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Tuvalu, formerly Ellice Islands, country in the west-central Pacific Ocean. It is composed of nine small coral islands scattered in a chain lying approximately northwest to southeast over a distance of some 420 miles (676 km).
The de facto capital is the village of Vaiaku, where most government offices are located. It is on Fongafale islet, a constituent part of Funafuti Atoll. Together with what is now Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands), Tuvalu formed the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony before separately gaining its independence in 1978.
The group includes both atolls and reef islands. The atolls—Nanumea, Nui, Nukufetau, Funafuti, and Nukulaelae—have islets encircling a shallow lagoon; the reef islands—Nanumanga, Niutao, Vaitupu, and Niulakita—are compact with a fringing reef. The islands are low-lying, most being 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 metres) above sea level. There are no rivers; rain catchment and wells provide the only fresh water. Rainfall averages 100 inches (2,500 mm) in the north and 125 inches (3,175 mm) in the south. The prevailing winds are southeast trades; westerly storms occur from November to February. Daytime temperatures range from 80 to 85 °F (27 to 29 °C).
Because the soils are porous, agriculture is limited. Coconut palms thrive, and breadfruit trees, pandanus, taro, and bananas are grown. Pigs and chickens are raised, and seabirds, fish, and shellfish are caught for food. The islands increasingly depend on imported food.
The Tuvaluans are Polynesian, and their language, Tuvaluan, is closely related to Samoan. Nui, however, was heavily settled in prehistoric times by Micronesians from the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati). English is taught in the schools and widely used. The vast majority of the population belongs to the Church of Tuvalu (the former Ellice Islands Protestant Church).
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