GLOBE. UNKNOWN COUNTRIES
THE TUVALU ISLANDS
(August 8th, 2023)
FUNAFUTI. What do we know about the Tuvalu Islands? Little or nothing: it is an archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and Hawaii which risks disappearing, as reported by ilpost.it, if the sea level rises as a result of global warming.
On the occasion of COP26 (2021) to raise an alarm on the uncertain future of these islands, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Justice and Communications Simon Kofe recorded a video in which he was immersed up to his knees. The image had a moderate prominence in the world press, Kofe accompanied it with the slogan “We are sinking”.
So let’s try to increase our knowledge of this set of islands and atolls, 9 in all, which host 12,000 inhabitants.
THE TUVALU ISLANDS
The Tuvalu Islands, as mentioned, are nine islands and atolls that stretch for a length of 560 km on a marine surface of 1.6 million sq km.: the name means “eight standing together” in the local language. and refers to the eight inhabited atolls, located just south of the equator, about 4,000 km northeast of Australia, south of the Gilbert Islands, between Micronesia and Melanesia.
They are called, in strict alphabetical order: Funafuti, Nanumanga, Nanumea, Niulakita.
Niutao, Nui, Nukufetau, Nukulaelee and Vaitupu.
The climate is rainy tropical. Erosion has severely damaged the soil, which lacks rivers.
The lack of water resources makes the collection of rainwater essential for the survival of men, animals and plants.
This is also used for the cultivation of coconut palm, widely present throughout the archipelago. Another important activity is fishing.
To boost income and state revenue, the authorities have sold the internet TV suffix to a Californian company.
This has allowed Funafuti to bring in several million dollars a year, because buyers pay royalties to the government every year to be able to use the islands suffix for their websites.
Another source of income, the stamps issued by the local post office.
The population, of Samoan and Tongan or Polynesian origin, speaks Tuvaluan and English; the most practiced religions are Christianity (Congregationalists, Seventh-day Adventists, Roman Catholics).
There are no real parties: the most important families control parliament and the government.
The state is formally a constitutional monarchy: the king is Charles III of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a governor-general.
The unicameral parliament, made up of 15 deputies, is elected every 4 years by direct universal suffrage: after the elections, a prime minister is appointed who forms the executive.
(the next elections are expected by the end of 2023).
About 30,000 years b.C., some populations from Australia began to push towards the islands of the Pacific. In the 9th century AD. they had spread practically all over Polynesia. The inhabitants of the archipelago, then called “Funafuti”, came from the islands of Samoa and Tonga.
In the 16th century, Europeans discovered them, but did not settle there because there was no resource to exploit.
One of the explorers, the Englishman Edward Ellice, gave them his name.
Between 1850 and 1875 thousands of inhabitants, especially males, were enslaved: it was the culminating moment of the guano extractive industry which was collected in certain islands off the coast of Peru, while in Chile nitrates were extracted from the mines.
Both were used for the production of fertilizers in great demand by the agri-food world, especially in Europe and the United States.
Either for the voracity of human traffickers who took large quantities of individuals from the Pacific islands, or for the spread of diseases against which these populations had no immune defense, in fact, the population of the Ellice collapsed from 20,000 to 3,000 people.
As a source of slaves, the Polynesian islands had the advantage of having direct access to markets bordering the Pacific coast.
In 1865 British and American missionaries arrived who spread Christianity, especially the Protestant one, and laid the foundations for the creation of a semi-colonial regime.
In fact, in ’92 Great Britain proclaimed the protectorate. Later, in 1915, with a unilateral measure, the Ellices were joined to the Gilberts. The decision taken by London took no account of the peculiarities of the two archipelagos: Polynesians lived on the Ellices, while the Gilberts were inhabited by Micronesians. Among these peoples there were ancient rivalries.
Sixty years later (1974), through a popular referendum, the Tuvaluans, with 90% of the votes, decided to separate, to form an autonomous entity which was officially born the following year (October 2, 1975).
1977, August: first parliamentary elections in Tuvalu; Toaripi Lauti is elected prime minister.
National independence within the Commonwealth was proclaimed on 1st October 1978
In foreign policy, the new state gravitated from the beginning to the orbit of Australia, a country from which it received huge financial aid: Funafuti was one of the thirteen capitals that maintained relations with Taiwan instead of with the People’s Republic of China. Taipei has contributed its own funds to build the national university and encourages young Tuvaluans to specialize in universities on the island of Formosa.
Apart from the already mentioned prospect of being engulfed by the rising level of the Pacific, the archipelago has often been damaged by devastating cyclones:
the one in 1990 that struck Vaitupu was memorable: 360 families lost everything;
Another disaster in June 1997 when Kelly ran over Niulakita causing serious damage to property and people.
The political scene is marked by the various electoral appointments that take place every four years: in 1993, Prime Minister Kamuta Laatasi gave a nationalist turn to the executive: he dismissed the governor general Tomu Sione, described as “a man of the old regime”, replacing him with an ally of the government, then replaced the flag that bore the British Union Jack in the upper left rectangle.
This last measure turned out to be ephemeral because in 1996, Bikenibeu Paeniu, the new premier, restored the old banner.
(in 1986 and 2008 the Tuvaluans rejected by a large majority, in as many referendums, the proposal to proclaim the republic).
In 2013, a new conflict between the prime minister and the governor general: the latter dismissed the head of government Willy Telavi from office because he did not convene the chamber for eight months, attempting to govern without it.
The current Premier, Kausea Natano was elected on 27 September 2019, after the last legislative elections with 10 votes against 6 by the new assembly.
Elected deputy in 2002, he subsequently became deputy premier and minister of communications in the Telavi cabinet, the one removed in 2013.
MEDIA AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Press freedom in Tuvalu is guaranteed, but users are very few.
Six thousand four hundred people use the internet, while normally the public uses satellite antennas to follow television programs broadcast by foreign broadcasters.
A periodical, in Tuvaluan and English, is published every two weeks by the government (Tuvalu Echoes) and Tuvalu Media Corporation owns Radio Tuvalu.
PIER LUIGI GIACOMONI