The archipelago was probably colonized during the 1300s by Polynesians from Samoa. Smaller groups of immigrants have later arrived from e.g. Tonga, Cook Islands and Gilbert Islands.
Sporadic contacts with Europeans began in 1568, when the Spanish sailor Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira (dead in 1595) targeted one of the islands. Between 1850 and 1875, the local population was decimated by imported diseases and forced recruitment of labor (“blackbirding”) from 20,000 to 3,000. The United Kingdom established a protectorate in 1892, which in 1916 became the Crown Colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands with Funafuti as the capital. The Japanese occupied the colony in 1942, and the Allies recaptured it in 1943.
In 1976, Tuvalu (Ellice Islands) was separated from Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) and became independent within the Commonwealth in 1978. In 1979, the United States renounced its guano interests in the four southern islands in exchange for the right of use to its World War II naval base and the right to prevent other states from using Tuvalu militarily. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Tuvalu.
Tuvalu’s relations with mainly the UK are tense. In 1991, the Tuvalu government decided to demand financial compensation for the country’s poor economy and infrastructure, which Britain left behind at independence, and for the damage the Allies (primarily the United States) inflicted on Tuvalu during the Second World War. However, Tuvalu is a member of the Commonwealth.
As the low-lying islands run the risk of flooding as a result of climate change, Tuvalu works internationally to reduce emissions. New Zealand and Fiji have promised to receive climate refugees from Tuvalu if the country needs to be evacuated.