Despite these early sightings and many brief landings, the islands weren't truly
settled or colonized by foreign powers until the mid-1800s, leaving the people and
their culture mainly in tact through the early-1800s. This is partly because few
ships could land on the atolls, and partially because the foreign powers at the
time saw little economic gain from holding these islands, which was the true reason
for settlement and colonization.
The people and culture began their substantial changes in the 1860s with the arrival
of missionaries and more sailors. These early missionaries forever changed the people
and their culture of Tuvalu, but not only in the way of religion.
These early British missionaries altered the people's
belief system and in many ways unified the people from island to island. More importantly,
they brought in ministers from Samoa to continue their work
and these ministers vastly altered the culture as numerous aspects of Samoan culture
Also in the 1860s trade began to grow on the islands. Coconuts were the biggest
export and it seemed everyone wanted a part of the production and trade of this
food. The Germans, British,
and Americans all sought to control the
trade. Despite the fact that the Americans laid claim on many of the southern islands,
including Funafuti, in 1856, it was the Germans who truly controlled this trade
as British and American presence was lacking.
Despite early German dominance in the coconut trade, the
British and Americans
eventually gained both economic and political control over the islands. In 1892
the Gilbert Islands (today part of Kiribati) and the Ellice
Islands agreed to become a protectorate of the British Empire (although the southern
islands still fell under American rule for the time).
The political structure of the British claim changed
as new islands (including many in today's Kiribati)
were added and all of these islands were eventually incorporated into the British
colony called the British Western Pacific Territories.
Under British and
American rule, foreigners settled the islands of Tuvalu,
but these islands were never a focus of colonization for either country and never
became a significant immigration destination for foreign nationals. Because of this,
little changed in the culture of the people, although numerous new technologies
were introduced as communication and transportation improved.
The influence from the missionaries continued into the 1900s with the establishment
of schools. Although these schools began as preparation schools for seminary students,
they later evolved into the educational system that's present in
The next great change in Tuvalu occurred in the early 1940s
with World War II (WWII). Although the Japanese never took
control of Tuvalu during the war, they came close to the islands and this caused
the Americans to build a military base
in Funafuti. From this point on the islands were frequently the victims of Japanese
attacks and American military build-up, both of which destroyed much of the land.
These actions destroyed much of the fertile land and the construction simply took
other lands from the people.
For an economy based on agriculture, this loss of land was devastating on the economy
during and immediately after WWII. The war also made
American presence much more apparent as they brought in new technology,
communication methods, and improved infrastructure (although the latter also took
much of the land). They also had a much stronger and noticeable presence on the
islands as numerous soldiers were stationed there during and even after the war.
Through much of the latter half of the 1900s focus in Tuvalu
was on recovering from WWII and growth, primarily in the forms of education and
economics. This process has taken years and is not yet where the people want it,
but it moved the country far enough forward to lead to independence.
In 1975 the British-governed islands of modern day
Tuvalu decided to separate, politically, from the Gilbert
Islands, which now make up a part of Kiribati. Three years
later, in 1978 the Ellice Islands declared independence and the modern state of
Tuvalu was born. In 1983 the remaining islands, which were previously under the
protection of the United States, joined
Since independence, Tuvalu has maintained a fairly stable
political and economic environment. The issue the people truly unite on, and the
issue the country as a whole promotes on a regular basis, is global warming. Tuvalu's
highest point is only 15 feet (5 meters) above sea level and global warming could
submerge the entire country. In addition to this, the country is busy trying to
improve their economy and education, both of which are slowly improving.