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Under the Microscope: Tuvalu and the Danger Zone

Updated: Sep 26

By Sven Stumbauer

Photo by aboodi vesakaran on Unsplash

Small. Isolated. Jeopardized. These three adjectives encompass the situation of the island nation Tuvalu to a tee. A nation so riddled with a historically enticing past is currently under threat of not even existing just a handful of generations down the line. As a result, it is imperative that the international community, and even the average citizen, understand the plight of Tuvalu and its people no matter its role on the world stage or the cultural or historical relevance it holds. From its use as a hub of Polynesian exploration to the current hidden gem status it has now attained, the nation of Tuvalu, despite its status as an endangered nation, boasts various intriguing facets of its existence while also having a population hellbent on preserving its country and home at any cost. These topics, and many more, will be uncovered and explained within this edition of Under the Microscope.

History and Geography

The nation of Tuvalu, being an island nation, obviously has no land borders with any other nations or territories. However, there are a plethora of nations within close proximity. Located within the Polynesian region of Oceania, Tuvalu lies northeast of Vanuatu, southeast of Nauru, south of Kiribati, northwest of Samoa and north of Fiji. The nation is composed of three reef islands and six scattered atolls with a total combined landmass equating up to 26 square kilometers. The archipelago was and still is inhabited by Polynesians who frequent the islands via canoe. Moreover, it is widely theorized that Polynesians from Samoa and Tonga used Tuvalu as a springboard for their further voyages into Melanesia and Micronesia through the use of navigation skills, double-hulled sailing canoes and outrigger canoes.

The first instance of western contact with Tuvalu and its natives was done through Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana in 1568, who was followed by the British almost three centuries later as they claimed and named Tuvalu the Ellice Islands. The islands remained under British control as a protectorate until 1975, when a referendum was held, giving the island protectorates sovereignty as two new nations, Tuvalu and Kiribati just one year later. In 1978, Tuvalu became a sovereign nation within the commonwealth with a constitutional monarchy and King Charles III currently presides as the official king of Tuvalu. The nation officially became a member of the United Nations in 2000 and today, still maintains its sovereign and UN member nation status.


The nation of Tuvalu remains one of the few nations to still maintain multiple aspects of its ancient culture and aside from minor modern implementations, remains virtually untouched in terms of cultural influence or diffusion. Traditional buildings in Tuvalu are constructed with plants and trees from the native broadleaf forest, with roofs being crafted from fiber trees and are constructed without nails and bound through dried-up coconut fibers. The nation boasts a unique Polynesian style of art where cowrie shells among other types are used in the making of clothing and accessories. Moreover, the designs of canoes and fish hooks are also incredibly common in Tuvaluan and Polynesian artwork as well. More recently, however, artists within the country have been using their platform to lobby for action against climate change, with pieces deviating from traditional designs to address the situation at hand. Dance and music thrive within the nation, with traditional dances such as fakaseasea, fakanau, and fatele being staples in traditional festivals and celebrations for leaders and prominent individuals.

The preservation of ancient traditions still maintains semblance within Tuvalu, as the traditional community system still thrives to a massive extent. Within this system, each family has a salanga, or task, to perform and teach their children to do in the future. The falekaupule also is a prominent part of Tuvaluan culture, as it serves as a meeting hall for weddings and communal celebrations along with being the meeting spot of the respective village’s council of elders. It’s this persistence of cultural tradition that truly shows that in the case of nations such as Tuvalu, antiquity and the steadfast continuation of one’s beliefs and culture can be incredibly beneficial and rewarding.

Climate Change: The Arbiter of Tuvalu’s Fate

The nation of Tuvalu, like many island nations, is experiencing the incredibly harrowing possibility that it will not exist in the coming decades. This is due to the elephant in the room in 21st-century global affairs and endeavors - climate change. Despite what may be perceived by one as a minimal increase in global temperature and sea levels, Tuvalu's situation is incredibly dire due to the average height of the nation’s islands being less than two meters above sea level. Moreover, the highest point of the nation sits at just fifteen feet, meaning that Tuvalu will be the first nation to succumb to rising sea levels. This means that thousands of people will be displaced and will most likely have to migrate to other nations such as Australia or New Zealand, as all their close island neighbors are also subject to the threat of climate change as well. This poses a massive potential culture shock and social disruption for both Tuvaluans, Kiwis, and Australians, as with such a large influx of people occurring in such a short time span, businesses will scramble to accommodate the new migrants while also trying to ensure the job safety of long time employees. As a result, the situation regarding Tuvalu is incredibly dire. Not just for themselves and their people, but for any nations that make accommodations for a diaspora of almost eleven thousand people.

The Metaverse: Why is it in discussion and is it plausible?

With the changing global tides (literally and figuratively), the nation of Tuvalu has been trying to find some way to preserve itself, whether it's on a physical plane or not. Due to this, the nation and its prime minister have been resorting to technological developments, more specifically the metaverse, to recreate a full-scale replica of Tuvalu. This planned replica would include all buildings, villages, and aspects of Tuvaluan culture and serve as a way for future generations, despite not being able to see and experience Tuvalu, to have at least some way to experience this hidden gem of an island nation. However, there are some difficulties and logistical issues with this. Since the tech industry, including Meta, is dealing with layoffs en masse, companies are now without the manpower to properly develop large-scale projects like the Metaverse. Furthermore, Mark Zuckerberg has also stated that the Metaverse’s development is likely to be delayed by a few years, meaning that this project may have to wait in order to come to fruition. In conclusion, while the prime minister and the entirety of Tuvalu are hellbent on the preservation of their nation in any way possible, due to the hampers within Meta and the tech industry as a whole, this project may be years if not decades behind as a result, potentially jeopardizing the ability to properly digitize and record Tuvalu along with its culture and people, which without any help, may in fact be lost to time and the rising tides.

In Conclusion

To sum it up, the nation of Tuvalu lies within dire straits and immediate international action must be taken to salvage and potentially save this obscure yet fascinating nation. From its Polynesian roots to British colonial influence, the nation has proven that it has a rich past that is often overlooked by scholars and history books. In addition to that, its location within the Pacific Ocean and in Oceania means it served and to an extent, continues to serve as a hub between various island nations within Polynesia.

To add to that, the nation’s island culture permeates throughout all aspects of social life within the nation, even trickling down to the most basic facets and ways of life on the archipelago. Finally, the nation’s plight and struggle to repel climate change and endeavor to digitize the nation within the metaverse both prove the dire situation of all island nations within Oceania, but also the resilience and commitment the people of Tuvalu have for their nation. While this nation is under massive jeopardy, the resilience of its people and the smiles on the locals’ faces all show that even in the most dire and perilous of situations, those enduring it can find happiness in an ancient, traditional, and simplistic way of life.

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