f o r e i g n Church and an imported Administration". The present work deals with the formative years of this process which can be seen t o have commenced, after several 1. Brady 1970:45 ii false starts, during the 1820s when Tuvaluans finally ventured on board European ships and when European seamen finally stepped ashore. The decades that followed these tentative and largely happenstance beginnings bore witness to contacts of increasing frequency and duration as a succession of European influences crossed the beaches of this tiny island world. The early explorers gave way to whalers in 1821 who, in turn, were superseded by traders during the 1850s, From mid-century the pace of events quickened with the traders being joined by the labour recruiter and missionary (notably the resident Samoan pastor) from the 1860s, naval patrols from the 1870s and a colonial administration in 1893, interspersed by the occasional scientific expedition and a brief and disastrous interlude in 1863 when some of the atolls were caught up in the final stages of the Peruvian slave Trade. The dominant European influences were commerce, the cross and the flag, with the primacy of trade giving way to missionary supremacy which, in turn, was displaced in local importance by the British colonial administration. By 1908, after a decade and a half of colonial rule, considerable cultural transformations had been wrought within the group from the accumulated pressure of these various outside interests. Those 88 years stand out as the most momentous period in Tuvalu life - the shift from an isolated, independent, self-sufficient and pagan lifestyle to one which was Christian, literate, partially dependent on a range of European imports, involved in a wider sphere of political activity and largely accepting of British and missionary rule. It was upon this dual basis of an outside church and an alien administration that the events leading up to separation from the 2 Gilberts in 1975 and independence soon after in 1978 occurred.
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