Tuvalu is an island country in the Polynesian subregion of Oceania, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and situated about midway between Hawaii and Australia. The country lies east-northeast of the Santa Cruz Islands (which belong to the Solomon Islands), northeast of Vanuatu, southeast of Nauru, south of Kiribati, west of Tokelau, northwest of Samoa and Wallis and Futuna, and north of Fiji. It is composed of three reef islands and six atolls spread out between the latitude of 5° to 10° south and longitude of 176° to 180°, west of the International Date Line. Tuvalu has a population of 10,507 (2017 Census). The total land area of the islands of Tuvalu is 26 square kilometres (10 sq mi).
The first inhabitants of Tuvalu were Polynesians. The origins of the people of Tuvalu are addressed in the theories regarding migration into the Pacific that began about three thousand years ago. During pre-European-contact times, Polynesians conducted frequent canoe voyaging between the islands as their navigation skills enabled them to make planned journeys via double-hull sailing canoes or outrigger canoes.
Scholars believe that the Polynesians spread out from Samoa and Tonga into the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to further migration into the Polynesian outliers in Melanesia and Micronesia.
In 1568, Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana was the first European to sail through the archipelago, sighting the island of Nui during his expedition in search of Terra Australis. The island of Funafuti was named Ellice's Island in 1819; the name Ellice was applied to all of the nine islands after the work of English hydrographer Alexander George Findlay. Great Britain claimed control over the Ellice Islands as within their sphere of influence in the late 19th century, as the result of a treaty between Great Britain and Germany relating to the demarcation of the spheres of influence in the Pacific Ocean. Captain Gibson of HMS Curacoa declared each of the Ellice Islands as a British Protectorate between 9 and 16 October 1892. Britain assigned a Resident Commissioner to administer the Ellice Islands from 1892 to 1916, as part of the British Western Pacific Territories (BWPT). From 1916 to 1975, they were managed as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony.
A referendum was held in 1974 to determine whether the Gilbert Islands and Ellice Islands should each have their own administration. As a consequence of the referendum, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony de jure ceased to exist on 1 October 1975, and on 1 January 1976 the old administration was officially separated. The separate British colonies of Kiribati and Tuvalu were formed. Tuvalu became fully independent as a sovereign state within the Commonwealth on 1 October 1978. On 5 September 2000, Tuvalu became the 189th member of the United Nations.